Undefeated and ready to start conference play, the Washington Huskies begin the Pac-12 campaign with a terrible taste in their mouths. It was put there last year when the Rich Rodrigues coached, Arizona Wildcats, thoroughly destroyed a staggering Husky team. The 52-17 score was the worst loss of the season for the young Dogs and probably helped convinced Husky Coach, Steve Sarkisian, to take a stronger look and then virtually commit to the hurry-up, zone blocking, spread option offense. (An offense that Coach Rodrigues has been running for at least the last decade or so at West Virginia, Michigan, and now Arizona).
Similar, but entirely different, primarily due to the quarterback position where one team, Washington, has a red-shirt senior who is a really good passer and Arizona has a first year starter who is a really good runner. Last year in Tucson, the Wildcats scored in a hurry using 1:55 to score their first touchdown, 2:55 to score their second, 2:38 their third, and finally 1:04 for their fourth TD of the first half and threw in a field goal to lead 31 to 17 at the break. A 27 yard pass, another a 33 yard pass, and finally a 52 yard pass, all completed for TD’s, pretty much forced the Huskies to throw out their game plan. This resulted in Husky quarterback, Keith Price, throwing 52 times for 256 yards. Unfortunately, two of those were to Arizona, and he also had a costly fumble and was sacked 4 sacks. Considering it all, he probably had his worst performance of the year and probably his whole career at Washington for that matter. Coincidently, the Arizona quarterback, Matt Scott, also threw for exactly 256 yards, but did so on 14 of 22 passes with 3 touchdowns. This year Scott is gone and Price is playing at home and playing with confidence. He has not had a single turnover since the very first pass of the season. Combine that with Bishop Sankey’s ability to run the ball and that should offset the Wildcats, Kadeem Carey, who was one of the leading rusher in the nation last year. The Huskies will win this critical league opener by protecting the football, winning the kicking game, and containing the run on defense. They will also have the best quarterback on the field.
Arizona has had two weeks to prepare for the Huskies (good scheduling) and arguably played the weakest non-conference schedule of any team in the Pac-12. They opened with Northern Arizona, who is in the same league with Idaho State, then beat UNLV where Ex-Husky assistant, Bobby Hauk, is fighting for his job, and then stepped up, or is it down?, to play Texas-San Antonio. It’s hard to tell how good they are but they are undefeated and must think they own the Huskies based upon last year’s performance. If the Husky defense can play good sound option responsibilities, contain the quarterback and combine it with creating some fumbles and intercepting a couple of passes, they will win the game.
The Husky defense would do well to make the Wildcats play the long field by not giving up any long runs or passes and then win the kicking game. Last year, the Wildcats returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown and basically put the game away with it. The Huskies should return the favor by running a kick back this time in Seattle. What also hurt was the Huskies averaged only 33.5 yards on 6 punts and were penalized 10 times for 100 yards. (They have just committed 28 penalties in their last two games alone for a negative 234 yards) Washington needs to clean up their penalties, period, end of discussion. Come on, you’re not going to win close games by losing the kicking game and committing stupid penalties.
The Huskies will move the football this year against the Wildcat’s 3-3 stack defense simply because of the weapons they have on offense. One can expect this will be somewhat of a shootout but if Washington is going to be contender this season then they must find some way to pull out this victory. Throw out last year’s game except for the learning process and focus in on beating Arizona with some of their own medicine. Prepare to win a close game and answer any negative with a positive. Use the crowd on defense and win it in the second half. (The Huskies failed to score in either the third or fourth quarters in 2012)
The Huskies have a chance to go 4-0 and that alone should be a major incentive. It’s not about revenge or pay-back, it’s about continuing to improve and winning the next game. It just happens to be against a team that kicked your ass the year before.
Everyone in college football heard about what Eastern Washington did to Oregon State to start the season and you don’t have to go too far back to recall what Appalachian State did to Michigan. In fact, Michigan almost lost to the Akron “Zips” this past weekend. Those two upsets alone should be enough to prepare the Huskies for their upcoming game with Idaho State. These sorts of big school vs. little school match-ups naturally create the classic “underdog” or “Rocky” mentality and we all know that you never, ever, underestimate your opponent. Football is very systematic the preparation phase for a game, so if you prepare with the same intensity you do every week and believe in the system, you will be physically and mentally ready to win the game. If that happens, the talent difference alone between Washington Huskies and Idaho State will clearly dictate the outcome.
So, what good comes from playing an opponent that is not your equal in scholarships alone? (Washington has 85 and Idaho State has 65). A win is the simplest answer and then write them a big check and send them on their way back to Pocatello. Does Idaho State even stand a chance? Probably not, but these kind of games can be great for your squad development and getting your depth ready for the conference opener in two weeks against Arizona. An Arizona Wildcat team, who quite frankly, ran the Huskies right off the field last year with a spread option, hurry-up, no huddle, read-zone offense. Sound familiar?
That 17-52 loss to the Wildcats in 2012 was surely the lowest point in last season and the third of three consecutive losses for the Huskies. In that game Arizona amassed 533 yards and beat the Dogs worse than even the Ducks did. How can the Idaho State game possibly prepare the Huskies for Wildcats in what is surely to be the most important game of the season?
This is obviously then a preparation game to begin conference play. It has meaning in terms of getting to a bowl game and an overall undefeated season. If you stay undefeated then you are the national champion. That’s what you’re playing for.
