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Why the Apple Cup might be closer than people think

We know all the reasons why the Cougs are going to get killed on Saturday -- Washington is much improved and has Jake Locker while the Cougs are terrible and play awful on the road ... blah, blah, blah.

Looking for a reason why the Cougs might actually be able to stay well within the approximately 24-point spread tomorrow? Here's the best one I could find.

For all the problems we have defensively, I maintain that the Cougs' biggest issue is the generally non-existent nature of the offense. WSU is currently averaging 4.2 yards per play, tied for 117th nationally. To stay in a game, you simply must be able to score some points, both for the obvious reason that you have to score points to win, but also to give your defense a fighting chance to stay fresh.

Our top three offensive performances -- in terms of yards per play -- were against Cal, Stanford and Hawaii. In fact, here's a look at how we've done against the four worst defenses we've faced:

Team Natl. Rank, YPP Season YPP Allowed YPP Allowed to WSU
Stanford t-94 5.9 5.5
Hawaii t-94 5.9 5.2
SMU t-72 5.6 3.9
Notre Dame t-99 6.1 4.2
Washington t-111 6.6 ?


The common thread in the Stanford and Hawaii games? The offense was at relatively full strength -- it wasn't until after that Hawaii game that guys started dropping like flies. Additionally, although the SMU overall YPP was low, the offense was good enough to slice through the Mustangs for a game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation. Notre Dame is the outlier, of course -- the offensive line was completely decimated, and there was just no chance there.

But now? The offensive line is as healthy as it's been since that Hawaii game -- concussion to B.J. Guerra notwithstanding -- and the Huskies are statistically the worst defense the Cougs have faced all year. For all the money Nick Holt is being paid, he's still working with a defense full of young guys who make a ton of mistakes.

Additionally, the WSU offense is once again being led by Kevin Lopina, who isn't very good, but he hasn't generally been really bad, either. And it can't hurt that he beat Washington last year. As much as we love Jeff Tuel, of all the quarterbacks on the roster, Lopina is the least likely to be flustered by the crowd in Seattle.

The inescapable truth for Husky fans is that Washington has held just two opponents to less than 6.4 yards per play this season, and while WSU probably will be the third, there remains a substantial chance the Cougs will exceed their season average enough that they're able to move the ball with some consistency.

And if they can do that? They've got a fighting chance.