Tag Archives: Danny Shelton

Your 2014 UW Huskies Defensive Preview

Defense wins championships, I’ve heard. I’m not sure that’s always true, but should the Huskies win a championship, the defense will likely be the main reason why. This is the most loaded UW has been on this side of the ball in a long time. It does have some issues on the back end I’ll discuss below, but if they can sort those out, points could be few for UW opponents. Offense was covered here, if you missed it.

Defensive Line

With the coaching change, it’s hard to be sure what the defensive alignment is going to look like. Players and positions are being moved around a bit, but it’s unclear how that will actually look onfield. For my purposes, I’m considering players where they played last year. For example, and as a good place to start, Hauoli Kikaha was a defensive end last year, but they’re listing him at linebacker now. I imagine his new role will be similar to Wilcox’s Rush End, where he can be moved around some and plays in space and coverage a bit more. Whatever the specifics, Kikaha will be rushing the passer, and if last year was a starting point and not a peak, he will cause massive amounts of havoc. Kikaha overcame knee issues and lots of time off to turn in one of the better pass rushing seasons in UW history. He had the most sacks of any returning player in the nation, and if he builds on 2013 at all, he could be an All-American and 1st round pick.

While Kikaha gets more credit, big Danny Shelton is the true key to the defense. The massive tackle blossomed last year, eating up blockers for other guys to get into the backfield. At his best, Shelton occupies two or three blockers, clogging the inside of the line and preventing running plays from going whichever direction was planned. Shelton was extremely effective last year, but if he can find a bit more burst and get into the backfield with regularity, he’ll be in the discussion for the best D tackles in college football. It’ll be important to keep Shelton on the field, because the depth behind him is quite young. RS frosh Elijah Qualls has loads of potential, so it was surprising to see less heralded true freshman Greg Gaines listed above him on this week’s depth chart. That may be as much about Gaines having a bigger body as anything to do with their performance. Both have good to great potential, but there will be a noticeable drop-off when Shelton leaves the field.

Completing the line are the Hudson brothers (not really brothers) Evan and Andrew. Both are cool stories. Evan was a walk-on from Bothell who started out at TE. Last year they moved him to the line, and he started most of the year as a big end/smallish tackle. I kind of think of him as playing a similar role to what Red Bryant did for the Seahawks, where he did more to hold the edge or occupy guys than make plays in the backfield. That said, I have no idea what his role will be this year, or what kind of upside he still has in him. He could become a star or lose his job to a younger guy and I wouldn’t be surprised. Andrew Hudson was a starter early in his career before rarely seeing the field last year, leading the old staff to decide it was time for him to move on. Peterson had other thoughts and invited him back, and now he’s slated to start. He never showed a huge amount of explosiveness, but he used to be a serviceable starter. No idea what he’ll do this year. LIke at tackle, the depth here is talented but young. I’d feel better about guys like Jojo Mathis, Jarrett Finau and Psalm Wooching seeing the field, though. They’ve at least gotten their feet wet, and there are some interesting skills there.

Linebacker

This could be as good as any backer group in the conference. John Timu is finally a senior and has developed into a dependable leader in the middle. He’s not an elite athlete, but he makes up for it with great instincts and a nose for the ball. Shaq Thompson has not quite delivered on his talent and athleticism, which isn’t to say he hasn’t been excellent. He has. He just has so much potential, that anything short of a dominant year would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe that’s not fair, but he’s capable. The third spot is a bit undecided, but it’s not for a lack of good options. At times, Travis Feeney has looked like the best backer on the roster. He’s listed as a co-starter with RS freshman Keishawn Bierria. Both are lighter guys who can cover ground and be effective in pass protection. Bierria’s fellow RS freshmen Azeem Victor and Sean Constantine are in the depth and should see time. Victor in particular is developing a rep as a big hitter and could become a fan favorite before long. Scott Lawyer is the long experienced reserve besides Cory Littleton, who’s become a bit of a forgotten man with some minor injuries in camp. I don’t know if he’ll serve as more a linebacker or a rusher, but he should make his presence felt at some point.

Secondary

If there’s one area that could hold the team back (other than QB), it could be the secondary. UW is replacing 3 of 4 starters along with some key reserves, and all of the contenders for those spots are young. Luckily, the one returning starter is CB Marcus Peters, and he’s one of the best in the country. Peters is the latest and maybe the best in the Dawgs’ recent run of excellent corners. If he has the season everyone expects, he’ll likely go pro and be picked in the top round or two. Opposite him, RSFr. Jermaine Kelly looks to be the guy. He’s a tremendous athlete who’s received nothing but raves since he showed up on the recruiting radar. He’ll likely have some growing pains at times, but I expect him to look like the Huskies’ next star corner by the end of the year. Depth will come from senior Travell Dixon, who seems to have responded well to the coaching change, and some true freshman. Naijiel Hale and Sidney Jones are first up, and both have the talent to excel. Whether they can do so this year is the question.

