The Washington Huskies are coming off a comfortable 42-23 win over the Oregon State Beavers at Husky Stadium this past Saturday.
What the win did was keep the Huskies hopes alive of winning the Pac-12 North Division and earning a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
This week, the Huskies march into their toughest game of the season in a classic Apple Cup showdown, where everything is on the line.
“It’s your typical big rivalry. I think anybody that wears purple in that town, the bristles start to stand up, ‘What are these people doing here?’ When you live in a big city, everybody gets away with wearing red around here. I’m kind of trying to figure out why. Why wouldn’t we bristle up when we see those Cougar flags around here? I don’t like it, but I guess it’s a double standard.” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said.
Washington State has been led by newcomer quarterback Gardner Minshew, who has led the prolific offense of the Cougars all year.
Chris Petersen holds a decisive 4-0 Apple Cup record over his counterpart Leach and has had his number every contest resulting in blowout victories.
The Huskies control their own destiny, despite the Cougars 10-1 record. It’s a simple equation…..win the Apple Cup and you play for a Pac-12 Championship!
Here are some keys to the game that the Huskies must do in order to put themselves in a good position to win this game…..
Take The Crowd Out Of It Early
The Cougars are undefeated at home this season with a 6-0 record and are a tough team to beat in the Palouse. They will be amped up to play the Huskies, as they feel this is their best chance to end the Huskies dominance over them as of late. With a raucous crowd and hostile environment, it will be crucial for the Huskies to take the crowd out of it early. That doesn’t always mean a spectacular play but finding a way to limit the emotion of the Cougars from the out start. On defense, it could mean forcing the Cougars offense into a 3-and-out and making them wonder if they can move the ball against the Huskies. On offense, it could mean sustaining a six to seven-minute drive resulting in some kind of score. Any positive sign of life for the Huskies to temper the nerves and the environment!
Get A Consistent Pass Rush On Gardner Minshew
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew has been the main reason that the Cougars are having the special kind of season they are. The difference between him and Luke Falk from years past is his ability to stretch the field more and his mobility is better. It’s no secret that Washington State runs a precision timing route offense, which the Huskies seem to have the “kryptonite” for every season. The Huskies will need to bring constant pressure on Minshew the entire night and make life uncomfortable for him, or it will be a long night. They can’t afford to just let him sit back and pick apart the Huskies defense in the passing game. The Huskies have struggled to consistently find a pass rush all season and the Cougars offensive line has only allowed 9 sacks total the entire season. Their success with this aspect will most likely decide the outcome of the game.
Shorten The Game
It is no secret that the strength of the Cougars team is their “video game” offense, that has the ability to put up big numbers and points in waves. The best strategy against that type of offense is to “shorten the game” and keep the Cougars offense off the field as much as possible. The Huskies just happen to have the weapon to get that done in senior star running back Myles Gaskin. This may be a game where the Huskies ride their senior “work horse” with 35 carries and let him control the pace of the game. By handing the ball off to #9 and chunking off 6-minute drives, it keeps the Cougars offense off the field, where they cannot get into rhythm against the Huskies. Gaskin is tailor-made for these types of games and situations! “Engine Engine #9”!
Defense Must Get Off The Field On Third & Fourth Downs
On the season, the Husky defense is allowing opponents to convert 40% of the time on third downs, and 56% of the time on fourth downs. In a game like this against a potent offense like the Cougars, the Huskies must find a way to get off the field regularly. There is no better way to disrupt a timing route offense that depends on rhythm, than stalling their drives and forcing them to punt on a regular basis. When Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew is allowed to convert tough third and fourth down conversions, then it gets the Cougar crowd hyped up. It can be demoralizing to the Cougars offense to constantly be sent off the field by the Husky defense, which has been a major reason why the Huskies have owned this matchup most recently and dominated the Cougars offense.
Win The Turnover Battle
When playing in rivalry games and especially when everything is on the line, the emotion factor impacts the game in a huge way. The Cougars have a dynamic offense and finding ways to create turnovers, with interceptions and fumbles could prove to be the difference in the game. With a game that most likely will be close and go down to the wire, a timely turnover by the Husky defense or on special teams could turn the tide of the game. The Husky offense has proven that they need any help allotted to them over the course of a game. A few extra possessions not only helps them put more points on the board, but also limits the opportunities for the Cougars to put their offense on the field. Forcing critical turnovers can suck the life right out of Martin Stadium which is advantage Huskies.
Sound Special Teams Play
Last game, the Huskies special teams’ unit didn’t play well at all but got away with it because of an inferior opponent. That will not fly this week, as the Huskies will need to have their best game of the season on special teams. Field position in this game will be critical and if the Huskies can win that matchup, then good things are in store for them. Punting the ball down and pinning the Cougars to the 5 to 10-yard line, will make them have to march down the field 90+ yards against one of the top defenses in the nation. Converting all field-goal attempts for the Huskies will be essential as these rivalry games are often decided by a last second kick. Finding a way to have a game-changing punt or kickoff return could also change the complexion of a tight ball game, which the Huskies have been searching for all season.
Pull Out All The Stops “Coach Pete”
We are at a point in the season, where saving your best plays and hiding new formations and wrinkles is out of the window now! In a hotly contested matchup against two good teams, throwing a new curveball can change the entire tide of the game. It’s time for Petersen to pull out all the stops against the Cougars and try to catch them off guard. Coach Pete has had a reputation throughout his career for his creation of “trick plays”, in a thick binder that he possesses. Rest assured, during the bye week, the Huskies coaching staff certainly used the time to not only prepare for the Beavers, but to look at the Cougars as well. There is not a better time for the Husky coaching staff to throw the complete arsenal at their cross-state rivals and show everyone who the better prepared coaching staff really is!