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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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Good Guys Pac-12 Preview

The season is two days away, so let’s fire up a conference preview!  More comprehensive previews abound, so if you want a rundown of UCLA’s secondary, you’ll have to check somewhere else.  For this preview, I’m telling you two things: which player from each team I would want on the Huskies, and how scared I would be if the Dawgs were playing given team tomorrow.  I’ll rate that 1-10, with one being an almost certain win for the Dawgs and 10 an almost certain loss.  I’ll also go through the teams in the divisional order I’d expect them to finish.  So I guess you get three things!  Enjoy.

South Division

1. Arizona State

Player I Want (PIW): This is the easiest choice in the conference, because  DT Will Sutton might be the best player in the conference.  He’s one of the best pass rushing tackles in recent memory, and has a chance to win conference defensive player of the year for the second time in a row.  That hasn’t happened since Mr. Steve Emtman.  Sutton would fit perfectly next to Danny Shelton, transforming the Husky D Line from a bit of a worry to a huge strength.

Scare-o-meter: 7.  ASU took a big step forward last year, and I think they’ll continue to move up.  They have some issues, but they also have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.  Taylor Kelly was one of the best QBs in the conference last year, and DJ Foster and Marion Grice is the top running back duo in the Pac-12.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish as low as third in the south, but I’m betting they fight off a tough early schedule to make the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2. USC

PIW: Also an easy choice: Marquise Lee, the best receiver in all the land.  Lee brings me to an interesting point in deciding on these players.  The best player on a team isn’t always the guy who would help the Huskies the most.  Defensive lineman Morgan Breslin, for instance, plays at a position of greater need for UW.  In close calls, UW’s need wins out.  Sometimes the greatness of one player far outweighs the utility of another, though.  Anyone who would turn down a chance to see Marquise Lee on their side every Saturday is crazy.

Scare-o-meter: 6.  As usual, USC has as much talent as anyone in the conference.  They have three questions holding them back: 1. Who’s QB? Max Wittek and Cody Kessler are both expected to play on Thursday. 2. Running back is uncertain, with Silas Redd injured.  Lots of talent here though.  3. Lane Kiffin is still coach.  He’s a complete x-factor.  Still, aside from losing Matt Barkley and a few others, this is a roster that was expected to challenge for a national championship last year.  They could be a load if a QB emerges and Kiffin doesn’t sabotage them.

3. UCLA Continue reading

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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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One Last Review Of UW-Stanford

I promised a more thorough review of last Thursdays game and here it is!  Five days, a trip to Yakima and about 8 hours of homework later.  I did finally finish watching the game last night and I had a few thoughts about the game.  I’ll go by position and add in some thoughts about coaching here and there.  Before I begin, I think this was probably the best coached Husky game since Rick Neuheisal was coach.  Seriously.  I’ll get into more detail as the post goes, but as a whole this was an incredibly coached game for the Dawgs, scheme-wise, personnel wise and on the motivational side.  Anyway, here we go, by position.

Quarterback – Keith Price has been a somewhat forgotten man through 4 games this year.  He doesn’t have the numbers that he had last year and won’t end up with as impressive stats but he has progressed.  Last Thursday, Keith played the toughest football game he’s ever played.  It wasn’t his best but it was very good.  He was tackled in the pocket over 10 times, while only three of those turned out to be sacks.  This is a testament to him standing in the pocket and not rushing things.  At one point it looked like he couldn’t feel his right arm.  I’m not sure why Stanford was never called for a roughing the passer penalty because they went high and hard many times.  Anyway, Price was accurate and threw well even with the amount of duress he was under.  He had 3 passes dropped that would have given him about 40 more passing yards and 3 more first downs.  He generally had less than 2 seconds to throw.  Three plays before the Huskies game-winning touchdown Price lined up under center and killed the running play that was called.  This audible essentially sent the receivers deep.  The ball was snapped, Price dropped back and was pressured from the outside so he stepped up into the pocket.  His outside receiver (I couldn’t catch the number) made a double move and was about to break free but a Stanford linebacker got a hand on the ball.  It was a brilliant call by Price and a beautiful play, it was just a .1 of a second too late.  The game winning touchdown could have come 3 plays earlier than when it did and it would have looked a lot more conventional.  Price was a great decision maker and game-manager.  I hope his body feels okay.