Safety is replacing both spots, but it has a bit more returning talent. Of course, the guy turning heads is true freshman Budda Baker from Bellevue. He brings a small body but elite speed and football instincts. He’s slated to start opening night, and he should be the most exciting Husky freshman since Shaq. Opposite him at strong safety is Brandon Beaver. He was a touted recruit who didn’t play much last season, but he’s still only a sophomore. Behind him are two sophomores who saw lots of time as true freshman last year, Kevin King and Trevor Walker. Both played well at time last year. Expect to see all four of these guys on the field in different coverages and as the coaches try to find the right combinations.

Special Teams

UW lost do-everything kicker Travis Coons, so these spots are a little unsettled. Cameron Van Winkle has recovered from back issues to take the lead for field goal duty, and he and Tristan Vizcaino will handle kick-offs. Kory Durkee gets first crack at punter. He has a huge leg but has struggled previously with consistency and getting his kicks off.

John Ross returns as the kick returner, where he’s a threat to break one every time. Budda backs him up and has similar potential. Jaydon Mickens gets the call to return punts. UW hasn’t received much production there, but Mickens and others have the skills to be effective.

Go Dawgs!

-Matthew

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A Q&A At A Square Table

After last weekend’s heartbreaking affairs, the Good Guys felt it was time to gather together and face the hard questions.  Okay, they aren’t really hard questions but there are some answers to a few questions.  Enjoy everybody!

After Saturday’s game, do you think Stanford is a top-5 team?  Does that mean the Huskies are a top-10 team based on their performance?

Dan:  I’m not sure if Stanford is a top 5 team because the offense and defense both seem good but not great. Top 5 teams have an elite “something” and I don’t see it’d on Stanford. I think both UW and Stanford are in the 7-10 range. Look, if your only loss is by 3 points on the road to the #5 team, and you outplay them in nearly all facets, you belong in the top 10.

Joe:  I agree with Dan that Stanford is a top 10 team, and that UW could be a top 10.  The problem I have is Stanford hasn’t been tested on the road yet, with two home games vs ranked teams, and in both cases, ASU and UW moved the ball just fine on their defense, out gaining Stanford in both games.  But I understand a win is a win, so I’ll let that sleeping dog lie.  I think Stanford is a very good football team, very well-disciplined, they just don’t beat themselves, and that’s why they are undefeated right now.
Matthew: I think Stanford is capable of beating anyone in the country, but I don’t think they’re good enough to go undefeated and win the championship.  I don’t know if that puts them in the top five or not, but I imagine they’ll hang in that range most of the year.  I see them losing to Oregon and maybe one more team. I would have the Huskies in the 10-15 range right now.  If they keep playing like they have been, however, I don’t see them losing many more games.  They could easily be a a top 10 team, and I think they’re playing like it right now.  It’s just a matter of keeping it up.
Andrew:  It appears that I’m in the minority here but I do believe Stanford is a top-5 team.  Outside of Alabama, I’m not sure that anyone has a better resume than Stanford right now.  I think their front 7 is elite and is probably the best in the country.  As for the Huskies, they really do look like a top-10 team to me.  I think they can play with anyone because of the weapons on their team and because of the growth on the coaching staff.  This weekend will go a long ways in showing whether the Huskies are or not.
What was your favorite play from Saturday’s game?

Dan:  I thought the 3rd and 1 stop with 2 mins left was amazing. Peters was off-balance and Hogan appeared to have an easy path to getting a yard or 2 outside, but Marcus recovered and made a phenomenal play that only elite D’s pull off.

Joe:  Any play that involved Bishop Sankey doing something awesome, and then seeing Grandpa Sankey go nuts.
Matthew: I’ll second both of those.  Grandpa Sankey was great, but that third down stop by Peters was incredible.  I’ve been raving about it ever since.  It came out of the same formation as Stanford scored (I think) their last touchdown: 8 lineman, shotgun, two backs beside the quarterback.  It’s very symmetrical and looks like a goal line offense.  Because of that, UW got sucked into the middle on the touchdown, and Tyler Gaffney was untouched going off-tackle to the right.  There are so many different plays that can be run out of that alignment. They can hand off either direction, go right up the gut, slip the tight end or a back out for a pass.  This time Hogan kept it, Peters mostly stayed home and then closed and made a difficult tackle.  Given the circumstances and level of difficulty, that was one of the better defensive plays we’ll see all year.
Andrew:  I can’t disagree with the Peters play.  It would have been my favorite UW play, maybe ever, if the Dawgs had pulled the game out.

