With the 2011 Apple Cup only hours away, we take a look at the Washington defense and try to figure out how WSU's offense will do against the Huskies. This is part two and you can find the other half of my Apple Cup preview here.
Yesterday, in taking a look at UW's offense, it seemed very likely that they will be able to move the ball against the Cougar defense. This will put extra pressure on the Washington State offense to play well and rack up points of their own. The good news is that Washington's defense is possibly the worst WSU has seen since playing Colorado in their Pac-12 opener. This is a welcome relief after playing a a string of four very tough defenses in a row the last month.
As Brian wrote yesterday, Todd Sturdy has shown he is very capable, even with constantly rotating quarterbacks. He'll have that situation again, as Marshall Lobbestael steps back into the starting role for his final game as a Coug following injury in last week's Utah game.
Preview of the UW defense, with all the fancy numbers, after the jump.
DEFENSE: 34.5 PPGA, 6.22 YPPA, #93 S&P
While the Washington offense seems to have taken strides under head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Nick Holt-led defense has yet to show much improvement. The Huskies have been poor in defending the run and the pass this season, and opponents have failed to score thirty points just three times. One of those coming against FCS Eastern Washington.
The UW pass defense has garnered much of the ire, and they will be center stage against a solid Washington State passing offense. Overall, the Huskies have actually been just a little below average in defending the pass. This has a lot to do with the opponents they have played. The conference is full of of very good passing games, and that has made the Husky secondary look very bad. S&P ranks them 74th overall in pass defense, performing 3.4% worse than an average FBS team would against their schedule.
The real problem comes when they are defending passing downs. The Huskies are 102nd in the country in performance on passing downs and 18.1% worse than an average FBS team. On third down and ten or more to go, opponents are completing 70% of their passes and convert into a first down on 47% of the time they drop back to pass in that situation. That conversion rate is more of what you might expect from a team facing third and manageable situations, but the Huskies have had trouble stopping teams when they should know exactly what is coming.
Unfortunate for WSU is that they may have trouble capitalizing on this weakness. The Cougars have relied heavily on their solid performance on standard downs, where they rank 43rd. Once they reach passing downs, they are among the worst in the country. They are 110th in performance on passing downs, 19.8% worse than an average offense. This is especially a problem when Lobbestael is at quarteback, because he has trouble making throws down the field. Marshall is going to need some help from a struggling Cougar ground game.
UW's rush defense has been even worse than their pass defense this season. They are ranked 92nd in rushing S&P. They have allowed rushers to gain 5.41 yards per attempt (when adjusted for sacks). However, their performance on standard downs suggests they are still able to control the run to an extent on first and second down and in short yardage. S&P ranks UW 54th overall in performance on standard downs, slightly above average. As stated above, WSU needs to perform well on standard downs to be successful, and the Huskies' ability on those does not bode well for the Cougs.
Washington has some huge holes in their defense and have struggled for most of the year. The issue for the Cougars is that those holes line up perfectly with their own offensive weaknesses. WSU is going to have to step up their game in those areas of rushing and passing downs, or they may fall behind in a hurry.