Welcome to one of the strangest editions of the Apple Cup in its 121-year history.
When in-state rivals Washington and Washington State last met, Chris Petersen had not yet announced his retirement and Mike Leach was still on the Palouse. Their replacements — Jimmy Lake and Nick Rolovich — were both dismissed before ever coaching in the series.
Both programs embark on uncertain futures with vacancies to fill in the coming weeks. The immediate unknown is quite a bit more exciting for Washington State, however, as the Cougars head into Seattle with a realistic shot at winning the Pac-12 North Division.
A defeat of the Huskies, coupled with Oregon State knocking off Oregon, would send Washington State to its first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game.
Washington State at Washington
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington State -1
When Washington State Has the Ball
For the last decade, Washington State running backs have operated primarily as pass catchers and blockers. Leach's tenure brought national attention to the Cougars' passing attack, but teams under predecessor Paul Wulff were largely pass-happy.
In fact, Washington State has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since the great Jerome Harrison in 2005 flirted with 2,000 yards. Max Borghi could become the first since Harrison. He's at 751 with a minimum of two games remaining and is coming off a stellar 139-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against Arizona.
Borghi and Deon McIntosh, along with dual-threat quarterback Jayden de Laura, should make hay against a Washington defense that has been shockingly soft against the run. The Huskies have given up at least 218 rushing yards six times this season, including well over 600 combined in losses to Oregon and Arizona State earlier this month.
While the Cougars are multifaceted in the run game, they haven't exactly gone to the triple option under interim head coach Jake Dickert. Sophomore quarterback de Laura is coming off of four touchdown passes against Arizona, and he has a pair of potential 1,000-yard receivers in Travell Harris and Calvin Jackson Jr. who keep opposing passing defenses on their heels. Washington will aim to contain them with a defense that ranks No. 1 nationally, even amid the Huskies' other struggles.
When Washington Has the Ball
Preceding Lake's dismissal, the former head coach cut ties with offensive coordinator John Donovan. Donovan's abbreviated tenure on Montlake was marked with inconsistency and frustration as Washington failed to establish much of an offensive identity.
Running the ball has proven problematic all season for the Huskies, including the last three in which they have failed to reach 100 net yards. Interim offensive coordinator Junior Adams opened up the passing game last week against Colorado, and quarterback Dylan Morris responded with almost 400 yards through the air.
He also was intercepted twice, and the Huskies scored just 17 points in the loss.
Morris' up-and-down play has interim head coach Bob Gregory faced with a choice on Friday. Gregory can give freshman Sam Huard his highly anticipated first start, but would be throwing the youngster into the fray against a solid Washington State pass defense. The Cougars have recorded almost as many interceptions (10) as it has allowed passing touchdowns (14) and they've limited opponents to 6.6 yards per attempt.
The perhaps unexpected stakes for Washington State in this edition of the Apple Cup add a layer of intrigue to an otherwise odd matchup.
Washington's had the Cougars' number for the better part of a decade, winning each contest since 2013. This is the most vulnerable Huskies team in that time.
Prediction: Washington State 24, Washington 20
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