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Washington-Illinois Review

The Dawgs moved to 2-0 on Saturday night against a feisty Illinois team.  From the get go it was obvious that U-Dub was the better team but the game was in doubt as late as the fourth quarter.  If you’re reading this, you probably have already read/watched/heard about the game so I’m not going to tell you what happened.  I’ll just add a few notes here and there and move on to this week.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a replay on TV (with it being on the Big-10 Network) and I’m not sure I want to hear those announcers for another 3 hours anyway.  In other words, I’m not going to do quite the breakdown I did against Boise.  I’ve made this weird little outline that pretty much encapsulates the main notes I have on the game.  Enjoy!

Distractions:  First, this trip seemed a little hectic for the Huskies.  On the radio show today, Sark said their bus showed up late at the airport when they landed.  He also mentioned that Northwestern University (their mascot is the Wildcats, if you need any more proof that they are stupid) cancelled on letting the Huskies having a walk-through on their field.  This led to the Dawgs having a practice in a large, public park in downtown Chicago.

Dumber Distractions:  Then, the officials happened.  Yes, the Huskies committed too many penalties, without a doubt.  The Huskies ended with 12 penalties for 104 yards.  I can remember 4 or 5 penalties I don’t particularly agree with.  ASJ was called for holding without touching anyone.  Danny Shelton was called for a late hit on a guy that was still in-bounds (although he did launch himself, this will usually be a penalty).  Jaydon Mickens was called for a late hit and was shown walking around while the player was being tackled, so I don’t know how it could be a late hit.  Josh Shirley was called for a roughing the passer penalty because he was pushed into the quarterback and his arm touched him.  There were a few other holding penalties that didn’t seem quite right.  If you take away just three of the four penalties I mentioned, the yardage is down to about 70 yards.  That’s not good but it’s not nearly as crippling, obviously.

Dumbest Distractions:  The Huskies also fought off a number of trick plays.  There was around ten trick plays the Illini tried.  Most of them worked for about ten yards.  One led to a big first down on a pivotal play and went for about 40 yards.  Other than that, the Huskies survived.  I hate those plays.  Not as much as my fellow Good Guys hate them but I can’t stand them.  It seemed fitting that the Huskies pretty much ended the game by intercepting a double pass.

The Real Story:  When you take into account and consider these first three points, the Huskies really dominated the game.  The offense racked up over 600 yards, led by a running back who should be considered for the Heisman Trophy.  The defense played fast in the first half and looked like the same team that played against Boise.  They had their lapses (more on those in a minute) but they dominated a team that played with a lot of confidence and tenacity.

Cause For Concern – Offense:  As I said, there were lapses on both sides of the ball.  First the offense.  In the Red Zone, the Huskies settled for field goals twice.  At the end of the half, the Huskies drove down into the red zone before stalling there.  The drive ended because of some really questionable play calling.  There was no running plays once the team got in there even though they had all their time-outs and there was plenty of time on the clock.  The other drive that resulted in a field goal ended similarly.  I know Kasen and ASJ are great Red Zone weapons but right now Sankey is our best weapon.  He needs the ball no matter where we are on the field.  I think Sark will remedy this problem but it’s something to be aware of.

Another Cause for Concern – Offense:  After really impressing in the opener, Dwayne Washington really struggled on Saturday.  He had 2 carries and 2 fumbles.  Not exactly the ratio you want.  Dwayne will get it right, but it was a tough day for the freshman and the Huskies need him to be effective as the season goes on.

Cause for Concern – Defense:  The big plays that were prevented against Boise came against Illinois.  The defense had a few blown coverages and Ducre was burnt for one long touchdown.  That touchdown kept Illinois in the game when it looked like the Huskies were about to put it away completely.  After being so sound defensively in the opener, the Huskies need to clean up some assignments and their mental game to prevent the big play.

Another Darn Cause for Concern – Defense:  In the second half, John Timu sat out because of a shoulder injury.  It is expected that he’ll be able to return, if not this week, next week.  It was apparent that Timu is very important to the defense.  In the second half, Illinois moved the ball pretty well and often ran right up the middle.  The defensive line got pushed around a little bit and the linebackers weren’t as effective because of that.  I’m curious to see if power teams will have success running right at us, even with Timu in.

