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Sports >  WSU football

First look: Interim coaches lead Washington State, Washington into Apple Cup

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 22, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

What is it? Washington State (6-5, 5-3 Pac-12) looks to end a seven-game skid against Apple Cup rival Washington (4-7, 3-5) and win in Seattle for the first time since 2007.

Where is it? Husky Stadium in rainy Seattle.

When is it? Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m. Friday.

Where can I watch it? Fox Sports 1 will carry the broadcast.

Who is favored? The Cougs opened as three-point underdogs, but the line shifted over the past few days. They’re now favored by a point, according to Vegasinsider.com.

How did they fare last week? WSU’s offense was explosive and its defense held conference cellar dweller Arizona in check during a foggy senior night at Gesa Field. The Cougs’ veterans led the way in a 44-18 blowout win. The Huskies had the advantage over Colorado in every major stat category, outgaining the Buffaloes 426-183, but four turnovers bit UW, which fell out of bowl contention for the first time since 2009 with a 20-17 loss in Boulder, Colorado.

Why WSU will win: The visitors aren’t playing only for pride and in-state bragging rights – they’ve got aspirations beyond this regular-season finale. WSU has already locked up a bowl berth, but it still has a shot at the Pac-12 title game. The Cougs needs a win – and for Oregon State to upset Oregon – to qualify for the Pac-12 championship by way of a tiebreaker in the league’s North division. “It’s exciting, but we don’t control those things. We’ve ultimately played ourselves into all these situations,” WSU interim coach Jake Dickert said. “I’ve talked about that over the last five weeks. We didn’t start the season exactly how we wanted, but we stayed the course and kept believing.” Many of WSU’s experienced players have felt the sting of losing three Apple Cups by wide margins, but this rivalry game will be all new to the Cougs’ coaching staff, which was hired in early 2020. WSU is hungry, and tired of taking an annual loss to UW. And on paper, it’s the Cougars’ best chance in some time of downing their hated adversaries from the west – because Washington is in the midst of a down year. The Huskies, whose coach was fired last week, are 2-4 at home, including an embarrassing 13-7 loss to FCS Montana in Week 1, and their offense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 in the majority of stat columns. They run for just 106.5 yards per game, and interceptions have been an issue. UW’s defense concedes 192.2 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12. The hosts’ strength is their secondary, but they’ll be welcoming perhaps the conference’s hottest QB in Jayden de Laura and a dazzling pass-catching duo in prolific slots Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris, plus a Cougar ground game that rumbled over Arizona for 223 yards on 36 attempts (6.2 yards per try).

Why Washington will win: History is on the Huskies’ side. They’re riding a seven-game winning streak against the Cougars, and the results haven’t been close. WSU hasn’t had anything to celebrate in Seattle in 14 years. Although UW has had trouble scoring this season, its defense is keeping opponents off the board. The Huskies sit atop the Pac-12 in scoring defense (21.1 ppg) and limit opponents to a league-low 134.1 yards per game through the air. Five teams have been held under 100 yards passing versus UW, which hasn’t lost a conference game by more than 10 points. “Defensively, the numbers say they’re the best in the league, and through 11 games, that’s pretty proven,” Dickert said. “They’re very strong in the secondary. We’re excited about those matchups and the challenges they’ll present.” Cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie are both projected by multiple outlets to be taken early in the 2022 NFL Draft.

What happened last time? The Evergreen State foes did not meet in 2020 because of coronavirus-related issues within WSU’s program. A year before, the Huskies locked up WSU’s Air Raid offense, holding it to one touchdown and cutting off any downfield attempts. UW quarterback Jacob Eason picked apart the Cougars in a 31-13 rout in Seattle. It was the Huskies’ seventh consecutive double-digit win in the series, which UW leads 74-32-6 all time.

Things to know1. Never before has the Apple Cup featured interim coaches on both sidelines. Dickert will head the Cougs for the fifth time since Nick Rolovich was fired Oct. 18, while Spokane native Bob Gregory – a WSU linebacker in the 1980s – is in charge at UW. Huskies coach Jimmy Lake was shown the door last week. College football fans have come up with a handful of clever monikers for this year’s odd edition of the Cup. Pac-12 podcaster David Woods’ suggestion got the most traction online – “The Application Cup.” If Dickert can guide the Cougars to their first victory in Seattle in 14 years, he’ll augment his resume and surely will be considered for WSU’s permanent coaching gig.

2. The Cougs’ roster features 33 players from the western side of Washington state, five of whom are Seattle natives. The Huskies boast 50 Washington products. WSU slot Joey Hobert was raised in California, but his father, Billy Joe Hobert, starred as the Huskies’ quarterback in the early 1990s, leading UW to a national title in 1991. Hobert, a sophomore, will be playing in his first Apple Cup. “What I know of it is it’s not just a big game for the teams, it’s a big game for the state,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be there. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy.”

3. Two key WSU defensive backs are questionable to play. Safety Daniel Isom and cornerback Chau Smith-Wade sustained injuries midway through the Arizona game. Isom was seen sporting a walking boot on the Cougs’ sideline. Dickert said both were present at Monday’s practice, but was not definitive on whether they’d suit up Friday. The Huskies have been plagued by injuries throughout the year, and they were short-handed again last week. Starting running back Sean McGrew and first-look receiver Terrell Bynum didn’t play.

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