The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Can the Cougs even beat UW in Seattle?

WSU’s chances in Apple Cup
The WSU football team prepares to take the field before the Apple Cup, Nov. 26, 2021, at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

For the final time as Pac-12 Conference foes, WSU and UW will battle it out for bragging rights in the Boeing Apple Cup. In 2023, it will be played in Seattle, with the Huskies leading the all-time series 75-33-8, but the Cougs come in as the most recent winners on the west side.

“Everything’s on the line for this game. Bragging rights for a year and that trophy, man,” WSU WR Lincoln Victor said. 

Head coach Jake Dickert has been on both sides of the Apple Cup. He led his team to a win two years ago when the Cougs last played on the road but was the coach on the receiving end of a loss just one short year ago. However, he understands that this is more than just a game at the end of their schedule. 

“To say it’s just another game is not fair. It’s not,” Dickert said. 

Although the Huskies dominated in 2022 to the tune of a 51-33 final score in Pullman, behind the arm of Michael Penix Jr.’s 485 yards and three TDs, two receivers had over 150 yards on five and six receptions, with the WSU secondary getting torched. 

Washington punted just a single time throughout all 60 minutes, with WSU punting four times.

As the two teams enter their matchup, the two programs are in two different places. UW, the No. 4-ranked team already in the Pac-12 Championship, is two wins away from making the College Football Playoff and moving on to the Big Ten in 2024 vs. WSU, the formerly No. 13-ranked team that had lost six-straight games before beating Colorado and is without a Conference in 2024.

“There’s a lot of storylines around this football game for both sides,” Dickert said. 

But, it is more than just what is on paper. UW is far from invincible. Records do not matter and will not matter at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Seattle. 

Washington has had several games where they barely beat their opposition. On Sept. 30, they took home the win against Arizona team at the beginning of their successes by a final score of 31-24. They barely beat Oregon at home by a final score of 36-33, Arizona State stifled their offense in a 15-7 final and finally, they survived Oregon State 22-20. 

While WSU went to Eugene, Oregon, and lost to the Ducks 38-24, the Cougs showed heart despite being in the midst of their losing streak. 

WSU started the season 4-0, with their wins coming against some good opponents, including Oregon State and Wisconsin, both ranked at the time of the matchup and the Beavers remaining ranked to this day. 

Again, it is vital to understand the odds are stacked against the Cougs in this matchup. They are 5-6 on the brink of their bowl streak being snapped. UW on the other hand, is undefeated and No. 4 in the nation. They are going to the Pac-12 Championship and are the boulder to WSU’s Sisyphus. 

“It’s going to be a tough matchup to go in there and win and our guys are going to be prepared and ready to do it,” Dickert said. 

Trying to figure out how to beat the UW, the Cougs should look at how Oregon State and Oregon took them on and how WSU had taken on those same teams. The Huskies only beat the Ducks by three and the Beavers by two.

Oregon’s defense held Penix Jr. to completing 59% of his passes while he averaged 13.7 yards per completion. The defense only sacked the lefty once, for five yards and did not even get an additional QB hurry on him.

Oregon State, with the benefit of the pouring rain, held him to a completion percentage of 46% and an average of 12.5 yards per completion. They did not sack him but tallied three QB hurries and five pass breakups. 

While they did not intercept a pass, on attempts between 5-14 yards, Penix Jr. completed just 30% of his passes and on attempts of 15+ yards, he completed just 33% of his passes. 

Compare that to when Cam Ward went against those defenses. On the road against Oregon? He still completed 71% of his passes for 438 yards and a TD. Against Oregon State at home? He completed 82% of his passes and threw for 404 yards and four TDs. WSU averaged a total of 7.0 yards per play against Oregon and UW averaged 6.8. Against OSU, WSU averaged 8.1 yards per play and UW averaged 5.1.

Penix Jr.’s calling card is his ability to make big plays. He averages double-digit yards per completion for a reason. The UW offensive line is dominant. They do not allow much in terms of pressure on their QB.

One way the Cougs can try to generate pressure is not utilizing it. Rush three, a combination Brennan Jackson, Ron Stone Jr. and Nusi Malani, maybe throw in a late corner blitz. But the priority should be forcing Penix Jr. into checkdown throws. If the Cougs can eliminate the big throws to Rome Odunze, they will not only slow down the Huskies’ offense. They will take out the Seattle crowd. 

When the Cougs won the Apple Cup in 2021, they intercepted Sam Huard four times and averaged 6.2 yards per play while limiting UW to 4.4 yards per play. It will not be the same recipe for success available in 2023, which may benefit WSU.

Ward threw the ball 52 times for 322 yards and two TDs a year ago in the Apple Cup, with Nakia Watson carrying the ball 15 times for 73 yards and a score. His average yards per carry of 4.9 is good, but Watson will need to replicate that or even improve on it if the Cougs want to win.

Against Colorado, Watson ran eight times for 47 yards, an average yards per carry of 5.9 yards. He looked the best he has in a while but ran the ball just eight times. If they can get nearly six yards a rush against UW’s defensive line, the Cougs should rely heavily on the legs of their back.

Coaching should have a lot of faith in Ward to get the job done and find his playmakers in Kyle Williams and Josh Kelly, but WSU will not win a shootout with Washington. The goal should be to do their best to limit Washington’s big plays, prioritize forcing field goals over TDs and focus on keeping the ball out of the UW offense. Oregon had the ball nearly 10 minutes more when they took on UW and Oregon State had the ball nearly a full 15 minutes more.

WSU has a stronger offense than the Beavers but a weaker defense. If WSU has around 38 minutes of possession, meaning UW will have around 22, then that likely would be the perfect opportunity to walk away with a close win. 

If a shootout is in the cards, it would be unwise to count out the Cougs completely. While when they scored 56 against Colorado, they only gave up 14, It was not much of a shootout, but the offense proved to be able to keep it coming. In the first quarter, they ran 10 plays on offense and only faced one third-down play. In the second quarter, they scored 21 points, going 3-of-4 on third down and averaged 8.2 yards per play, most of which happened through the air.

In the first half overall, they averaged 5.1 yards per play on the ground and passed for a total of 219 yards. Over 36 total plays, they gained an average of 7.9 yards per play. By the fourth quarter, the backups were all in and they were more focused on running out the clock. But for the first 75% of the game, roughly 45 minutes of game time, they kept their foot on the pedal and scored 56 points, with 42 of those coming from the offense. 

Another Apple Cup victory in Seattle would be a miracle for Coug fans, but that is what rivalries are all about. 

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.