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More than a win on the line at Apple Cup

Senior receiver Jermaine Kearse will face the Cougars for the final time in his career. Last year, Kearse caught six balls for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Photo by Sang Cho

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After playing just 11 snaps against Oregon State because of a knee injury, quarterback Keith Price will start against Washington State.

Normally a 6-5 football team facing a 4-7 football team doesn’t draw much attention.

Two mediocre teams — at least on paper — closing the regular season against one another doesn’t have much reason to. Except it does. That’s what happens when the Washington football team takes the field against in-state rival Washington State, and that’s exactly what will happen Saturday when the Huskies host the Cougars for the 104th installment of the Apple Cup at 4:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.

“They’re going to bring it either way,” senior linebacker Cort Dennison said. “They’re a really good football team. It doesn’t matter what your record is — I don’t think — in the Apple Cup. It’s in-state rivals, and I think the best comes out in the both of us in this game.”

UW head coach Steve Sarkisian is a Southern California guy, who is in just his third year at the helm for the Huskies, but he knows what the rivalry means to both schools.

“As far as the Apple Cup, as you guys know, I love the pageantry of college football, and to play in a rivalry football game like this against Washington State is exciting and fun,” he said. “We’ll embrace it all the way to the full-tilt.”

Part of dealing with the rivalry is playing all week with the hype that surrounds the game but still being able to prepare for the game. While redshirt freshman quarterback Keith Price is fully aware of the magnitude of the matchup, he’s trying to stay focused on the game — and not what it carries with it.

Price, who will start this week after a knee injury forced him from the majority of last week’s contest with Oregon State, sees the regular season finale as the perfect way to get the Huskies back on track. Even though the UW has six wins and bowl eligibility already, what Price sees isn’t the positives; it’s the team’s current three-game losing streak.

To end the losing streak, the Huskies will have to slow down a prolific Washington State pass offense. The Cougars average 320.4 yards through the air per game, and it seems not to matter who is under center. Jeff Tuel began the year as the starting quarterback but will not be available due to injury. Freshman Connor Halliday had an amazing 494-yard performance and led the Cougars to an upset over Arizona State a couple weeks ago but will also not play because of health reasons — he lacerated his liver against Utah last week.

That leaves Marshall Lobbestael to direct the Washington State offense. Lobbestael is no slouch, as he has seen time as the starter this year and leads the Cougars with 2,240 yards through the air. The Huskies are convinced it doesn’t matter who is under center for Washington State; it doesn’t change the Cougar offense.

“They run a lot of the same things,” Dennison said. “All three of them are good quarterbacks, and Lobbestael is obviously starting; he’s a really good player. We just got to be in tune with our keys.”

Sarkisian took that statement a step further Monday at his weekly press conference, not too long after Lobbestael was announced the starter.

“I think when you look at Washington State this year, arguably the best football they’ve played this year is with Lobbestael at quarterback,” he said. “And so their schemes aren’t going to change; it’s the guy throwing the ball and making it happen, and Marshall has really had a tremendous season, especially early on when he was playing.”

As for preparing for Lobbestael and the Washington State offense, Dennison admitted there’s a little extra intensity at practice this week.

“It’s obviously a very emotional game, and it’s a hard-hitting game, and there’s a lot of pride in this state with both these schools,” he said. “It’s a game I’m lucky to be a part of and I know the rest of the guys are lucky to be a part of.”

Reach Sports Editor Josh Liebeskind at sports@dailyuw.com or on Twitter @jlieb24.

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