Washington St.-Washington Preview - Sports Illustrated

Washington St.-Washington Preview

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(AP) - Peyton Bender was somewhat of an unknown in high school when he traveled from sunny South Florida to chilly Eastern Washington to throw the football for Mike Leach.

Now Bender may get the chance at his first college start Friday when No. 20 Washington State (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) faces rival Washington (5-6, 3-5) in the Apple Cup.

Bender has been forced into action the last two games because starting quarterback Luke Falk was taken off the field. Falk was checked for a concussion against UCLA on Nov. 14 and cleared to return, but he was carried off on a backboard last Saturday in the third quarter against Colorado.

Leach has vehemently declined to provide an update on Falk's status, but indications are he suffered a concussion against the Buffaloes. The decision on who starts against the Huskies will come ''27 seconds'' before kickoff, Leach said Monday.

Considering how Falk was treated and removed from the stadium after his head slammed onto the cold turf, it's likely Bender will get the nod against the Huskies.

''We play the best when we are going up-tempo, and we want to play fast,'' Leach said. ''We have been pushing for a better tempo in practice and I thought Bender did a good job of that. Peyton is a real heads-up player with a flashy arm and a quick release. The ball really explodes off his hand and is still accurate.''

While Falk has produced one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Pac-12 history, there isn't that much of a drop off to Bender, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There are a few areas where Bender's skills are superior to Falk's, including arm strength and the speed of his release. Falk's advantage is having more time and experience in Leach's Air Raid offense and running it this season with efficient precision.

And therein lies the rub with Bender. He doesn't have close to the same amount of experience as Falk and while his arm strength allows him to fit throws into tight spaces, he's also likely to make a few dangerous attempts. Two weeks ago against UCLA, Bender threw just five passes, but one was a perfect fade route to Dom Williams for a touchdown.

Last week against Colorado in more extensive action, Bender was 13 of 22 for 133 yards, one touchdown, one interception and another throw that should have been picked off.

Against UCLA ''my nerves were going a little bit but I thought that was a great experience for me,'' Bender said. ''I think it benefited me (against Colorado). I kind of knew what to expect and went in there and tried to run the offense the way it's supposed to be run.''

The Cougars have confidence in the freshman if he ends up starting against the Huskies.

''Peyton can really control a huddle. He is very composed and never seems too frantic,'' Williams said. ''I have seen him grow a lot throughout this season. He plays like we are at practice and that helps the offense stay composed.''

Washington State will try to avoid a third straight loss in the series and sixth in seven meetings by damaging Washington's hopes of making it to a fifth straight bowl game. Even without a sixth victory, however, the Huskies might have the chance to play in the postseason.

The NCAA football oversight committee will complete a plan next week for matching sub-.500 teams with bowls if there are not enough bowl-eligible squads to fill 40 games. Seventy-one teams are bowl-eligible and another 18 could get there over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Coach Chris Petersen cut off a query Monday about whether Washington would accept a bowl bid with a losing record.

''Don't ask me the question because I don't even know,'' he said. ''We're playing this game and let us play this game.''

Washington has gone to a bowl game with a .500 record once in school history. That was in 2010, when the Huskies ended an eight-year postseason drought by beating Washington State in the Apple Cup to get to 6-6, then knocked off Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

The Huskies can make the talk about a sub-.500 postseason moot if they can get to 6-6.

Washington put itself in position to do so with last Saturday's 52-7 rout of Oregon State, the second time in a month the Huskies beat a conference opponent by more than 40 points. Washington defeated Arizona at home 49-3 on Oct. 31.

Freshman Jake Browning went 18 of 20 and threw four touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 244.6. That was the 10th-best rating of any quarterback in the country this season.

''We're pleased really with our kids' mindset coming into that game,'' Petersen said. ''We talked about starting fast, we talked about coming out with great energy and trying to set a tone and I think in all phases we did.''

Falk passed for 355 yards and two touchdowns against Washington on Nov. 29, but threw two interceptions and was sacked four times in the Huskies' 31-13 road victory.