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

Bowl eligibility and spite; 2023 Apple Cup

The Cougs have a whole lot more at stake than their own bowl hopes
WSU quarterback Cameron Ward throws a pass during the Apple Cup, Nov. 26.

With the looming destruction of the modern Pac-12, the Apple Cup is the only game guaranteed to continue. Still, the stakes could not be higher for the Cougs (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) and the No. 4 Huskies (11-0, 8-0 Pac-12).

Wazzu comes in one win away from extending their bowl streak to eight consecutive seasons, while UW comes in firmly in the College Football Playoff picture. Yet still, the biggest stakes in this one are bragging rights in the Pac-12 edition of the historic rivalry. Despite the stakes, the preparation is the same as any other game.

“Our message is what we know and control what we can control, and going on the road is tough in this league. So I always lean to more of the importance of what the Apple Cup means with the rivalry so [the team] understands what they’re walking into. To say it’s just another game is not fair, it’s not. But at the end of the day, the way we prepare and execute is just like any other game as far as getting a win,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said.

The task seems like a classic matchup of David vs. Goliath, especially being on the road, but there is an element of conference matchups and rivalries that create a different feel. Statistically, the teams play a similar game, pass-heavy with an attempt at a complementary running game with little defense, the difference is in consistency.

The Huskies offense ranks seventh in the country in total yards per game (482.8), first in the nation in passing (358.4), and eighth in points per game (39.3).

Many look at the Huskies offense and see a Heisman contender in quarterback Michael Penix Jr. who leads the nation with 3,695 passing yards or their elite trio of wide receivers led by Rome Odunze, who is fifth in the country with 1,206 receiving yards. The one part of the UW offense not often recognized is their offensive line, which has allowed just seven sacks of Penix on 394 attempted passes.

“There’s a lot of talk about the receivers and the quarterback which is well-deserved. This offensive line is incredible. [Troy Fautanu] is the best offensive lineman I’ve ever seen on tape, ever,” Dickert said. “We’ll do a variety of things, you have to affect them.”

It comes down to consistency, but the Cougs have the passing attack necessary to keep up with UW, as quarterback Cam Ward is fifth in the nation with 3,415 yards and is coming off a great performance throwing for 288 yards and two TDs on just 18 passes against Colorado. Ward threw for 322 yards and two TDs in last year’s Apple Cup and will need to repeat that success this year.

While both teams prefer to air it out, success on the ground has been harder to come by. The Cougs have the No. 11 rushing offense in the Pac-12 with just 87.2 yards per game, while UW is eighth at 124.5 per game. The difference has been in efficiency, with the Huskies averaging 4.7 yards per carry to Wazzu’s 3.1. UW running back Dillon Johnson is also tied for the conference lead with 11 rushing TDs.

The Huskies ran for 110 yards in their win over Oregon State a week ago while the Cougs broke the trend with 125 on the ground against Colorado. Both teams have struggled defensively against the run this season with UW ranking eighth and WSU tenth in rushing defense in the conference.

This game should be an offense lovers dream with both teams coming in struggling to stop the run, middle of the pack in pass defense and both struggling to rush the passer. The Huskies, despite their elite edge rusher duo of Bralen Trice and Zion Tepulo-Fetui, are last in the conference in sacks with just 14.

The biggest untold advantage for WSU in this game could come from the referees. The Cougs have been disciplined all year with 5.7 penalties per game and just 46.5 penalty yards per game, both third in the Pac-12. It has been a huge issue for the Huskies, however, coming in with 78.3 penalty yards per game which is the most in the country.

The Cougs are also hoping to get star corner Chau Smith-Wade back who has been day-to-day throughout the week.

A win for Wazzu guarantees a bowl bid and almost surely means UW is on the outside looking in come CFP time, the ultimate final statement to the team that helped jumpstart the demise of the current Pac-12. The last time the Cougars played in Seattle, it ended in a crimson sea on the field, should it happen again, it will be a tidal wave.

WSU takes on UW at 1 p.m. Saturday in Seattle. 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
HAILEE SPEIR, Evergreen photo editor
Hailee Speir is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Hailee is a junior English education major from Spokane, Washington. Hailee started working for the Evergreen in fall 2021 as a photographer.