SEATTLE >> Jeremiah Allison committed to Washington State when it at the bottom of the Pac-12. Twice in his career with the Cougars, he’s experienced underachieving three-win seasons.
So Allison understands why this season has become so special for No. 20 Washington State and the opportunity in front of the Cougars on Friday in the Apple Cup against rival Washington to make his senior season truly memorable.
“Those who win in November are remembered,” Allison said.
After opening the year with arguably the most embarrassing home loss in school history, the Cougars (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) can keep alive the chance at a 10-win season and potentially keep their rivals home for the holidays by beating the Huskies. Only six times in school history has Washington State reached the 10-win mark, but a victory over the Huskies and in its bowl game would cap an unexpected turnaround after the year began losing to Portland State.
There’s also the nugget for keeping the Huskies from a bowl game. Washington (5-6, 3-5) can take all debate about its bowl worthiness out of question by beating the Cougars and getting the requisite six victories. But a loss and the Huskies will either see their consecutive bowls streak end at six or be one of the few 5-7 teams in the country invited this year to fill all the available bowl slots.
Going to the postseason with a losing record is not an accomplishment Chris Petersen wants, even if the opportunity at one more game could help his young team.
“I think the practices are important, but these seasons are long, as well,” Petersen said. “What I think is more important is the chance to play another game, because that’s what’s different, and that’s what the kids want to do.”
The biggest question surrounds Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and his availability less than a week after being taken off the field on a backboard after suffering an apparent head injury against Colorado. Washington State coach Mike Leach has bristled at any questions regarding Falk’s status, leaving the possibility of redshirt freshman Peyton Bender making his first college start against the Huskies.
But don’t expect a major drop off if Bender starts. Falk has a better experience with the Cougars offense, but Bender has the better arm and wasn’t far behind during the offseason QB competition.
“Peyton’s calm and is pretty much kind of in attack mode,” Leach said. “Luke’s calm but kind of analytical.”
Here’s what else to watch as the Huskies and Cougars clash for the 108th time:
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH: No matter who is at quarterback for Washington State, its passing attack is still the best in the country averaging nearly 407 yards per game through the air. Gabe Marks is fourth in the country with 92 receptions and set a school record last week with his 14th touchdown reception. But seven Washington State receivers have 30 or more receptions.
But Washington’s secondary has been the strength of the Huskies defense and is second-best in the Pac-12 in yards allowed and passing efficiency. California’s Jared Goff is the only quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against the Huskies this season.
BETTER BROWNING: Washington quarterback Jake Browning is coming off his most efficient performance of the season hitting 18 of 20 passes for 211 yards and four touchdowns in the Huskies rout of Oregon State. His 244.6 passer rating was 10th best by any quarterback in the country this year.
When Browning avoids turnovers, the Huskies have been at their best. But Washington State is tied for third in the Pac-12 with 20 forced turnovers, including eight in the past four games.
RUNNING MYLES: Washington freshman running back Myles Gaskin needs just 17 yards to post the 18th 1,000-yard season in school history and the seventh in the past eight seasons. Gaskin has posted six 100-yard games this season and displayed unique patience and burst running behind and offensive line that’s been in flux most of the year.
He’ll be running against a Washington State defense that has allowed eight 100-yard rushers this season, including three quarterbacks.
ROAD TESTED: Washington State has proven it can win away from Pullman with four road wins, including victories at Oregon and UCLA. The Cougars have not won five road games in a season since 1988. Getting to five this year means winning on the Huskies home field where Washington State last won in 2007.