FACTS & STATS: Site: Husky Stadium (72,500) -- Seattle, Washington. Television: FOX. Home Record: Washington State 3-2, Washington 5-1. Away Record: Washington State 3-2, Washington 2-3. Neutral Record: Washington State 0-1, Washington 0-0. Conference Record: Washington State 4-4, Washington 6-1. Series Record: Washington leads, 67-32-6.
GAME NOTES: In the 106th edition of a long standing intrastate rivalry, the Washington State Cougars will battle the Washington Huskies for the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium on Friday afternoon.
There have been 105 total meetings between these bitter rivals since the teams fought to a 5-5 tie at the end of November in 1900. Since that inaugural meeting the Huskies have controlled the rivalry with a 67-32-6 win against the Cougars. However last year the Cougars pulled out a miraculous 31-28 overtime victory in Pullman to put an end to a three-game winning streak for the Huskies.
Just a few days after he received a contract extension as head coach, Mike Leach led the Cougars to a sixth win and bowl eligibility with a 49-37 victory over Utah last weekend. The win was the second straight for the Cougars, who are now eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2006. At 6-5 overall and 4-4 in league play the Cougars have taken a giant step forward in their second year under Leach. Last season Washington State went just 3-9 for its sixth straight losing campaign.
Although the Huskies are in possession of a superior overall record of 7-4, this season has been more of a disappointment for Washington. At one point, Washington was ranked No. 15 in the Top 25, but it has fallen far from that height. This marks the third-straight season the Huskies have made it into the national rankings only to plummet down the stretch. However, with a win on Saturday the Huskies would earn an eighth win for the first time since 2001.
Leach has done far for than instill a winning attitude in Pullman. The Cougars have become one of the most prolific passing teams in the country under his tutelage, ranking fifth in the nation in yards through the air (372 ypg).
Running the show from under center is Connor Halliday, who should easily eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for the season on Friday. Right now Halliday has thrown for 3,905 yards and 26 touchdowns, while completing 63.7 percent of his pass attempts. One issue Halliday has had trouble with is in ball security. Since he has thrown the ball nearly 600 times, defenses have had plenty of chances to capitalize on mistakes and they have done so as Halliday has thrown 19 interceptions this season. However against Utah Halliday was as flawless as he's been all year with 488 yards and four scores against zero interceptions.
Gabe Marks (65 receptions, 724 yards, six TDs) and Dominique Williams (36 receptions, 615 yards, six TDs) serve in different roles as receivers, though each is tied for the team-lead in touchdowns. Marks is more of a possession receiver, while Williams provides the type of big-play potential that is the life's blood of Leach's offensive strategy. Vince Mayle (36 receptions, 458 yards, six TDs) has also been an important part of the passing game, while Marcus Mason (43 receptions, 363 yards, two TDs) makes plays out of the backfield.
Mason is also the team's leading rusher, though the running game is an afterthought in the system. Mason has rushed for 370 yards and two scores on only 72 carries this year. Jeremiah Laufasa (155 yards, seven TDs) has been the hammer for the offense in the red zone as he has been able to finish a number of drives with short rushing touchdowns.
There is still work to be done on the defensive side for Leach, who hasn't always been a very strong defensive coach. The Cougars are third to last in the Pac-12 in total defense (450.4 ypg). Washington State has kept teams from scoring at an outrageous rate however with the third-best opponent red zone conversion rate (32-of-42) in the conference. Defensive leader Deone Bucannon racked up his 100th tackle of the season last weekend to become the first player since 1999-00 to record 100 tackles in consecutive seasons.
Thanks to superior balance the Huskies have been the second most effective offensive team in the conference this year. Washington ranks behind only Oregon in total yards per game (524.3 ypg) and is coming off an incredible 692-yard effort in a win over Oregon State last weekend.
The Huskies were able to pile up so many yards thanks to their efforts on the ground, as they finished with the second most rushing yards in a game in program history (530) against the Beavers. Leading the way as always was Bishop Sankey, who tallied 172 yards and three scores on 23 carries. Sankey is one of the best backs in the conference and the country for that matter, with 1,575 yards and 17 scores this season. Other than Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, no back in the Pac-12 is rushing for more yards per game than Sankey. Deontae Cooper (166 yards, two TDs) and Dwayne Washington (141 yards, two TDs) also had stellar efforts against the Beavers.
The reliance on the running game against Oregon State was needed, as starting quarterback Keith Price was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Price is listed as probable for Friday's battle. In Price's stead, Cyler Miles took the ball and performed well enough. Miles threw for 162 yards and a touchdown on 15- of-24 passing in a game in which very little was asked of him other than to steer the ship. Getting back Price and his 2,662 yards and 19 scores would be a big boost for the Huskies this week.
If Price comes back this week it will also help the Huskies' receiving corps, which was rather limited with Miles under center. Jaydon Mickens (60 receptions, 679 yards, five TDs) and Kevin Smith (41 receptions, 681 yards, four TDs) are the two most important targets while Austin Seferian-Jenkins (31 receptions, 361 yards, six TDs) is a tight end that plays like a receiver.
Washington has enjoyed more success on the defensive side of the ball than its counterpart for this rivalry game. The Huskies are fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (24 ppg) and yards allowed (387 ypg). Washington is also one of five teams in the league with at least 30 sacks this year. Kikaha Hau'oli (50 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks) presents a real challenge for opposing lineman while Sean Parker (51 tackles, four INTs) and Marcus Peters (47 tackles, five INTs) are dangerous in the secondary.
Hau'oli and the Huskies front line will be able to get pressure on Halliday and that could open up opportunities for the secondary to cash in on some errant throws. With the addition of Price to their offensive game plan, the Huskies' balance will prove too much for the one-sided Cougars.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington 35, Washington State 24
Friday, November 29, 3:30 p.m. (et)