Lots of Offensive Good News – Now that we have the lowlights out-of-the-way, let’s get to the good stuff.  The whole offense played really well.  I’ll just go position by position here.  Price played a great game.  He was very accurate and made good decisions.  He made a few really good plays and otherwise simply controlled the game.  At running back, Bishop Sankey was the star.  The guy is on fire and might be the best player on the team, right now.  Jesse Callier had a great return and added a few huge plays.  The receivers weren’t quite as good as the opener but were still dynamic and exciting.  Mickens and Smith continue to look fantastic.  I expect a big game from Kasen soon, as he seems to catch the ball every time it’s been thrown at him ASJ looked a little tired and didn’t perform his best.  He was on the field for over 80 snaps, which probably wasn’t the best move for his first game.  The offensive line had one of the best games in recent memory.  They gave Keith sufficient time and dominated the line of scrimmage.  Price was sacked twice but one of those he literally ran to the defender on his right and made sure he was tackled by him.  It was as weird as it sounds.

Don’t Get Defensive, There’s More Good News!  While the defensive came out to be the weaker link this week, they still did plenty of things right.  On the defensive line, Shirley had maybe the best game of his career.  He recorded three sacks, but what I think is more impressive is his two tackles for a loss.  Shirley has been called a liability against the run but he proved to be solid against it on Saturday.  Danny Shelton is not putting up numbers but the defense is noticeably worse when he’s taking a rest.  Hau’oli Kikaha continues to get better and better.  The rest of the D-line was so-so and many of the pressures were due to good coverage.  The linebackers looked very quick in the first half and were often in good position to make plays.  Their tackling, again, wasn’t the best but they are still one of the best groups on the team.  Timu truly makes a huge difference.  The secondary has played really well so far.  Ducre gave up the touchdown, but that was a great play by the offense, and then came back and sealed the game with an interception.  There were a few more blown coverages but the man-to-man defense was great.

Review and Preview:  All in all, it was a great victory by the Dawgs.  After the horror of the Apple Cup last year, the team didn’t buckle when Illinois made a run at them.  The Huskies toughened up when they needed to and ultimately dominated the game statistically.  As they move ahead they get an easy game this week against Idaho State and a home conference opener against Arizona.  The Huskies should be 3-0 and about to breach the top 15 by the time they open Pac-12 play.  It’s been too long since we’ve gotten to say that.

Until next time, go Dawgs!

Scott Lawyer!!

Scott Lawyer!!

– Andrew

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Washington-Boise State Review

Yesterday, Matthew wrote a few thoughts on the Huskies victory on Saturday night.  It was a great night and the stadium was everything I hoped it would be.  We plan to do a further review on the stadium, complete with pictures, after this weekend.  This post is all about the game.  I wrote about 3 pages worth of notes on the game while watching the replay and tried to go pretty in-depth.  With that being said, I’m not sure how to format this so bear with me as I try to figure it out.  If I get to continue doing this for every game, these posts will get better every week.

For now, I think I will just go with a few main stats on the offensive side of the ball and then lots of bullet points.  My numbers are a tiny bit off (I must have missed a play here or there) but they are only a yard or two off in places.  Enjoy!NCAA Football: Boise State at Washington

Offensive thoughts:

I don’t think anyone is questioning the move to the no-huddle offense after that performance.  The offense did go more to spread concepts, although Sark said they may not use those as much when ASJ plays.  The quarterbacks didn’t take a single snap under center, it was all in shotgun or pistol.  Double tight-end sets were used on multiple occasions and a fullback was used in 3 or 4 drives.  One interesting formation was with Price lined up in the pistol and two tight ends (Perkins and Hartvigson) would both line up on the same side of the line.  The Dawgs had a good bit of success running behind that formation.  Both tight ends did a good job of getting to the second level and making blocks all game long.

While it looked like a completely different offense, it wasn’t.  All of these were things that Sark had used in previous years just not to the extent of what they did Saturday night.  Easy throws, a staple of the spread, were a common occurrence on Saturday night although they didn’t do that as much as I had thought when initially watching.  About 35% of Price’s throws were behind the line of scrimmage. 

These passes behind the line of scrimmage almost always worked.  I only counted one pass behind the line of scrimmage that ended up in a loss of yards.  On the first Husky touchdown drive, the Huskies faced a 3rd and 9 in which Price threw to Mickens 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  He took it for a 12 yard gain and a big first down.

Boise didn’t shift a lot when the Huskies sent guys in motion (which was often).  Usually the linebackers would shuffle over but nothing more.  Boise was commonly in a zone and the Huskies took advantage of that.  Our wide receivers were well prepared in who to block in what formation.

