11/22/2014

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Sports

Bowl-eligible Huskies, Cougars to meet for 106th Apple Cup

Bowl-eligible Huskies, Cougars to meet for 106th Apple Cup
The Washington Huskies hosted the Washington State Cougars at Century Link field in Seattle, WA for the 2011 Apple Cup. November 26th 2011. (Joshua Lewis)
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SEATTLE (AP) — For the last 10 seasons, the Apple Cup lacked an added relevancy because there was little at stake beyond pride. There were meaningful games during that span for one school or the other, but in those instances only one of the teams knew there was a bowl game in their future.

While it's a stretch to say Friday's matchup between Washington and Washington State has significant additional meaning with neither bound for a top-tier bowl, it marks a moment in the rivalry that could not be said for the past decade. It's the first time both the Cougars and Huskies are bowl eligible prior to the Apple Cup since 2002.

"It's never just another game with the Apple Cup," Washington State safety Deone Bucannon said. "It's a lot bigger than just a game. It's tradition."

A win for Washington (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) would finally get the Huskies off the seven-win plateau they've found themselves stuck on for the past three seasons and keep alive hopes for a nine-win season that would show significant improvement in coach Steve Sarkisian's fifth season.

If the Cougars (6-5, 4-4) could pull the upset as 16 ½-point underdogs it would be their second three-game win streak of the season, improve their standing in the hierarchy of Pac-12 bowl selections and show a four-win improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 under Mike Leach.

"For them to walk off the field Friday after the Apple Cup, if we can get to that eighth win that they know they improved this program," Sarkisian said. "Because sometimes for them, it's quantitative. They look at the stat of wins and losses. I can tell you today we're a better football team than we were a year ago at this time. But a win Friday, I think for so many people justifies, 'OK, they are better.' And maybe for our players, quite honestly."

Here are five other things to watch as the Cougars and Huskies meet for the 106th time:

FORGET THE COLLAPSE: Washington would like to forget how last year's Apple Cup ended, as the Cougars staged the biggest rally in the history of the game coming back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter to win 31-28 in overtime. It's a sour memory for the Huskies brought up more than a few times this week.

HUSKIES QB QUESTION: It's still unclear who will get the start at quarterback for Washington. Keith Price would like to get the nod in the final home game of his career, but is still trying to overcome an injured right, throwing shoulder suffered two weeks ago against UCLA. Redshirt freshman Cyler Miles started last week at Oregon State and played well in what he was asked to do, throwing for 162 yards and a touchdown.

Price wants to start his final home game but said he doesn't want to be selfish and play if he could be hampering the team.

"Everything I do I feel like I'm a starter," Price said. "Anything less than that is definitely disappointing."

KEEP CONNOR CLEAN: Keeping Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday clean has equaled success for the Cougars offense. Last weekend against Utah, Halliday was not sacked for the first time in his career and the result was an efficient performance with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Halliday was asked to shuffle around to keep plays alive, but it marked just the second time this season and second time in the past two seasons the Cougars didn't allow a sack.

Thanks to better protection and smarter decision making, Halliday has gone 97 consecutive pass attempts over the past two games without throwing an interception.

SANKEY'S RECORD PURSUIT: Before the season ends, Bishop Sankey will likely be Washington's all-time leader in single season yards rushing. But getting the record against the Cougars would be more meaningful as it would come in 12 games, the same amount Corey Dillon needed to set the mark in 1996. Sankey is already No. 2 on Washington's list with 1,575 yards and needs 121 yards against the Cougars to set a new single-season mark.

Sankey ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns last week against Oregon State but the game got out of hand so early that Sankey gave way to backups. The Huskies finished with three 100-yard rushers for just the second time in school history.

OPPORTUNISTIC DEFENSE: When Washington State is able to force turnovers, they often get taken back the other way for scores. The Cougars returned two interceptions for touchdowns last week against Utah, the fourth and fifth time this season Washington State's defense has scored a touchdown. Getting a defensive or special teams score might be the Cougars best chance at pulling the upset.

"They've got an opportunistic secondary who if you throw them the ball, the ball gets tipped, they intercept it and then they run it for a touchdown," Sarkisian said. "So they provide a great challenge for us and they've made really good strides."
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'We're good on offense, but we're better on defense, and that's our plan' 'We're good on offense, but we're better on defense, and that's our plan'