The Huskies loss to BYU was disappointing in so many ways. It was the type of game, a road test against a beatable team, that the Huskies couldn’t win last year. Beating BYU was a chance to start the season by answering questions. A win would have set the team on a course to improve upon last year’s five wins and show that the team is moving rapidly toward sustained success.
The loss only brought more questions, and it failed to answer any that existed previously. Are the Huskies improved from last year? It didn’t appear so, but they didn’t look worse either. Was all the offseason talk of improved strength and explosiveness just talk? Can an experienced offensive line be consistently effective? Will the defense build on a dominating end to the 2009 season? All questions without clear answers, now one game deep in the season.
One game is still only one game, and this team wasn’t going to contend for the national championship no matter what, so the loss isn’t terribly damaging from a season or conference race standpoint. Most teams start the season a little rusty, which is why teams play Toledo and UC-Davis and Sacramento State to start. BYU vs. UW was one of the few games last weekend to combine two good teams, so the Huskies deserve at least a bit of a break. They get their winnable game this weekend against Syracuse.
The problem with playing Syracuse is that it still won’t answer a lot of the questions. Syracuse should be a lot easier to handle than BYU, which obviously is good. This team needs wins anyway they can get them. But even a win won’t necessarily say much about these Huskies. Until they pull out a win on the road, it’s hard to judge this team to be anything different than it was last season.
All that said, there are certainly things to watch for this Saturday. This game could go two ways. Syracuse could be as bad as Dawg fans hope, and UW could be on the winning end of a blowout. Syracuse could also be better than expected, or the Huskies worse, and Husky Stadium could see a tight game. There are actually positives and negatives to each scenario. A look at them after the jump.
What to watch for if Syracuse is bad:
- Domination If Syracuse is bad, the Huskies need to be good. They need to come out and control the line of scrimmage. They need to score early and often, while consistently stopping the Orange. It’s generally easy to tell when a team is not a threat. Fans should know by the end of the first quarter how good this Syracuse team is. The Husky players will likely figure it out sooner. If they realize that the game is theirs, the Dawgs need to step up and take it with force.
- Consistency If it’s clear that Syracuse is overmatched and not going to win, the most important thing for the Huskies to show is a consistent ability to execute. It’s one thing to get some quick scores and good bounces and suddenly have a big lead, but it’s another for a team to be able to do anything they want at any time. The Huskies have the talent to do this, at least on offense, and Saturday might be the perfect opportunity for this team to find some consistency.
What to watch for if Syracuse is better than expected:
- Execution at the End What this team needs most is to learn how to pull out a close game. A surprisingly good Syracuse squad could provide the Huskies a chance to get some practice at finishing off a team, which could give a boost of confidence before Nebraska and the Pac-10 season.
- A Better Husky Team A decent Syracuse team would make a Husky blowout win legitimately impressive. That situation would mean the Huskies came out and dominated in the face of an actual challenge. This would obviously be the best outcome of Saturday’s game.
The worst case scenario is that the Huskies play horribly, resulting in either a loss or a tight game against a bad Syracuse team. Not all wins are created equal, and how fans feel as they walk out of Husky Stadium will depend more on how the Huskies play than on the outcome of the game.
A few specifics to watch: the lines and special teams. Special teams, outside of Nick Folk’s right leg, were horrendous. The return issues should be easily corrected. More concerning is the loss tonight of punter Will Mahan for the year to a knee injury. Walk-on Kiel Rasp will kick in a college game for the first time. The offensive line against BYU was clearly a disappointment to the coaches, and they’ve talked all week about getting true freshmen Erik Kohler and Colin Porter more opportunities. Someone needs to step up. The defensive line just needs to get some pressure anyway they can. Not facing the quick attack and big offensive linemen from BYU should help. If it doesn’t, it could be a long season for the defense.