The running game was fantastic all night.  There was a good balance of running and throwing in the offense and a pretty good balance of which direction the team would run.  These numbers are a big trivial but I had the Huskies gaining 47% of their rushing yards running to the left side, 27% to the right side, and 26% up the middle.  I’m guessing a big reason for this is that Boise’s star defensive end, Demarcus Lawrence, lined up on the right side of the line so the Huskies ran away from him.  I’ll be interested to see if these numbers keep up in the next few games.

The pass blocking was very good as well.  Riva constantly dealt with Lawrence and he hardly sniffed Price.  Hatchie wasn’t noticed at left tackle, which was a good thing.  The offensive line was clearly in good shape and played well throughout the night.  Yes, Price got rid of the ball quickly but he threw down the field a few times and had plenty of time in those situations.  The one sack the Huskies did give up was on Price, as he could have stayed in the pocket much longer.

Speaking of Price, he played a fantastic game.  When throwing downfield, his receivers would find holes in the zone and sit in them, Price would almost always find these guys.  I counted Price throwing the ball more than 20 yards downfield 4 times.  One sailed over the head of Ross and the Boise safety.  Another pass was completed to Smith on a beautiful throw that fit right between the corner and safety who seemed to be playing a cover two.  The other throws were in succession to Kasen.  The first was a back shoulder throw that was perfectly placed.  Following that came a touchdown in which Kasen found himself wide open.  Why was he wide open?  The safety bit on a slant route that was really a slant and go.  Why did he bite on it?  Maybe because, up until that point Kasen had been targeted by Price 3 times.  2 of those times had been on slant routes.  All in all, Price finished 3/4 on balls that he threw 20 yards+ downfield.  You could count his touchdown pass to Perkins as another but that was right on the border of 20 yards.

In the first half, Price managed the game.  In the second half, Price controlled the game.  Both of these were effective but, obviously, he was the better player in the second half.  He created more plays without forcing them.  Even if Price just manages the game, I think this team will be successful.

A few more thoughts on the offense:

  • Ross and Mickens were fantastic.  They will both be a handful to cover for everyone involved.
  • Deontae Cooper’s first carry was negated by a chop block penalty.  In watching the replay, that looked like a really bad call.  From what I saw, all of the other penalties looked to be right.  (More on Cooper later this week).
  • On the second touchdown drive of the second half Boise put subs in to get their guys some rest.  The Huskies absolutely ran them over.  There wasn’t a gain of less than 6 yards on that drive until the starters came back in for Boise.
  • Dwayne Washington looked great and just ran over some guys.  Him and Bishop could be a very good combo this year.

Defensive Thoughts:   Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts on a Perfect Husky Win

HSThe Huskies christened the new Husky Stadium on Saturday with their best win in years.  They’ve had wins against better teams, like the upsets of USC and Stanford, but it’s been a long time since they dominated a good team so thoroughly.  I’m not sure how good Boise State will be this year, but they looked like a solid team and were still outclassed in every way by the Huskies.  I’m not going to give a full recap, but here are a few thoughts:

  • First, the stadium.  Simply put, it is everything fans could have asked for.  It’s not glitzy and opulent, but it’s classy and open and perfectly designed for the fans.  And it is so close.  The proximity to the field without the track is what grabbed me immediately.  It’s such a sizable difference, there’s no real way to describe it.  You really have to walk through the stands and see it for yourself.  If you weren’t there Saturday, I’d make every effort to see a game this season.  You won’t be disappointed.  There are also a full day’s worth of high school games there this Saturday, including some big-time local match-ups and quite a few Husky recruits. I can’t imagine a better place to watch a college football game.  The location has always been perfect.  Now there’s a building that not only doesn’t feel like it’s about to fall down, but is also up-to-date and beautiful and possessing all the amenities anyone could want.

