Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian (10-13)
Record: 5-6 (4-4)
UW comes to Pullman as WSU's fourth straight opponent clinging to bowl hopes. While previous foes have needed to win and have a few other things happen, this time it is a lot more straightforward. If the Huskies beat the Cougars on Saturday, they are headed to some place sunny and warm for the holidays.
Husky fans want this Apple Cup desperately. A bowl game will at least partially validate Jake Locker's decision to return for his senior season, and be something very tangible that the coaching staff can point to as real improvement.
The Huskies come in to this matchup ranking #74 in Football Outsiders' FEI rating. They actually rank #91 in raw game efficiency, but receive a bump for their tough schedule. S&P thinks much more highly of UW, as they are ranked #40 in that statistic.
Thanks to cfbstats.com for many of the stats in this preview.
OFFENSE 20.9 PPG 5.3 YPP #25 S&P #76 OFEI
The big story for UW heading into the season was the return of Jake Locker for his senior year. Jake's loyalty was rewarded with a painful rib injury and an overall drop in individual statistics. However, S&P says the Husky passing game has been doing just fine, ranking 23rd in the country. UW has been able to excel in the passing game when it is least expected, because the numbers aren't as pretty on passing downs. The Huskies rank 80th in the nation when the defense knows they are likely to put the ball in the air. Jermaine Kearse has been Locker's best target, as he has caught 56 passes and ten touchdowns.
In the running game, Chris Polk has emerged as a very good running back. He has carried the ball 197 times for 954 yards and 4.84 average. Freshman Jesse Callier has also been very effective, as he has carried 71 times gaining 5.87 yards per attempt. Overall, UW's rushing attack ranks 27th in the country in S&P.
The Huskies have been really shut down on offense in their 6 losses. They see a drop of 1.8 yards per play in losses compared to wins. The effect has been in both the passing game and the running game, as they both see significant decreases in effectiveness when UW loses.
DEFENSE 31.5 PPGA 5.8 YPPA #69 S&P #86 DFEI
The strength of UW's defense is in the pass. They are ranked 52nd in S&P against the pass and 55th on expected passing downs. They've done this without generating a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback, registering just 18 sacks so far on the season. Nate Williams, Desmond Trufant, and company have done well enough covering in the passing patterns to make this UW pass defense just above average.
The problem for UW has clearly been in the running game. They rank 86th in S&P and opponents are gashing the Huskies for five yards a carry. That failure in rush defense has led to some easy third down opportunities for opponents, where they are converting 42.48% of tries.
It is especially important to get good yardage on first down against the Huskies, as they have demonstrated an ability to cover the pass and third and long conversions could be very difficult (the same can be said for most teams, but pass defense is a relative strength of this team).
The Huskies are in trouble if...They can't get the run game going. Chris Polk is bottled up and UW is left with many third and longs, where Jake Locker and the passing game have struggled all year. On defense, they allow WSU to do the same thing they did to Oregon State, grinding out the clock with the read option running game.