Running Back – It sure looks like Bishop Sankey has found his niche.  He’ll never be Chris Polk.  He’s not a bruiser and isn’t as patient.  But, he’s hitting the hole harder and faster every week.  Hugh Millen pointed out on KJR today that the Huskies use more of a zone-blocking scheme this year instead of a weak-side pulling guard, man-blocking scheme.  This allows Sankey to hit the hole faster than we saw the last few years because you don’t have to wait for that guard to come across.  So, maybe Bishop didn’t find his niche, maybe Sark found his niche for him?  It takes a humble and good coach to adjust his scheme to fit his players and Sark has continually done this.  That’s overlooked an awful lot.  Moving Kendyl Taylor provided an unexpected boost to the Husky offense and he did some good things on Thursday.  I’m guessing he’ll see more and more time as we go.  The fun thing to think about is that these running backs are only going to get better.  No one playing right  now is older than sophomore status.  Sure, they’ll cause a few headaches but the more I think about it, the more I think this year is setting up for a special 2013.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Quite a bit has been made of ASJ not getting only 2 receptions against Stanford.  There was no other tight end who caught a pass either.  What isn’t being said is that ASJ had a block on Chase Thomas that helped spring Bishop’s 61 yard run.  No one is talking about how Evan Hudson lined up at fullback a few times and got into the second level to give Sankey some other big runs.  The tight ends will be used in different ways as this season goes on but don’t think they played an insignificant role on Thursday.  Every receiver was fairly inconsistent aside from Kasen Williams.  Kasen turned 2 yard gains into 7 at least 3 times.  The plan was to get him the ball in space and he showed why that was a great game plan that Sark never went aways from even when it was getting frustrating.  Anytime another receiver wants to step up though, feel fee!

Offensive Line – Yes, the pass blocking was pretty horrendous.  It’s a big problem that needs to be solved right away.  But, they were playing a very good front seven.  To their credit, the line did run block well.  It doesn’t matter how you get yards and points as long as you get them.  No one expected the Huskies to be able to rush for 150 yards but they did and that was because the line opened few holes.  I do think they wore Stanford down a little bit.  Where the Oregon defense is used to being on the field a lot because their offense scores in a hurry, Stanford is exactly the opposite.  I imagine that the Cardinal generally win the time of possession battle and they didn’t on Thursday night.  The Huskies, especially in the first half generally were on the field for at least three minutes on offense every time they had the ball.  It doesn’t seem like much but that adds up, especially when your defense is getting three and outs.  I might be the only one, but I think the Stanford defense was tired and they looked it on the Huskies last drive.  Shane Brostek got his first career start at right guard and looked pretty good in run blocking.  Him and James Atoe next to each other is probably my favorite configuration of the line.  When they’re on the right side, holes seem to open up a bit more.  The Huskies most successful running plays were runs off-tackle or which would follow Atoe, Hatchie, and, on the final drive, Criste.  The right side of the line seemed to open more holes, as I mentioned earlier, but the left side of the line did pretty well too when I re-watched the game.

Defensive Line – Stopping the run starts up front, so here you go.  I don’t know much about defensive lines so I won’t try to explain anything and there wasn’t a ton that stood out.  Pio Vatuvei got extensive action.  Josh Banks saw his first action of the season and made a very good tackle on Stanford’s last drive.  Not a lot shows up in the box score from these guys but they freed up space for the linemen to make plays.  It took Josh Shirley about a half to get his pass rush going but he was definitely felt in the second half.  This group continues to get better.

