Deciding the PAC-12 North
Tonight’s Friday night spotlight has the makings of the perfect rivalry game. Washington and Washington State will be competing for the Apple Cup to decide a lot. Not only does the winner get in-state bragging rights, but this year, it will decide who plays Utah in the PAC-12 Championship. The craziness is getting started well before kickoff with the University of Washington marching band bus rolled over on their way to the game! Luckily, no serious injuries (phew!) occurred. This promises to be a fantastic prime-time match up, so get comfortable!
The Apple Cup
The Apple Cup is played in Seattle in odd years and in Pullman on even years. However, the Huskies dominated this rivalry over the years with 72 wins, 32 losses, and 6 ties. In spite of this, the Cougars are the favorites by a slight margin in this one. In addition, the PAC-12 probably not sending a team to a College Football Playoff game unless the Cougars win. Even then, it might be a serious stretch (but could get easier with some “helpful” losses by other top 10 teams).
So, with no further further ado here’s tonight’s preview!
University of Washington
The Huskies came into the season as the 6th-ranked team. However, they started with a loss against Auburn and then lost to Oregon and California. Even having dropped down 16th-place the Huskies can still win 10 games. To do this though, they need to beat Washington and Utah, if they are able it will be an extra sweet victory!
Washington is a unique case, normally schools have huge home and away splits. The difference is only about 20 passing yards, and while larger, the rushing numbers are only about 50 yards difference. Defensively, the Dawgs allow about 30 yards difference in passing yardage and 20 rush yards between home and away.
Passing: While I pointed out how unique Washington’s situation is as far as sheer number of yards. They fall right back into line with the rest of the PAC-12 Conference (and frankly, every other team) with touchdowns and interceptions. At home, Washington is playing great at home with 12 touchdowns to a mere 4 interceptions on 2 more attempts. On the road, however, they’ve only managed 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. One final note on these differences is that they lost 11% completion rate solely by leaving Husky field.
Rushing: The Huskies have really struggled to keep up with their home production on the road this year. They even throw in a few extra attempts for good measure, but they still can’t keep it up. Road production for rushing yards, yards per attempt, and touchdowns are all roughly half of their home production. This means that instead of 5.1 yards per attempt at home, they are only getting a hair over 3.5 on the road. They accumulated 1206 yards of rushing offense on the year at home (albeit with one more game played) and on the road the total only 756. And finally, the most painful part, they have 14 rushing touchdowns at home, compared to only 7 on the road.
Passing: From a defensive standpoint, just to point out how unique that completion rate decrease is. The Husky’s defense allows a 0.9% difference between home games and away games. The yardage, yards per attempt, completion percentage and even rating are all very similar. The Huskies allow about the same amount of touchdowns regardless of location, but they record double the interceptions at home. Ironically, they also average more sacks, for less lost yardage, to the tune of about an additional half-sack per game.
Rushing: The Huskies have been pretty solid on this side of the ball all season. They are allowing less than one rushing touchdown per game. They have also managed to avoid the dreaded splits on defense with yards, yards per attempt, and touchdowns all pretty much the same. The only really difference has been that they’ve faced 5 more attempts per game but the statistics indicate little, if any, downside for that.
Unlike their husky brethren, the Cougars weren’t given any credibility at the beginning of the season. They have managed to just keep winning this season. Their lone loss of the season was in Los Angeles against a USC team that played up to their competition. Excluding their loss, the Cougars were only tested twice by Stanford (3 point difference) and Utah (4 points). In fact, their average margin of victory is almost 18 in the 9th most difficult schedule in FBS.
If you’re reading this post — you’re probably aware that Mike Leach likes to throw the ball, a lot. As a result, their rushing numbers are usually really low, and this year is no exception.
Passing: The Cougars like to air it out, and their passing production illustrates this perfectly with almost 430 yards per game at home (and about 370 on the road). Regardless of where they play — they average in excess of 50 passing plays per game for about 7.5 yards per attempt, and a 70% completion rate. One thing I was very surprised to see was that unlike the Cougs defense at home, their passing touchdowns to interceptions ratio is much higher at home. At home they’ve thrown for 21 passing touchdowns with 7 interceptions, but on the road they have 16 passing touchdowns and one interception.
Rushing: Mike Leach’s offense uses the run mostly as a distraction. For comparison sake, Washington averages about 40 rushing attempts per game, the Cougars get about half of that. They also only average about 80 yards per game, which doesn’t leave much room for variation (plus/minus only about 10 yards). They consistently average about 4 yards a carry, but there’s something about this offense that I certainly wasn’t aware, and I bet you aren’t either (unless you’re a die hard Cougar). The Cougars average about the same number of rushing touchdowns as the Huskies do, and they have a lot less variation. In fact, they have none, the score the exact same number of touchdowns home and away (10). Yes, they have played one more home game, so perhaps there is a little bit, but it’s definitely less than other teams.
Passing: Washington State is allowing a little under 200 yards of passing offense per game. Sticking with the home-cooking theme (see below), Washington State is averaging 3.5 times more interceptions at home (7 at home, 2 on the road). At this might be an area the Huskies should fear, I touched on their monstrous 11% drop in completion rate away from Husky Stadium, but it get’s worse. The Cougars have reduced their opponents completion percentage by 11.5%. They are also averaging almost a full sack per game more at home.
Rushing: The Cougars have showed a stout rushing defense this year, and at home they’ve been even better. On the road they allow 140 yards per game, at home it’s only a smidge (technical term) above 105. They’ve also allowed almost one-third the number of touchdowns at home compared to a way (4 at home, 12 away). Apparently, when you’re the Cougars the home-cooking helps hold the line, as they’ve given up 1.5 yards less per carry in Pullman.
The game is played at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington with kickoff at 5:30p PST/8:30p EST).
The neutrals are expecting a lot of points to be put up on the board in this win, over 50, and Washington State are the favorites to win (usually what happens when a higher-ranked team plays a lower one, especially at home).
Keys to a win for each side
- Washington needs to get the same production out of their rushing attack as at home. I think that purely having proven threats on the rushing side of the game will open up the passing game a lot (and hopefully help neutralize the huge home/away splits).
- This also will help to neutralize the Cougars defense by forcing them not to cheat towards the pass (which is likely part of the reason there’s such a marked difference between completion percentages).
- When teams have to throw the ball, the space for the quarterback just gets progressively smaller.
- The Huskies are pretty stingy about allowing redzone touchdowns to opposing rushers, so hopefully they can keep that up.
- Stay solid against the rush. The Huskies have been plagued by rushing ineffectiveness all season on the road, and it’s having impacts on Jake Browning. Force him to make plays and it will likely lead to more interceptions.
- Air Raid!!! Shocker right? Throw the ball, it’s been their specialty all season and there’s no reason to stop now.
- Maintain the completion percentage. A high completion percentage keeps the Huskies guessing on defense because they know they can get beat.
- Continue to get the running backs involved on the goal line. The goal line is traditionally one of the hardest places for both sides of the ball. When you can consistently score rushing and passing, it gets even worse for the defense. There’s less space to cover, but when your opponent can score in a variety of ways it’s a defensive coordinators nightmare. They have shown they can score through the air, running backs, and even a quarterback sneak — i
Hope you enjoy the game, and I’ll catch you for the next spotlight!