As I wait for the box score from WSU’s 78-69 win over Nicholls State in the Great Alaska Shootout, I guess I can pass along the unedited versions of my Apple Cup game advance and the game-day items. To think, these are the final ones for the year. Read on.
• Here’s our advance …
SEATTLE – The 102nd version of the Apple Cup – for the uninitiated, the annual rivalry football game between Washington State University and the University of Washington – will take place this afternoon in Seattle.
And for the second consecutive year it will match two of the nation’s poorest teams, if record and statistics mean anything.
In the challenger corner is WSU, 1-10 overall and winless after eight Pac-10 games. Out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, the top echelon of college football, the Cougars are in the bottom 10 in 11 of he 17 major statistical categories the NCAA keeps.
The home Huskies, which were winless last season including a 16-13 double-overtime Apple Cup defeat in Pullman, are better at 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-10. Washington is in the bottom 10 of the NCAA statistics in just one category – kickoff returns – but is in the bottom 20 in three more, including total defense.
But UW has one weapon the Cougars have a tough time matching: quarterback Jake Locker.
“Jake Locker obviously spearheads all of (their offense),” said WSU coach Paul Wulff this week. “It starts with him in the run and pass game.”
A broken thumb kept Locker out of last year’s Apple Cup, but the redshirt junior did some damage the year before. That’s when WSU invaded Husky Stadium and came away with a 42-35 victory before 72,888.
Locker was overshadowed that day by Alex Brink, who threw for 399 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner to Brandon Gibson with less than a minute left. But the Husky freshman still ran for 103 yards and threw for another 223, though he struggled with his accuracy, hitting just 12 of 35 throws.
Maybe that’s why he’d downplaying the significance of today’s game.
“To the players, to all of us, it’s just another game,” Locker said. “It is the Apple Cup and it has that added excitement to it.
“But once you put the pads on and step on the field, it’s you against them, just like every other game on the schedule.”
Locker should do better in this one, even if he doesn’t think it’s that big a deal. He’s improved his accuracy, completing 56.9 percent of his passes, and the Cougar defense gives up 282.8 yards a game through the air.
“He concerns everybody they face,” Wulff said. “I know for them, it hurt a ton for him to not be able to play last year after he got hurt. It really affected their team overall.
“Whenever he’s on the field, he always gives that team, whoever he’s playing for, a chance to win. He’s that kind of player and impact guy.”
Unless WSU can contain Locker, any chance for securing a third consecutive win in this rivalry – something WSU has never done – would seem to be poor at best.
• And here are the game-day items …
WSU game day
Washington State at Washington
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (PST), Husky Stadium
Radio: KXLY 920-AM
• Tale of the tape
Washington State Cougars
Record: 0-8 Pac-10, 1-10 Overall
Coach: Paul Wulff, second season
Record: 2-5 Pac-10, 3-7 Overall
Coach: Steve Sarkisian, first season
WSU 16, UW 13 (2 OT)
WSU lost to Oregon State, 42-10
Washington had a bye; lost to Oregon State 48-21, Nov. 14
Washington leads 64-31-6
When the Cougars run: This is a case of the resistible force meeting a moveable object. The UW run defense is the Pac-10’s second worst, only better than the Cougars. But the WSU running game is the conference’s worst by far. The Cougars will try to run like they did last year, which was highlighted by Logwone Mitz’s 57-yard touchdown. This will mark the final game for WSU’s Dwight Tardy, who will become the first Cougar to lead them in rushing for four consecutive years. EDGE: UW
When the Cougars pass: The WSU passing game has moved the ball in fits and starts all season. Using three quarterbacks has something to do with it, young receivers have something to do with it and 10 different starting combinations on the line have something to do with it. But it has come together recently, and the Huskies are giving up more than 250 yards a game. If there is a chance for the Cougars to move the ball today, this should be it. EDGE: WSU
When the Huskies run: Expect Chris Polk and Jake Locker to find at least some open lanes today. Polk is on the verge of becoming the first UW freshman to rush for 1,000 yards and Locker is one of the most physical running quarterbacks in the nation. The WSU front, which played a 3-4 all last week due to injuries, has to fly around and try to limit the Huskies to at least their season average of 3.9 yards a carry. There could be at tackle returning, Bernard Wolfgramm, for WSU this week. EDGE: UW
When the Huskies pass: They shouldn’t have too much trouble moving the ball. Not only is Locker throwing the ball much more accurately this season, completing 56.9 percent of his throws, UW’s pass offense is more sophisticated and efficient. The Huskies are third in the conference in passing yardage. They will be facing the Pac-10’s most porous pass defense, one that has been clear-cut by injuries. Two offensive players, Easton Johnson and Colin Huemmer, have been moved to defense. Starting safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) should be back in a reserve role. EDGE: UW
Coaching/intangibles: This is the Apple Cup. Emotions should run high on both sides, unlike last season when the Huskies seemed to be a bit sluggish. But the home-field advantage should also be huge today on what is predicted to be a cool, wet day. The Huskies have not won a home Apple Cup since 2002, and that took three overtimes. A loss to 1-10 WSU this year would have numerous negative effects, including stunting whatever momentum has been built in Steve Saskisian’s first season. EDGE: UW
Recent history: This is a series historically dominated by the Huskies. There was a stretch in the late 1950s and early ‘60s in which UW won eight consecutive games. It matched that streak during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. And the Huskies won six straight from 1998 to 2003. But the Cougars are on their best-ever roll in the rivalry, having won four of the last five. That’s a first for WSU, which has never won three consecutive games in this series. EDGE: WSU
• 3 things to watch
Keys to today’s Washington State-Washington matchup
1. The emotions: There’s nothing wrong with playing with emotion. But sometimes, especially for inexperienced teams, it can be hard to master them and turn them into a positive. Keep an eye out for false starts on offense, offsides on defense and illegal blocks on special teams. All are signs of overactive emotions. Whichever team first harnesses the power of their passions and uses it to explode around the field will have a decided edge.
