It’s already Thanksgiving, which means the Apple Cup is knocking on the door with a heavy helping of bitter intra-state bickering. This Saturday, the Washington Huskies will be hosting the Washington State Cougars for a battle on Montlake.
It’s a classic rivalry game pitting two different worlds against each-other: great American farmland versus metropolitan, agriculture versus tech, rolling hills versus evergreen trees. It will be raining cats and dawgs in Seattle soon.
The Cup’s roots begin before the first World War, and historically, the rivalry is one-sided. The Dawgs have won 62.8% of all Apple Cup games that have ever been held, and have more recently taken seven out of the last ten Apple Cup trophies.
The Huskies will be defending their 4 straight Apple Cup streak this Saturday evening, and it’s looking to be a far more interesting affair because the Cougars have a ton of firepower. Mike Leach doesn’t have a positive record against the Huskies but this year the Cougars are in position to win and cement their claim as the PAC-12 North division champions.
Both teams are arriving at this point in the season in differing fashions; the Huskies have found comfort in the running game, while the Cougars have established confidence in the passing game. In fact, the Cougars don’t run the ball that often, gaining on average only 80 yards on the ground per game. These Washington defenses are stout, but the Huskies do own a slight edge against the run.
Here are five game-changing facets of the game to keep an eye on during the Apple Cup:
- The Huskies don’t make mistakes in the passing game, and thus, are incredibly efficient. While I’ve criticized Jake Browning for not slinging the ball more often, he doesn’t often make mistakes, having only thrown five interceptions this year. He’s completed almost 70% of his throws and has maintained a passing touchdown per pass attempt rate on par with his Apple Cup counterpart, Luke Falk. However, the Cougars have the personnel to keep Browning in check; Hercules Mata’afa and Frankie Luvu are sack leaders in the PAC-12 and their performance will determine whether Browning remains competitive in the passing game.
- The Cougars offensive line needs to be better at protecting Luke Falk. This line has let their quarterback hit the pavement an astonishing 39 times this year. The Huskies have effectively sacked opposing quarterbacks 33 times this year, third best in the PAC-12.
- The Cougars defense excels on third down. They’ve only allowed 25% of all attempts to get a new set of downs. This is a tough test for the Huskies offense this year, as the rest of the PAC-12 lack this defensive skill. On the other hand, the Husky offense is also prolific on third down. Unstoppable force meets immovable wall.
- Mike Leach of the Cougs has so far been beaten soundly in the proverbial chess game against the Huskies. He’s been a shining star for the PAC-12 and his press conferences are an absolute hoot. His record stands at 1-4 in the Apple Cup and it’d be great for him to grab another Apple Cup trophy. Leach is currently on pace with other great Coug coaches like Mike Price. Washington State held onto Mike Price and his 3-11 Apple Cup record for 14 years so it’s safe to say Leach’s job is safe regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game.
- The game is sold out but it’ll be loud and rainy. The Huskies and Cougars are both disciplined and don’t commit penalties. However, both teams are good and it’s going to be tough to gain ground for either side. Expect these teams to get tired and something will give in. The Cougars aren’t at home so it’ll be important for them to keep their wits and not give up yards to penalties. Rain usually pushes teams to commit to their run game, and the Cougars could ditch the pass if the rain piles on.
Right now, Vegas odds are predicting about a 29-20 victory for the Washington Huskies. That’s a little generous for the Huskies, but they’re at home and it seems that oddsmakers think these Huskies got unlucky in both of their losses this year. Fans should expect a Husky win, being an away team should prove to be too much for the Cougars to grab the Apple Cup trophy this year.