SEATTLE – The statistics are mighty impressive for Washington State’s offense approaching Friday’s 111th Apple Cup. A few of the most notable numbers:
• 40.5 points per game, No. 1 in the Pac-12;
• 4,325 yards passing for Gardner Minshew, No. 1 in the nation;
• 36 touchdown passes for Minshew, tied for No. 1 in the nation;
• 198 plays of 10 yards or more, No. 1 in the Pac-12;
• 45.97 percent success on third down, No. 1 in the Pac-12.
But more than anything, this is the number that really jumped out to Washington coach Chris Petersen in his deep dive into the Cougars’ offense: nine.
As in, Washington State has allowed just nine sacks in 11 games. That figure might be the No. 1 reason to believe the No. 7 Cougars (10-1 overall, 7-1 Pac-12) can end a five-game losing skid to the No. 16 Huskies (8-3, 6-2) with the Pac-12 North title on the line.
A year ago, the Cougars ranked last in the Pac-12 by allowing 3.4 sacks per game. Considering how often they throw, that’s not a surprising number.
Which makes WSU’s protection of Minshew all the more amazing this season. That was Petersen’s word, anyway.
“That’s really an amazing stat, how few sacks they’ve given up for how much they throw it,” the UW coach said Monday. “They’re one of the better teams in the country in not giving up sacks and they throw it the most. Right there that tells you a lot, (that they’re) playing with a lot of confidence.”
What’s more, the Huskies have struggled to get to the quarterback this season. It’s the one obvious weakness for the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense.
The Huskies rank 10th in the Pac-12 in sacks, with 17 in 11 games. That’s 1.55 sacks per game, nearly a 50 percent decline since 2017, when they ranked second in the conference with 3.0 sacks per game.
“We’re getting close. We do move (quarterbacks) off the spot,” Petersen said. “I think that’s one of the things on defense – it’s not very complicated what everybody’s trying to get done. One of the things you’re trying to do is get sacks. We know that’s a game-changing thing, and we haven’t got the sacks that we have wanted to and we’re trying different, creative ways to get that done. This will be our biggest challenge this week in that department.”
The pass rush has been better. The Huskies had four sacks in the loss to California, one in the win over Stanford and two in Saturday’s victory over Oregon State.
They nearly had a third Saturday when redshirt freshman Joe Tryon tripped up Beavers quarterback Jake Luton, who was credited for a run of no gain when he dived back to the line of scrimmage.
It would have been the first career sack for Tryon, a 6-foot-5, 267-pound outside linebacker from Renton’s Hazen High School who made his first career start against the Beavers.
Tryon nearly ended up playing on the other side of the Apple Cup.
In August 2016, before his senior season at Hazen, he made an oral commitment to play for the Cougars. Considered a three-star recruit, his only other offer at the time was from Eastern Washington.
The Huskies entered the picture later, and Tryon wound up flipping his commitment to UW in January 2017.
“He’s got really big upside,” Petersen said Monday. “He just needs to see more things. You’ll see him one time miss the play and then he’ll have something similar and he’ll make the play. But he’s got the physical stature you want. He’s got a good mental makeup. Young guy that’s just learning and we’re excited to watch his progression.”
Tryon had three tackles against Oregon State. Before Saturday, he had been mostly used as a third-down pass-rush specialist, and he has 13 tackles in nine games this season.
“Joe has been coming on slowly but surely,” Petersen said.
Ariel Ngata, listed at 6-2 and 217 pounds, is another redshirt freshman outside linebacker who has been used sparingly, and mostly on third downs. He’s been credited with 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble in 11 games.
“He’s another guy with a big upside,” Petersen said. “Got to get him bigger. He’s got some good twitchy quick-twitch to him. He can be an explosive-type player, but got to get him bigger and he can kind of do it all.”
‘Awesome’ day for Adams
Fourth-year left tackle Trey Adams made his much-anticipated season debut in the second quarter against Oregon State, 13 months and two major surgeries since his last appearance for the Huskies.
The preseason All-American played in three series against the Beavers.
“I asked him after. I said, ‘How was it?’ And he was like, ‘Awesome.’ That’s what he said,” Petersen said. “It was good. He’s not where he has been, but it was great to get him out there and get him some game reps.”
Junior Jared Hilbers is expected to remain as the starter at left tackle in the Apple Cup.
Petersen said earlier this month Adams is planning to return to UW for a fifth season in 2019.
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