2. The first quarter: Patrick Rooney’s field goal last week doubled the number of points WSU has scored in the first quarter this season. After 11 games, the tally stands at 173-6. The Cougars also ground out three first downs, giving them 17 in the opening quarter this season. Really, WSU hasn’t had a decent start since the opener with Stanford. The Huskies, on the other hand, have been outscored by just 16 points in the opening quarter of their 10 games. If UW jumps out early and WSU has to play from behind once again, it could turn into a long day.
3. Jake Locker’s feet: The Huskies’ quarterback doesn’t run nearly as often or as effectively as he did his first year. But he hasn’t gotten hurt as he did his sophomore season. And that was part of the plan for first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Turn Locker into a pro-style quarterback in a pro-style offense and keep him under center all season. But with just a home game with Cal left after Saturday, Locker should feel free to take off when it’s needed, to run with abandon. That’s been tough for WSU’s defense to control, and the group has yet to face a quarterback with Locker’s size and speed.
• 3 names to know
The sophomore had just one catch for 5 yards in this game last year, but expect him to pass that total in Washington’s first possession. He’s become Jake Locker’s go-to receiver, with six touchdowns among his 39 catches for 625 yards. Included in that total are two receptions on the game-winning drive against USC. And the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder has been on a roll of late, with two touchdown catches in back-to-back games vs. UCLA and Oregon State.
It’s hard to believe – especially for Mattingly – but this will be the final game in a Washington State uniform for the Mead High graduate. Mattingly, who came out of high school as a safety, played linebacker for his first two years in Pullman and defensive end last year before returning to linebacker this one, will have played in 46 games, starting 22 of them. The 6-4, 249-pound Mattingly has 211 career tackles, including 66 this year. Playing the strongside, Mattingly has yet to record a sack this season after posting a career high eight as a sophomore.
Foster might be the most hated guy in Tucson, after his 37-yard interception return against Arizona turned the game in the Huskies’ favor as time was running out. But the 6-2, 244-pound outside linebacker has been tough all season. Has been in double figures in tackles twice, including that game with the Wildcats (11). The other came two weeks ago against Oregon State (10), in which he had 2.5 for loss and forced a fumble. He’s second on the team with 72 tackles and two sacks.
• This and that from today’s game …
Xavier Hicks and Andy Mattingly have an interesting battle going on. The two seniors each have more than 200 career tackles (Hicks, 216; Mattingly, 211) going into their final game. … Dwight Tardy leads WSU in rushing with 380 yards. Though that is the lowest total of his career – he’s gained 667, 676 and 481, respectively, coming into the season – it still leads the Cougars. He will become the first WSU player to lead the team in rushing four consecutive seasons, though the school’s records don’t cover some of the early teams. … UW redshirt freshman Chris Polk needs 111 rushing yards to be the first of his class to go over 1,000 yards in UW history. … The Huskies have started nine true or redshirt freshmen this year. WSU has started 13. … Four Cougars are out today due to concussions: tight end Tony Thompson, guards B.J. Guerra and Brian Danaher, receiver Johnny Forzani and defensive lineman Dan Spitz. Due to injuries or suspensions, WSU coach Paul Wulff expects to suit up less than 50 non-redshirting players.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back soon with the basketball game story. Until then …