Linebackers – The Dawgs haven’t had linebackers tackle like they did in this game since who knows how long.  If you think back to the game, think about how many times Stepfan Taylor broke free from a tackle for extra yards.  It didn’t happen.  Even re-watching the game, I can’t think of a time.  Tutogi, Timu, Fuimaono (although he didn’t play as much), Feeney, and Shaq were all in position and made the tackles.  I’m still amazed.  Their pursuit was incredible, their tackling was the best I’ve seen from a Husky defense, and their effort was off the charts.  I don’t expect them to be able to keep this up but if they do then what was thought to be one of the Huskies biggest weaknesses has all of a sudden become one of the best positions on the team.  As one of my favorite wrinkles that Wilcox threw in, Talia Crichton played a hybrid linebacker.  He rushed the passer some but he was used to stop the run a good amount.  It was just another big body who wouldn’t be pushed around.

Secondary – Desmond Trufant was the only corner on the field about 30% of the time for the Huskies.  What a responsibility that was and he handled it extremely well.  Right now he’s an all-conference player and is deserving of All-American recognition.  Two pass breakups, one interception and shutting down one side of the field.  The other corner spot is a bit concerning still but they did okay this game.  Marcus Peters saw quite a bit of time on the field.  Especially in the second half.  Sean Parker played a great game, blowing up screens and flying around.  The defense looks fast and he is one of the players that looks the fastest.  Travis Feeney lined up as free safety sometimes to stop the run which was another wrinkle.  Justin Glenn also played a good game with a couple of pass-breakups.  There were a few blown assignments but that’s to be expected especially when there was such an emphasis on stopping the run.

Special Teams – Travis Coons was the first half MVP.  He made a career long field goal, had a pretty good yards per punt average and punted one left-footed which saved the Huskies field position.  That was a great play that I’m not even going to try to explain.  Marvin Hall is fast and will break a return soon.  He’s been very close in the last two games.  He’s a game changer and I’m glad Sark pulled the red-shirt off of him.  Not literally.  They don’t actually wear red-shirts.

After watching the game again, this game was something that all Husky fans should feel proud of.  But, it’s time to turn our attention to our bitter rival down south.  It’s been fun to bask in this game.  I doubt we’ll have this feeling next week but it seems like these Dawgs like to surprise.

Andrew

 

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Tomorrow’s Dreams

This post is not a preview of what I think will happen this season.  It is a detailed post of what could be possible.  This was inspired by Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing.

Looking back, maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised.  We all thought this team was one year away from the big-time national scene.  We could settle for another trip to the Holiday Bowl, or, dare I say it, the Sun Bowl, this year if it meant bigger things next year.  Us fans knew that the Dawgs were young and expecting too much felt somewhat unreasonable.  Now, we see that the phrase ‘Next year’ may be uttered far too often in Seattle sports.

Before I get too far ahead of myself though, the Alamo Bowl still isn’t out of the question.  In fact, it’s a very strong possibility.  Tomorrow, the 30th of November, the Huskies will play USC for the Pac-12 championship.  If they lose, another trip to San Antonio is likely.  If they win though…  Man, if they win.

Back to the expectations at the beginning of the season.  Sometimes, I don’t think we allow ourselves to dream quite enough.  But, the early season didn’t give us many reasons to.

While the Huskies won fairly easily in their opener against the Aztecs, the game didn’t provide many answers to questions.  The defense allowed too many yards.  The running game didn’t amass as many yards as we hoped.  Keith Price just made plays, which is what Keith Price does.  But, one man can’t win every game and we saw that the next week.  LSU brought pressure off the edge and sacked Price 6 times.  The defense, while improved, just didn’t make enough stops and the SEC proved dominant, once again, as our Dawgs lost by 17.  It wasn’t a catastrophe but it wasn’t the statement we wanted.

An easy win against Portland State followed but Portland isn’t even a state.  Then came a Thursday night game against Stanford, who came in with a record of 2-1 (the loss being to USC).  People talk about turning points in a season all the time in sports.  After years of observation, I’m not a real believer in them.  Sure, sometimes it feels like all momentum shifts to one team and that team is unbeatable.  Remember the Mariners 8 game winning streak way back in August?  But, most of the time, I think turning points are an easy way for the media to write a story.  I don’t know what exactly happened on September 27th, 2012 but it changed the Huskies season.