    From Our East End Zone Seats

    From Our East End Zone Seats

  • Sean Parker may have saved the season.  The air had gone out of the stadium a bit after Price’s interception and BSU’s first few plays going for easy yardage.  Who knows what would have happened had BSU gone for a touchdown to start the game.  Luckily, Parker saved them with a beautiful interception that reignited the crowd.  The offense went straight down the field for a TD, and there was no looking back from there.
  • Speaking of Parker, the whole secondary looked excellent.  The two new starters, Greg Ducre and Will Shamburger, were solid, particularly Shamburger, who was everywhere.  Marcus Peters made multiple plays and showed a physicality unseen in a UW corner for a while. This group had questions before the year, but for one game, they looked fast, physical and good.
  • The defense was excellent and had a ton of guys make plays, but Danny Shelton really stood out to me.  BSU ran the ball decently, but that was to be expected.  It was quite noticeable when Shelton left the field.  He did a solid job all day moving the middle of the line.  By the third and fourth quarter, he had completely worn down his opposition and was getting pressure right in Joe Southwick’s face.  Shelton is the key to the defense, and the signs are very impressive after one game.
  • One last thing on the defense.  They gave up yards, but they came up huge when they had too.  Peters’ pass break-up in the back of the end zone  at the beginning of the third was huge.  So was the fourth down stop toward the end of the third.  My favorite play was the third down stop in the first before the blocked field goal.  Kikaha (great for his first game back) broke into the backfield to get the first hit, and then the Dawgs swarmed Ajayi.  He ended up going down in a pile of about eight Huskies.
  • I wrote on Friday that a key would be finding a receiver or two to contribute.  The Huskies did better than that.  Jaydon Mickens and John Ross were revelations.  The Broncos had no answers for them when they caught a screen or quick pass to the edge.  The Huskies had significantly better playmakers all day, and it feels like that might not change for much of the season.  Kevin Smith also had a solid day, and while the back-up tight ends didn’t do a lot in the receiving game, they blocked well and did get a touchdown on a beautiful play by a scrambling Price to Joshua Perkins.  I don’t think there was a Husky skill player getting regular minutes who didn’t do something impressive.
  • Keith Price and his offensive line were excellent as well.  Price shook off the interception to be nearly perfect.  He looked loose and confident, and he got more creative and exciting as the game progressed.  The quick throws are a good fit for him.  It helped to not be on his back every play.  The line did an excellent job in both pass and run blocking.  They need to clean up a few penalties, but they made a good case Saturday that they are night and day better than last year.  I’ll be curious to watch them improve as the season goes. It’s still a young group.  Also interesting will be seeing if the Huskies will start to throw deep more and how ASJ’s return will influence defenses.  In case you forgot, the Huskies were playing without an All-American.

There was nothing to dislike about this game.  The Huskies gave up yards, but they didn’t give up a play of more than 18 yards or a touchdown.  I wasn’t excited about the Husky pass rush while I was at the game, but it looks better rewatching it on TV.  Mostly, the Huskies looked like a team taking the next step.  They executed crisply, didn’t make mistakes, and didn’t let up at any point.  They were athletic and skilled.  This is what we’ve been waiting to see, and if the Dawgs keep playing like this, they’re going to win a lot of games.

-Matthew

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Keys to a Breakout

Steve Sarkisian has done a solid job of transforming the Huskies from a winless and destitute program into a perfectly average squad.  They’ve won seven games for three straight years, marking 2013 as the time to step past average.  Realizing that it’s time for this to happen is easy, but actually accomplishing it is not.

While it’s not easy for bad teams to get back to mediocre or average, it’s also not terribly difficult.  When a team is terrible, especially as bad as the 2008 Huskies were, there are so many areas for improvement.  If every area of the team is bad, each area improved brings the team up.  The players brought in don’t have to be amazing, they just have to be better than the bad ones they’re replacing.  Often, just the change in coaching or attitude summons improvement from the holdovers.  Improving from terrible is not that hard.

Improving from average to good or great is hard.  Becoming good and then great requires good and great players, and unsurprisingly, those players are a lot harder to find.  Sometimes, coaching can elevate average players, and sometimes offensive or defensive schemes can neutralize talent disparities.  Most often, a team just needs to find better talent and better athletes.  Talent often underachieves, but poor talent rarely beats elite talent.  It’s just the way it is. Continue reading

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Looking at the Dawgs – Defense

A few days ago, I wrote about the probable starters and depth on the Huskies offense.  Today, we move over to the defense.

This picture is too pretty to leave out of this post.

This picture is too pretty to leave out of this post.

Defensive Overview: Heading into 2012, expectations weren’t exactly high for the defense.  They had just come off one of the worst seasons in school history (statistically) and even a decent jump in performance wouldn’t put them at average.  The change of the defensive coaching staff was sure to be an upgrade but how much was hard to predict.

The season started, and the offense sputtered.  Thankfully, Wilcox, and staff, performed a minor miracle and transformed the Husky defense to slightly above-average and in the top half of Pac-12 defenses.  They led the team to wins against San Diego State, Stanford and Oregon State.  The defense was led by a lockdown corner in Desmond Trufant and a slew of young linebackers in Travis Feeney, Shaq Thompson, and John Timu.

