The Pac-12 has struggled against the Power-5 this season, but for a number of Pac-12 football teams, the real frustration has come against beatable conference foes.
Just look at the Washington Huskies. Chris Petersen’s team was impeccable against a soft OOC schedule early in the 2019 season. When junior running back Salvon Ahmed led a terrific ground attack to help beat the USC Trojans 28-14, waters seemed smooth.
Soon the Huskies were faltering against a difficult stretch in the calendar. Washington lost to Stanford and Oregon in October, then dropped tough conference games to Utah at home and Colorado on the road. UW gobbled-up wins against the few pasties it was booked against like Arizona and Oregon State, but still stands at 6-5 and barely eligible for the postseason.
So, for that matter, does rival Washington State. But the city of Las Vegas and surrounding online gambling web thinks the Huskies’ above-water record is more impressive than the matching 6-5 of the Cougars, leading to a fairly sizable point spread for when the schools meet in the Apple Cup this Friday.
Who: Washington State Cougars at Washington Huskies
When: Friday, November 29th, 4 PM EST
Where: Alaska Airlines Field, Seattle, WA
Lines: WaST (+8) at UW (-8) / O/U Total: (63.5)
When the Cougars of Washington State are having a good season under Mike Leach, the Air Raid offense is a defense’s best friend. When the team is having a mediocre campaign, well…as the Three Stooges once put it, it’s a pain in the Pullman.
The passing game was brilliant (what else?) against UCLA back in September, but the combined pace of each offense didn’t allow the Cougar defense to breathe, and Washington State lost by the eye-popping score of 67-63 in regulation. Similar outcomes occurred against ASU, Oregon, and Cal later in autumn, with the Cougars giving-up a combined 40 4th-quarter points in the 3 losses.
When everything is shiny and an opponent is wounded and demoralized, as was the case against visiting Stanford in mid-November, Washington State’s offense still carries the day. Anthony Gordon attempted 60 passes against the Cardinal, connecting on 44 throws for 520 yards and 5 touchdowns. But last week, Oregon State threatened to ruin the seniors’ celebration in Pullman when Gordon was harassed and pushed to the limit, trying a whopping 70 passes and getting picked-off 3 times as the Cougars (and a tired defense, of course) prevailed 54-53.
As for the decline of Washington into the 2nd tier of Power-5 pigskin, Dawg Pound thinks the problem is an underachieving offensive line:
While there are other, soon-to-be-mentioned factors that went into this game and the other inexplicable egg-laying games the offense has had (Stanford, OSU, the first half of Arizona), ultimately the O line kept making their case for the #1 culprit, juuuuust edging out the other candidates by a hair. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more blame they — or, more accurately, Scott Huff — deserve; Colorado was only getting 1.7 sacks per game and, when watching their defense in the past, their pass rush was absolutely horrendous. Stanford similarly had been mediocre at best, bad at worst. Despite the offensive line looking really good in short spurts this year (for example, the first half against Utah, who has one of the best defensive lines in the country), their wild variability despite having three seniors and only one player with less than 20 starts either doesn’t reflect well on their coaching, mental preparation (which just comes back to coaching), or both.
Overall, a bad Colorado defensive front sacked Jacob Eason five times, while Salvon Ahmed and Richard Newton averaged 2.2 and 2.7 yards per carry. So, in relation to the next grievance I’m about to bring up: it doesn’t matter if Chris Petersen were to completely overhaul his offense tomorrow, transforming it into an intuitive and potent soul-crusher for defenses, if the running game can’t get more than two yards and the quarterback can’t even set his feet before someone’s barreling into him.
Scott Huff wouldn’t be the 1st or the last position coach to be changed-out by a marquee head coach who won’t ever take the blame until and unless things get really bad later. But if Petersen is smart – and he always is – he’s coaching-up his defense and preparing to give the OL every chance to body-punch and control the Apple Cup just a little bit. Jacob Eason is a capable QB when protected – his 4 TD passes nearly made the difference against Utah this season.
Special-teams units will be on guard, and Washington will run the football successfully against a defense that gave up an obscene amount of yards-per-play to Oregon State in Week 13. I can see a lot of Huskie possessions ending with field goals or coffin-corner punts as the Cougars are forced into a field-position battle.
That O/U line ought to be dropping a tad faster – too many optimistic holiday gamblers are holding it up.
Take the Under (63.5) for the state-title clash in Seattle.