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Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for Washington State against Washington

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

Don’t take your eyes off …

Cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon have led the way for Washington’s stellar work in the secondary this season. But they’ve been lining up across from outside receivers all season. That might create a matchup issue for the Huskies against Washington State, which has amassed the bulk of its passing numbers this year through its top-notch tandem of slotbacks in Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris. “That’s something we’ll be tracking throughout the game,” WSU interim coach Jake Dickert said when asked whether he expects McDuffie and Gordon to shift in their coverage assignments. “It’s hard when you rotate great cover guys inside. Sometimes you’re advertising that you’re going to play man. … How are they going to try to eliminate some of the success we’ve had on the inside?” The Cougars’ opponents haven’t had much luck in that regard. Jackson and Harris rank second and third, respectively, in the Pacific-12 Conference in receiving yardage. They have combined for 1,665 of WSU’s 2,873 yards passing, 125 of its 236 receptions and 16 of its 24 touchdowns. “That’s just the way our offense is designed,” Dickert said. “Those are tough matchups.”

When WSU has the ball …

The Huskies’ most consistent facet as a team this season has been their uncrackable secondary, which tops the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed and pass-defense efficiency. UW has surrendered fewer passes of 30 or more yards than any Football Bowl Subdivision team in the country. Dawg DBs McDuffie and Gordon are projected to be taken in next year’s NFL draft. On the other hand, the Husky defense is getting shredded on the ground, allowing 192.3 yards rushing per game (11th in the conference) and 4.8 yards per carry. Six opponents have bruised UW for more than 200 yards in the run game. Statistically, the Cougars are relying on their rushing attack more often this year than they have in more than a decade. “One thing they’re doing different (than in past years) and effectively is running the ball,” UW interim coach Bob Gregory said. “I expect them to run the ball against us, since that’s been tough for us.” Of course, rain is in the forecast for Friday’s game. With all that in mind, will the Cougars put more on the shoulders of their backfield duo of Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh? WSU has logged over 4.0 yards per carry in three of its past four games, most recently chalking up an impressive average of 6.2 yards per attempt in its 44-18 thrashing of Arizona last week. Borghi, in the words of Harris, was a “bowling ball” vs. Arizona, tallying a career-best 139 yards and two scores on 16 attempts. McIntosh was no slouch either, piling up 73 yards on just 10 tries. Borghi needs two TDs to reach 41 on his career and tie Steve Broussard’s career scoring record. Since taking the WSU helm a month ago, Dickert has put extra emphasis on establishing the run to set a physical precedent.

When Washington has the ball …

It’s been a topic of discussion all week among media outlets covering UW: Who’ll start at quarterback in the Huskies’ season finale? Redshirt freshman Dylan Morris has gotten the nod in every game so far, and the results have been mixed at best. He’s been prone to turnovers and made a handful of crucial errors in crunch time. The speculation is Sam Huard might receive the call. Huard, a five-star true freshman out of Kennedy Catholic and the nation’s No. 1 pro-style QB recruit (ESPN), can play in one more game this year and still retain a redshirt season. Gregory declined to offer specifics this week when asked about the QB situation. “I could, but I’d have to kill you,” he said. “So, no. I’m not going to divulge.” It’s uncertain whether the Dawgs’ offense will return a couple of key pieces that were absent in last week’s 20-17 loss to Colorado. First-look receiver Terrell Bynum (436 yards, four TDs) and starting running back Sean McGrew (431 yards, eight TDs) missed the game for unspecified reasons. An already suspect UW offense might be in a pickle if it has to go without two of its most important playmakers while starting a freshman under center. It appears WSU’s secondary won’t be at full strength. Strong safety Daniel Isom, one of the Cougs’ defensive glue pieces, and rotational cornerback Chau Smith-Wade are “doubtful” to play, Dickert said. That’d mean additional reps for three transfers who have filled in well when needed this season – safety Tyrone Hill Jr. (Buffalo), and cornerbacks Kaleb Ford-Dement (Old Dominion) and Chris Jackson (Michigan State).

Evergreen State well represented

Adding to the intrigue of the intrastate feud, the rosters of the Apple Cup combatants feature a combined 89 Washington natives. The Cougs have 39 Washingtonians, but only four of them have appeared in an Apple Cup game – tackle Abraham Lucas (Everett), linebacker Justus Rogers (Bellevue), nickel Armani Marsh (Spokane) and center Brian Greene (Yakima). Of the Huskies’ 50 Washington products, eight have played in an Apple Cup. Gordon and standout linebacker Ryan Bowman saw plenty of snaps in both the 2018 and ’19 editions. Dickert has never experienced this rivalry game, but his coaching counterpart is quite familiar with it. Gregory has been on the Huskies’ staff since 2014, and he played linebacker and DB for WSU from 1984-86. “We respect it, we love it,” Dickert said of the Apple Cup. “This is a passionate game for our state, our alumni base and our players are fired up to play in it.”