Idaho State comes into to Seattle with a 2-0 record (their first time they’ve opened a season with two wins since 1999) and their players will no doubt be excited to play in Husky Stadium. This is the big time of college football and certainly they have watched or at least heard of the Eastern upset of the Beavers. They feature a wide open passing attack and are led by Coach Mike Kramer whose has had stops at both Eastern Washington and Montana State previously to coming to the Bengals. He is one of the winningest coaches ever in Big Sky history and survived a scandal of grand proportions just this very past season when he was accused of player abuse and had to go through a grueling ordeal just to finally be exonerated of the charge.
Coach Kramer brings in a team with smaller numbers, smaller bodies, and lower recruited players. They put up ungodly numbers against the like of Dixie State and Western State (not the mental hospital) and will try to keep up with a Husky team that seems to be finding a groove on both sides of the football.
The best player for the Bengals is probably their kicker, Brendon Garcia, who averages 3.5 field goals per game and leads the nation. Last week Garcia was 3 for 3 with field goals of 30, 47, and 50 yards. That earned him Big Sky Special Teams player of the week for the second time in a row. Their quarterback, Justin Arias threw for 429 on 36 of 53 attempts. That’s right, 53 attempts, so it is obvious the Husky secondary will be heavily tested again. Arias’ favorite target is receiver Cameron Richmond who has averaged 12 catches per game. Considering that Utah, California, WSU, and Oregon State are all prolific passing teams this is an excellent test for the Husky secondary that has really been a bright spot early in this season.
Unfortunately, no matter how much Washington wins by, it will not be good enough. The expectations are already for a complete blowout and that is a possibility but regardless of the score there should be an opportunity to get playing time for many of the back-ups. It would really be great to get Cyler Myles, the number two quarterback some snaps as well as some of the Huskies’ freshmen receivers like Damore’ea Stringfellow, John Ross, and Darrel Daniels a chance to play. Probably the area where it would really help to get some playing experience is in the defensive line where the Huskies will need as much depth as possible for the conference campaign.
This is simply the next game on the schedule and if the Huskies can take care of business then they can begin the long and difficult climb through their conference schedule. Still, to go 3-0 through the non-conference part will be their best start in a decade.
The expectations this year for the Seattle Seahawks have captured the attention of most of the sports fans in the Pacific Northwest. They literally blew through their pre-season schedule going 4-0 and did it with ease. Their opening victory against Carolina though was a constant struggle and they did win but I’ve never understood charging the fans full fare for something that doesn’t count. At the end of the season those 4 wins are basically meaningless yet the league and teams still charged full fare and discard the results as soon as they are played. At least at the college level all games played have some sort of meaning.
Of course at the college level there are non-conference games and many are purposely scheduled against lesser opponents with the design of securing the required number of victories to be eligible for a “post” season bowl game of which there are now at least 35 such “civic” events throughout the country. Now in order to be eligible for one of those 70 spots you record just can’t be a losing one and it includes all of your games. Consequently, all 3 of the Huskies “out of conference” games end up having great importance when the season is over.
Of course, the 124 or so college bowl eligible teams try to schedule winnable games just so they can assure themselves of the post season and the extremely valuable 15 extra practices that they, (the NCAA,) allow you to prepare with. Those 15 practices are the equivalent of a winter season or a whole month of extra football. It usually means an extra paycheck for the participating schools. The better the bowl, the better the check and with those extra practices they give the coaches an extra season to further develop their squad and in particular work with their younger players. The system is it is really unfair especially to the teams who don’t qualify because those are the ones who need the extra practices the most. Go figure.
Still, at least the fans have the option of going to the bowl and paying so if they choose. Obviously, it’s all about money and television, which is the driving force for both pro and major college football.
This year the Washington Huskies have obviously played and beaten Boise State, which is probably the hardest of their non-conference opponents. Illinois and Idaho State are up next and if the Huskies can take care of business and win those two games they set themselves up well for another bowl simply because they would only have to win 3 more of their remaining 9 games and still be eligible. Go figure again.
Now Illinois is a formidable opponent simply because it is in the Big-10 Conference. Granted, they didn’t win a single conference game last year and had one of their worst seasons ever, but they did have a number of players drafted by the NFL and in Illinois there is plenty of talent because it is a highly populated state. They won their opener 42-34 against a lower level team (Southern Illinois) and backed it up by crushing a Cincinnati team that had blown out Purdue in its first game. They have a wide open passing game and a red-shirt senior quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, who is not afraid to sling it And threw for 416 yards in their opener. They run reverses, screens, and all sorts of miss-direction plays. Their defense improved greatly from game one to game two and the Huskies will have to fly over 5 or 6 states just to get there. This is not an easy game and Washington has not played well on the road the past few years.
To beat the Illini the Huskies will need to eliminate the big plays as Illinois has had at least 6 plays of over 30 yards and that is after only two games. This is only the second year of a new program at Illinois and to start with two consecutive wins has been really big for their confidence. The major test will be for the Husky defense who went back to work during their bye week working on fundamentals like their tackling and pass rushing following their stunning win over Boise State.
To go on the road, against a Big 10 opponent, and get a victory is critical to the development of this year’s Husky team. Win the turnover battle by protecting the football, be solid in the kicking game, and keep the peddle to the metal on offense and Washington should come home a winner.