November 18, 2006

Apple Cup 2006: Possibly Not As Awful as Last Year

The 98th edition of the Apple Cup was laughably bad. This year, with the Huskies winless since September and the Cougars stumbling through November, can it be any better? Could it get any worse?

No, last year was a truly awful football game that neither side really seemed to want to win. This year should be better, as there are pressures on both teams that were lacking last year.

The Rundown

The Huskies lost Isaiah Stanback against Oregon State and never recovered. Neither Johnny DuRocher nor Carl Bonnell has given the Huskies any stability, and both are hobbled with injuries. DuRocher is out with a concussion and Bonnell will start despite a broken nose, separated non-throwing shoulder and various leg injuries. Next in line is senior walk-on Felix Sweetman, who hasn’t thrown a pass in his career. The Cougars have no such problems. While Alex Brink hasn’t been as steady as he was last year, but a good game here and in whatever bowl could set Brink up for a huge senior season.
Edge: Washington State

Running Backs
The Cougars have three quality tailbacks, DeMaundray Woolridge, Darrell Hutsona and Dwight Tardy. The stumpy (5-8, 235)Woolridge is the best of them, but has been hobbled with injuries. Hutsona is a lighting-quick junior who struggles with the idea of going forward instead of sideways. The Huskies run game has ground to a halt. Kenny James hasn’t been healthy all year, and big play back Louis Rankin has disappeared during this losing streak.
Edge: Washington State

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Classy senior Sonny Shackleford is the Huskies’ best target. Shackleford is a fine possession wideout who deserves better than the teams he’s been stuck on. After Shackleford the Huskies best talent at receiver spends more time on the bench than the field. Speedy Marlon Wood and hulking Marcel Reese have slipped in Ty Willingham’s rotation for reasons not easily figured out. The Cougars are close to spent at wideout. Preseason All-America Jason Hill is out, flashy junior Michael Bumpus is questionable and Chris Jordan’s star-crossed career is over after his 827th knee injury.
Edge: Washington

Offensive Line
Neither line is special, but the Huskies have overachieved while the Cougs have underachieved. Coming into the year the o-line was a glaring weakness for Washington. The line has been okay, but certainly not the disaster it could have been. Washington State’s line, which hasn’t been healthy all year, hasn’t always given Brink the time he needs.
Edge: Washington State

Defensive Line
Washington State might not have a defensive line at this point. The Cougs run a 3-4 at times due to pure necessity. Tackles Aaron Johnson, Ropati Pitoitua and Feveae'I Ahmu have all missed significant time to injury. Johnson is out and the other two are questionable. If healthy -he’s been hobbled with a knee injury- DE Mkristo Bruce is the best player on the field. The Huskies have solidified recently with the emergence of DT Jordan Reffett and end Greyson Gunheim seeming to fulfill his enormous potential.
Edge: Washington

The Cougars have a sold group led by senior Scott Davis and athletic sophomore Gary Trent. With the difficulties along the line, Cougar linebackers are very, very busy. The Huskies best defender all year has been Scott White, and he has some young talent like Donald Butler and Daniel Howell.
Edge: Washington

Defensive Backs
Despite a terrible game against Arizona State, the Cougars have a solid group led by the only shutdown corner on either team, Tyron Brackenridge and the solid Eric Frampton at safety. The Huskies are vastly improved over last year, but just about anything would be better than last year. CJ Wallace and Chris Hemphill are a headhunting pair at safety and Dashon Goldson made the move to corner better than expected.
Edge: Washington State

Special Teams
Other than Michael Bumpus when healthy, the WSU has been awful on special teams all year. Kicker Loren Langley was terrible even when healthy and now Romeen Abdollmohmmadi takes over. The Huskies return units and coverage teams are mediocre at best, but kicker Michael Braunstein has been effective and punter Sean Douglass has a huge leg.
Edge: Washington

The Huskies are coming off what longtime broadcaster Bob Rondeau called “the worst game he’d ever seen.” a humiliating loss at home to previously winless Stanford. Add to that the dissension caused by Willingham’s abrupt announcement that several fourth-year juniors -including Braunstein, Hemphill and Wood- wouldn’t be invited back for a fifth year and you have an utterly toxic environment. Washington State is only a touch better. Three weeks ago, coming off a lopsided win against Oregon the Cougs were talking Holiday and Sun Bowls. Now, after stumbling at home against Arizona and getting blasted last week against ASU they face a must-win game. A 6-6 WSU, with three straight losses does not get an bowl invite.
Edge: Washington State

The Pick: Washington State 27, Washington 10
Against a better team the Cougars would be in serious trouble. Against the wreckage of this Husky team, they win and squeeze into a bowl, probably the Emerald or Hawaii.

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