Heading into 2013, it’s still a little strange to think of the defense as a strength but it appears to be just that.  I don’t know if the unit as a whole will be way ahead of the offense but they should at least be equals to the other side of the ball.  While the offenses switch to a hurry-up offense was to benefit themselves, I do think the defense will reap benefits, as well. The defense has struggled against fast-paced spread teams for the last 10 years.  Practicing against the fast-paced can not hurt.  Also, the coaching staff has recruited a different type of athlete that’s leaning towards a longer, faster player (just look at the linebackers).

There are certainly questions on this side of the ball, but for now the positives outweigh them.  The D is young, fast, and physical and I’m excited to see what they could do this season.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the best defense Washington has had in over a decade.

On to the positions.

Defensive Line:
Starters – DE Andrew Hudson (RJr.), DT Danny Shelton (Jr.), DE Evan Hudson (RJr.), RE Josh Shirley (RJr.)/Corey Littleton (So.)/Hau’oli Kikaha (RJr.)
Andrew Hudson and Shelton have been mainstays on the line for the last few years and have performed admirably.  Andrew is more of your typical D. end in that he’s a little longer, isn’t quite as heavy and excels in rushing the passer.  Shelton probably has the most potential of any guy on the line (especially if you don’t consider the true freshmen).  He was solid last season in his starting spot but has had the breakout that fans and coaches have hoped for.  He should be a force in the middle and his penetration will be a key in stop the run game.  Evan Hudson is a converted tight end who looks like he’s set to start next to Shelton.   The position is listed as a defensive end because the team runs a bit of a 3-4 defense but really Hudson is almost like a defensive tackle as well.  He’s another tall guy who weighs in at 280.  Maybe the defensive line was in such bad shape that they need Evan to start or maybe he truly is that talented on this side of the ball.  I’m guessing it’s a mix of both but I do feel a bit uneasy about him coming in and starting right away.  The rush end spot is up for grabs with Josh Shirley, Corey Littleton, and Hau’oli Kikaha (formerly Hau’oli Jamora) all battling for the starting spot.  Shirley has been a very one-dimensional player in the past in always just trying to speed rush right past the tackle.  With that being said, he is probably the best pass rusher the Huskies have and could challenge for double-digit sacks this year.  Littleton saw a few games last season as a true freshman and played about how you’d expect a freshman on the line to play.  He’s said to be much improved in practice and may have been playing in front of Shirley at times during the camp.  Hau’oli has suffered 2 straight ACL tears in the last 2 seasons and has battled back to have an impressive Fall Camp.  Before the tears, he was one of the Huskies best defensive players.  If he can get to that level, the Huskies pass rush will definitely be a much stronger force.  The rush end position is one of the more intriguing spots on the team with three talented guys at one position.  I will be excited to watch it play out over the season
The Depth – DE Joe Mathis (Fr.), DT Sione Potoa’e (Sr.), Lawrence Lagafuaina (RJr.), DT Josh Banks (Sr.), DT Drew Schultz (RJr.), DE Connor Cree (RSo.), DE Jarrett Finau (RSo.), DT Elijah Qualls (Fr.), Damion Turpin (RFr.), DT Taniela Tupou (RSo.), DE Marcus Farria (Fr.)
The depth on the D-line is slowly improving during Sark’s tenure.  This group of players could look really good in a year or two but for now there are a few decent guys and then question marks.  Joe Mathis, a freshman, is challenging for a starting spot and will probably play this year.  If he doesn’t redshirt, which is highly unlikely, expect to see him on the field quite a bit.  Potoa’e, Banks, and Schultz have all played enough defensive tackle to feel okay about.  Potoa’e was a very impressive recruit but has never reached his, thought to be, potential.  Lagafuaina tore his ACL last year and is still getting up to speed, but when he’s in the game he takes up a lot of space in the middle.  Cree and Finau saw limited action last year and provide decent depth.  Qualls may or may not redshirt but he was a heralded recruit.  The other guys might get some action in the game but have figured in to the rotation as prominently as the guys I have listed above them.  Farria will probably redshirt.

