Leading up to the Apple Cup, Thanksgiving week can mean a little for free time, as many people are out of school and work. However, that free time can quickly dissipate with travel and the WSU basketball team playing in a tournament.
The several hours in a row it takes to sit down and put together a comprehensive team preview has been hard to find, so this week we are doing something a little different. Those of you who have trouble getting through the typical 1500-2000 word previews may be rejoicing.
We'll start off by previewing the Husky offense and how it is expected to perform against the Cougar defense. Tomorrow, we'll have the Cougar offense against the Husky defense. Quick overview: the defenses aren't very good.
Click the jump for a slightly more in-depth preview.
OFFENSE: 30.9 PPG, 5.90 YPP, #44 S&P
The Washington Husky offense provides a challenge because they possess the ability to both run and pass. Junior running back Chris Polk is having another solid year while sophomore quarterback Keith Price may have a lot of UW fans wondering what they were missing in the passing game with Jake Locker at the helm. This balance allowed Washington to have success early in the season en route to a 5-1 record. Since then, Price has become taken numerous hits and been hampered by injury while UW faced the meat of their schedule.
Despite playing on at most one leg for much of the year, Price has put up some very impressive numbers. He has led a UW passing attack that is ranked 34th in S&P. He has completed 66.9% of his passes for 7.9 yards an attempt and 26 touchdowns. That UW has been more effective on passing downs than they have on standard downs is a testament to how well he has played. Price has also benefited greatly from a talented group of receivers, and he has been able to spread the ball around to keep defenses honest.
Six different Huskies have between 27 and 37 catches on the season. Devin Aguilar is the yardage and YPC leader, as he is gaining 14.94 yards a catch. Jermaine Kearse is a big body that made life difficult for WSU defensive backs a year ago, and he is tied for the team lead with six receiving touchdowns. Freshmen Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins have made an immediate impact for Washington. Nuss wrote in more detail early in the week about how Seferian-Jenkins will provide a tough match-up for the Cougars in the 2011 Apple Cup. Be sure to read that.
Polk's impact on the Husky offense is huge, as he has carried the ball nearly 22 times a game and catches 2.5a game. He is a bruising back who torched WSU a year ago. This season Polk is averaging 5.15 yards per carry and has scored 13 total touchdowns (10 on the ground, three in the air). It will be interesting to see how the Cougs handle Polk. No doubt they remember his domination last year as well as anybody.
The Washington State defense has struggled all season long in the run and the pass. Overall, WSU ranks 105th overall in defensive S&P, and is about 15.1% worse than an average FBS defense. The Cougs have made a conscious effort to stifle the run game, and improved play from the linebackers and defensive line has allowed them to be almost average in that category. It will be interesting to see if they focus in on stopping Polk and trust man-coverage on the outside as they have done several times this season. That will likely not work, as Price and his stable of receivers will make a Cougar defense that ranks 109th in passing S&P pay.
While the Huskies are not "great" in any specific category, they are well above average in overall passing, rushing, standard downs, and passing downs. This makes them very difficult to game-plan against, especially for a WSU defense that has been shredded in all those categories on many occasions this year. The best comparison of a similarly balanced offense may be Arizona State. Against the Sun Devils, WSU employed a "bend-don't-break" strategy and tried to keep everything in front of them. It worked pretty well, as ASU was stopped several times in the red zone and didn't have many big plays. The Cougs will have to do something like that again if they want to limit UW.
Washington will put points on the board in this one and move the ball effectively. The key will come down to how well WSU can stop them when the field gets smaller in the red zone. With guys like Seferian-Jenkins and Jermaine Kearse, that is going to be a very tough task. Cougar fans may have to look for the Cougar offense to put up a lot of points to keep pace in this one.
We'll be back tomorrow to look at that offense and how well it can perform against a less-than-stellar UW defense.