Pain, suffering, and the 113th Apple Cup

For the first time since 2019, the Washington State Cougars (6-5) and Washington Huskies (4-7) will face off in their rivalry game. It will also mark the first time in the history of the series that both programs will be playing with interim head coaches as both Jimmy Lake and Nick Rolovich were fired midseason for very different reasons.

Lake was fired primarily for job performance, and the fact that he took a swipe at a player during a game that was slipping out of control; Rolovich was fired for being not taking a basic public safety measure and at the cost of $0 to the school.

Since those firings, the programs have gone in completely different directions. WSU has gone 2-2 since Rolo’s firing with both its losses to schools that are in the top 25 and a pair of blowout wins over the Arizona programs. Meanwhile, UW has gone 0-2 since Lake’s suspension then firing and found creative ways to lose in both of those games. This season has shown the difference not between the coaching staffs, but between the players on each roster.

The senior class for Washington State has buried two of its teammates, seen a third shot, and has had three different head coaches; that’s on top of the global pandemic. Washington State’s seniors have been put through the ringer repeatedly and have gotten up each time — I tend to think of the South Park quote “I didn’t hear no bell” when I think of this group. Washington’s senior class, thankfully, has avoided similar trials.

Despite the Cougs’ resilience in the face of constant upheaval and tragedy, they’ve still lost the last seven Apple Cups to their in state rival. It’s a streak that’s going to end at some point, The 113th edition of this game seems like it would be the perfect opportunity considering where each of these programs is at and where they seem to be headed.


When Washington State has the ball

While the Husky defense has been able to stop the Washington State offense during their current win streak, they’re facing a different offense with different concepts and they no longer have the talent advantage up front that they used to. Washington’s defensive line has been underwhelming this season and has repeatedly been bullied by offensive lines with lower rated recruits.

In five of the squads seven games that Jayden de Laura has been the starter, the Cougs were throwing it 59% of the time and running it 41% of the time; in the two games against the Arizona schools the offense leaned on the run — the Cougs threw on 39% of plays and ran on 61% . Max Borghi has thrived with the new commitment to the run and Deon McIntosh continues to be a machine when he’s healthy. Both the Sun Devils and Wildcats had struggled against teams that ran the ball, and the worst run defense WSU will see this season is the one that the Cougs will face on Friday night.

The Huskies are 101st in predicted points added against the rush which means that it would be wise for the Cougars to heavily lean on running the ball against Washington. If the WSU is consistently forced into situations where they have to pass the ball then it should turn into a long game.

Even though the route concepts in the run and shoot give wideouts more freedom than the Air Raid, this Washington secondary is not one that de Laura and his wideouts should test when the Huskies are expecting a pass. That being said, don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Brian Smith dials up deep shots to Travell Harris or Calvin Jackson Jr. at times; while he tends to be a more conservative play caller on the whole, he tends to dial up deep routes on early downs.


When Washington has the ball

Pain, that’s really what should be expected from Washington’s offensive unit. The coaching staffs insistence on protecting Sam Huard’s red shirt has been commendable, but it’s also been insanely costly for this offense. Dylan Morris, whom has seen the most snaps under center, has been a turnover machine that has really prevented UW’s offense from getting into any sort of rhythm.

It’s unclear if we’ll see Morris much in this game, don’t be surprised if we get a healthy dose of Huard as he can still play in this game and protect his redshirt, but we can expect UW to still struggle in pass protection and run blocking. When Washington has relied on its typical zone blocking scheme, its been unable to open up holes for the running backs and that’s left the offense in a passing down situations; and that’s been the second biggest strength of the Washington State defense.

The biggest strength of this Cougar defense has been generating turnovers as they’ve got the highest raw number of forced (and second highest number of recovered) fumbles in the country. If the Cougs can land a couple of big hits to generate turnovers on UW’s running backs than that can really turn this game on its head — after all, Washington outgained Colorado by nearly 300 yards in the loss but four turnovers were the difference in the Buffs’ win.

Washington needs to avoid passing downs and turnovers if the offense is going to have any hope of success against this Cougar defense, no matter who the coaching staff lines up under center.


The prediction

Washington is going to roll out Huard as the interim coaching staff puts everything it can into keeping the winning streak alive for another year. Much like in their game against Arizona State, the Huskies first two offensive drives are going to be near perfect thanks to the scripted plays and they’ll put up the first ten points of the game. But just like the game against Sparky, the offense is going to splutter after the script runs out.

For the Cougs, their offense will take a few drives to get going as the scripted plays have suffered since half of the coaching staff was fired in October. But once WSU gets Borghi and McIntosh going its gonna be hard for the Husky defense to slow them down. As the Cougars quickly tie it up at 10 heading into the half.

Because this is the Apple Cup, we’ll get a nonsensical turnover that bounces around for a bit and that’ll come in the fourth quarter when a de Laura pass is tipped away from its intended target into the hands of a Husky defender and that will ultimately be the decider in this game as the Cougars Pac-12 North hopes are once again dashed by those in Purple.

Washington State Cougars – 21

Washington Huskies – 24.

How to watch or listen

Game time: 5:00 PM

Location: Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium

TV Broadcast: FS1

WSU radio: 710 ESPN Seattle

UW radio: 950 KJR

More from Sports with Neil and friends

Photo Credit: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times file via the Union-Bulletin