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111th Apple Cup Preview: It’s all about that sweet mustache

Heading into the 111th Apple Cup, the No. 16 Washington Huskies (8-3, 6-2) are riding a five game winning streak in the series as they head Pullman, Wash. to face the No. 7 Washington State Cougars (10-1, 7-1). For the third straight year, the division title is on the line; for the first time since 2002, Washington State’s faint hopes at a national title are also on the line.

Unlike the previous three iterations of the game, the Cougar quarterback doesn’t have to deal with Vita Vea collapsing the pocket. Which is fortunate for Gardner Minshew II, because Vea was devastating and helped generate all sorts of pressure without a blitz.

But there’s another advantage that Minshew has heading into this Apple Cup that Luke Falk, and his predecessors at WSU during the Mike Leach era, is a lack of exposure to the nature of this rivalry game. Having grown up in Brandon, Miss., the Heisman Trophy hopeful was isolated from Washington’s historic dominance in the series…especially the last five seasons. That’s going to be one of the biggest advantages he has heading into this game.

Washington has been unable to generate pressure on opposing QBs

Without Vea anchoring the defensive line, UW’s sack rate has plummeted this season without the NFL starter. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Huskies are currently ranked 114th in the FBS in sack rate — percentage of passing attempts where they get a sack.

Watching their games, it’s become apparent that the Huskies defense has to bring extras guys to force the quarterback off of the spot this season. From their first game against Auburn, Washington gave up a huge chunk play on one of the first plays from scrimmage when they struggled to generate pressure using just the four guys at the line of scrimmage.

Pre-snap

Those four guys very quickly rush towards the quarterback and drop everyone else back, which should have been the perfect play call against the wide receiver screen the Tigers drew up.

Immediately after the snap

Notice how several members of the defensive line are holding their position incase the quarterback scrambles away from the play. The fact that they held their position shows how well prepared they were for the potential run-pass option that Auburn has been known to use in the past. It helps create the time for Auburn’s offensive line to seal the edge for their wideout and break a huge play down field.

tackle

Now, Washington’s defense won’t have to prep for any potential RPO game that the Cougs might run. But they will have to contend with the fact that Minshew is mobile and has been willing to take off this season in the few instances the pocket breaks down with no play down field. If the Huskies do leave that man in spy, it could generate some space down field for one of the Cougs excellent receivers to break free for a big play.

If the Huskies do bring pressure, the result would be the same as if they left a linebacker to spy on Minshew when he’s in the pocket. Plenty of space down field, and that’s where the fifth-year senior has thrived.

It could be a big day through the air for WSU’s running backs

Minshew has come to rely on his running backs as outlet passes like very few quarterbacks have at WSU. James Williams and Max Borghi have been two incredibly reliable targets, and they’ve also been really good at making defenders look silly in space after they’ve caught the pass.

Borghi is arguably one of the most athletic running backs in the conference, and his skill at catching quick passes from the fifth-year senior have been a surprising delight this season. The true freshmen has helped keep the Cougar offense dynamic, even when the opposing team is dropping eight and trying to keep the defense in front of them.

It’s helped keep the defense’s honest, even on the rare occasions that they’ve been able to stop the run. And it’s not like WSU has struggled to run the ball either — the Cougs are averaging over five yards per carry — the offense just doesn’t run the ball all that often; there’s a reason, it’s called the Air Raid.

So Washington’s defense is going to experience a big challenge this year; sell out to bring pressure on Minshew, and let him pick them apart with deeper routes; or sit back and let the Mississippi stach’ rely on his running backs to make hay in space.

Jake Browning has been bad against pressure

Washington’s senior quarterback has struggled with consistency this season, especially when the defense has brought pressure. Moving Browning off of his spot has led to some spectacularly bad throws that have led to turnovers or incomplete passes. It’s been this inconsistency, and an inability to score consistently; especially with Myles Gaskin’s injury concerns throughout the season.

Unfortunately for Browning, Tracy Claey’s defense has been absolutely stellar at generating pressure this season — WSU is 24th in sack rate this year. The amount of pressure that Wazzu has been able to generate has kept some of the other quality quarterbacks they’ve faced off balance.  They even managed to contain Khalil Tate’s explosive legs, while limiting the effectiveness of his arm during their 69-28 shellacking of Arizona last saturday.

If the Speed D is able to get the winningest quarterback in UW history off of his spot, or uncomfortable in the pocket, it’s going to be a long day for the Huskies offense.

Game time information

Date: Nov. 23rd, 2018

Kick off: 5:30 PM at Martin Stadium

TV Broadcast: Fox

Prediction..maybe?

Chris Peterson and Jimmy Lake seem to have Leach’s number year in and year out. They’ve been able to make previous WSU quarterbacks uncomfortable, but Minshew hasn’t really been hit all that much or sacked (the Cougs have only given up 11 sacks in 583 pass attempts, wtf). If the Cougar offensive line can hold up….

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it.

Don’t say it.

Ahhh fuck it….No. 16 UW 23 — No. 7 WSU 42

Let’s repeat the Snow Bowl, shall we?

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Neil Roberts View All

Proud alum of Washington State University, crazy sports nut, and drinker of beer.

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