By Anthony Dion
For the 107th time, the Huskies will meet Washington State on the football field Saturday in a rivalry that dates back to 1900. While it only started being called the “Apple Cup” in 1962 when the trophy was introduced, it remains the Northwest’s most historic matchup.
The 2014 version pits Washington (7-5, 3-5) against a Cougars squad that has lost five of their last six games as well as starting quarterback Connor Halliday. That leaves redshirt freshman Luke Falk running Mike Leach’s “Air raid” offense. Despite Falk’s inexperience, the offense has not missed a beat in Halliday’s absence.
In two starts, Falk has thrown a ridiculous 135 times for 1,072 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. In short, there has been no drop off from the veteran Halliday to the walk-on Falk, something that has impressed Washington head coach Chris Petersen .
“It’s amazing — redshirt freshman, thrown in late in the season, and it looks like he’s been playing the whole season,” Petersen said. “The one thing that Mike Leach knows is quarterbacks and how to throw the ball.
“It is so unique (that) someone is going to throw the ball that much. They’re never going to be out of games no matter what is going on,” he added.
The Huskies will need to prep a young secondary for nearly 70 pass attempts Saturday. Fortunately for Petersen, his unit has progressed well, and as they enter game 13, are as well prepared for such an attack as could be hoped for.
“There’s so much there. I don’t think there’s a harder position to play,” Petersen said. “I do think that they’ve gained a lot of knowledge, I think they play faster (now). They’re going to be tested like they haven’t been tested all year, for sure. (It’s a) big challenge.”
On the other side, the Huskies are playing as well offensively as they have all season over the last two weeks. The run game has been effective behind Dwayne Washington and a healthy offensive line, and Cyler Miles has been extremely efficient. In the last two games, Washington has had 12 and 11 offensive players touch the ball. The improvement is not lost on Petersen or his offensive coordinator.
“It was good. I’m proud of these guys, I really am,” Petersen said of the offense. “They played well. I think we got better in all phases . . . I think the guys feel better about themselves. After a lot of hard work, we see some dividends paid.”
Miles, in particular, has shown great progress since being dominated by Brett Hundley and UCLA November 8. The redshirt sophomore posted a 40 quarterback rating after finishing 14-of-24 passing for a meager 155 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception against the Bruins. In the last two games, Miles has completed over 69 percent of his passes, passed for over 200 yards in each and achieved an average rating of 70 (50 is average).
“He was seeing things correctly . . . I thought he threw the ball pretty accurately,” said Petersen. “There was really good urgency in terms of getting the ball out, he hung in there and took some shots when he knew he was going to take a shot or two, all of that was pretty good in terms of how you would like to see the game played.”
Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff is the latest in the storied history of the Apple Cup. With the late start time, temperatures at Martin Stadium in Pullman are expected to be in the low 20’s with an eight percent chance of snow. Conditions aside, the first Apple Cup in the Petersen Era will be a memorable experience.
“I think it will be that,” Petersen said. “I think it’s going to be extremely hard fought, I think guys will play their best. There’s so much emotion and passion, (the game) brings it out in the guys.
“I’m excited to see these guys play.”
As is the rest of the state.
Washington will start Mike Criste again at center, sliding former starter Colin Tanigawa to guard. Criste started against Oregon State and mitigated the shotgun snap issue bothering the UW offense in prior games.
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