Linebackers:
Starters – OLB Shaq Thompson (So.), MLB John Timu (Jr.), OLB Travis Feeney (RSo.)
On paper, this is easily the best position group on the team.  They are quick, young and physical.  They close fast to the ball and could be the best position group the team has had in years.  In my last post, I said ASJ was the best player the Huskies have had in at least a decade.  By the end of Thompson’s career here, he could hold that title.  Shaq is incredibly talented, bringing a mix of speed and size that you don’t see often.  He could be an All-American by the end of the season.  Timu continues to grow and improve.  He was very impressive in a few games last year draws rave reviews from the coaching staff for his intelligence.  Timu did struggle against power teams last year and I wonder if that has improved this season. As good as the other two were last year, Feeney may have been the best linebacker on the team.  He also has great speed and loves to hit people.  All of these guys were safeties in high school and you can see that athleticism in their linebacking.  The only concern is against the power teams of the world.
The Depth:  Princeton Fuimaono (Sr.), Thomas Tutogi (Sr.), Jamaal Kearse (RJr.), Scott Lawyer (RSo.), Connor O’Brien (Fr.), Azeem Victor (Fr.), Keishawn Bierria (Fr.), Sean Constantine (Fr.)
The depth helps make this position the best on the team.  Fuimaono has been challenging Feeney for his starting spot and will be the first guy off the bench as a linebacker.  Princeton can probably play both outside linebacker positions.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package where the three starting linebackers are on the field with Fuimaono.  This coaching staff is pretty good at getting their best players on the field.  Tutogi proved to be a valuable piece of the puzzle last year at middle linebacker.  He played quite a bit against the power teams and was a very physical force.  I’m curious to see if he’ll play in Timu’s spot against power teams on running downs.  I expect to see a lot of Tutogi and Fuimaono on the field plenty this year. Kearse has had an interesting career and is a very capable backup.  He’s started a few games in his career and come up with some big plays.  Lawyer has impressed people in camp and will start to see a lot of time come next year.  He’ll play on special teams quite a bit this year.  I’m hoping all of the freshmen get to redshirt but some may have to be used on special teams.  They’re an impressive group with a lot of size.   Continue reading

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UW – LSU Recap

I’m a few days late on this but I was a bit busy and don’t have much to say about this game.  I’ll keep it short and then talk about the rest of the Pac-12 tomorrow.

Before I recap the disaster that was Saturday night, I’d be remiss to not mention the announcement that the Sonics Arena Deal will be passed.  Chris Hansen has bent over backwards to get this deal done and now, we’re only a few steps away from getting an NBA team here.  Hansen seems to be one of the most likeable guys around and the whole city needs to send him a few thank you cards.  Our city will be better because of this deal, not just because of the enhancement of the NBA being here but also because of the traffic problems being taken care of and the cleaning up of the Sodo District.  It’s a great day to be living in Seattle.

Also, I’d like to thank any veterans and members of the military on this day we remember.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost someone on this day 11 years ago.

So, on to Saturday night.  There’s not much to say, because I generally try to stay positive.  The Dawgs were beaten, stepped on, beaten, and then curb-stomped a few times.  Sure, the game started well on the first play and the Huskies took an early lead, but the game was over once the Huskies had to settle for a field goal.  Who knows what happens if Bishop Sankey or Jaydon Mickens holds on to the ball and the Dawgs get a quick 7 on the board.  They still would have lost, but an early bit of confidence could do a young team wonders.   It was like LSU was going to play rope-a-dope with the Dawgs, then felt their measly jab to the ribs, and decided to just K.O. them sooner rather than later.

Thomas Tutogi and Danny Shelton had good games.  Otherwise, can you point to anyone who had a good game?  I can’t.  If you can, let me know in the comments.  Erik Kohler was lost to another injury.  Travis Feeney might be out for a few weeks.  The team was just dominated physically.

My general feeling is that I’m tired of watching that happen.  I thought this team would compete with the best this year and they definitely didn’t.  They’ve been bit by the injury bug, but that’s not an excuse for getting beat 41-3.  It’s one game, but for the first time in the Sark era, you have to worry about progress a little bit.  He’s done a great job with this program and by no means is in the hot seat but the team can’t keep getting blown  out in these games.

This week they need to throttle Portland State.  They need to beat them the way Oregon would.  It will put everyone’s mind at ease.  They need to average 5 or 6 yards a carry.  Keith Price needs to have a high completion percentage, look efficient and then get out of the game by the 4th quarter.  The defense needs to score a touchdown (they have in both games so far, unless you count that blown call by SEC officials) and limit yardage.  No, they don’t need to do these things to win but they need to do them for their own confidence and to keep the fan base patient.  Stanford comes in a few weeks later and the Huskies need to have shown that they’ll be ready.

Shane Brostek will play in his first game on Saturday.  He is a true freshman who will see time at right guard.  I wish he could have red-shirted but the offensive line needs help and if he can make them improve then I’m all for it.  This week is a chance for the Dawgs to get healthy and dominate in all aspects of the game.  Let’s hope they get that done.  After Saturday, they could use something that goes according to plan.

Andrew

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