The team had of course been blown out by Stanford the previous years and, while this game wasn’t a blow out, the Dawgs still lost.  They weren’t physically dominated like before and the defense had obviously made improvements.  The Huskies lost by seven but if there ever was a loss to feel good about, it was this one.  Right when Husky fans had made up their minds about that, reports started to surface about yelling in the team locker room.  Sark had evidently got after the team pretty good and said, “I don’t care if that’s better than we did last year!  Losses aren’t acceptable.  They won’t be tolerated anymore.”  And then, they weren’t.

Of course, this all seemed ridiculous.  It seemed like coach speak, at best.  Playing at Oregon was up next on the schedule and that was followed by USC.  Most fans, including myself had losses penciled in on the schedule.  I don’t need to recount the Oregon game play by-play.  You all have heard about it enough by now.  Keith Price scrambling for a touchdown with 36 seconds remaining and Sean Parker’s clinching interception 3 plays later.  Those were plays that will be held in Husky lore.  Eight years of torture were ever.

USC came to town next and were ranked number one.  They may not have looked as amazing as everyone thought they’d be but they still hadn’t lost a game.  This was the week the Clink went from being a temporary home to a gathering pl ace.  Yes, home field advantage was present in the three previous games but once the sell-out was announced on Tuesday of game week, there was a buzz in Seattle that we don’t hear unless the Seahawks are in the playoffs.

The whole game was a party.  Although it was a fairly close game, it felt that the Huskies had control of it the whole way through.  Winning by 14 felt easy.  There were Keith Price’s 3 touchdown passes compared to Barkley’s 2.  There was the defense causing 3 turnovers.  There was the Josh Shirley sack on the first USC offensive play in the second half that let us know that our team wasn’t letting up.  Then, there was the Shaq Thompson kickoff.  For years, it has felt like USC has been having those kind of special plays against us, with their superior athletes, now it was our turn.  On that day, we were better than USC.  USC hasn’t lost since then and looks to claim a spot in the national championship with a win tomorrow.  They’re good.  But, maybe we’ll be better again.The rest of the season felt euphoric.  UW – 45, Arizona – 28.  UW – 49, OSU – 24.

The showdown in Berkeley on a Friday night, on national TV was another highlight.  California had been talking all week long about Tosh Lupoi and how payback was going to be sweet.  Shaq Thompson stuffed the box score (1 interception, 1 sack, 2 tackles for a loss, and 7 tackles total) and shut up Cal.  UW- 35, Cal -17.  The defense had improved emphatically.  They weren’t your dad’s Huskies but they were good in a conference of bad defenses.  A day later, USC beat Oregon in a barn burner.

Utah caused the biggest scare, the rest of the way.  The whole game, they stuffed the run and made the Huskies one-dimensional.  At this point, Sankey and Callier both had gone over 500 yards on the season and made up a balanced offensive attack.  We found that Keith Price couldn’t do it all even if he had to.  But, the thing about memorable teams is there’s always a unit that steps up.  In this game, it was the defense.  Nate Fellner and John Timu bottled up John White, thanks in large part to Danny Shelton and Semisi Tokolahi.  Desmond Trufant showed why other quarterbacks never throw to his side of the field, as he collected 2, of his season total 5, interceptions.  The safeties proved why they were all conference.  The team held Utah to 17 points and as Keith Price took over on the Huskies 30 yard line with a 1:26 remaining, he was smiling.  He marched down the field to Utah’s 12.  Perfect passes to Kasen, Smith, and Mickens.  Heck, even Bruns had a first down catch.  That set up for Travis Coons game-winner that barely made it inside of the upright.

As the Huskies played Colorado, and proceeded to blow them out, most Dawg fans had their eyes on the Oregon-Stanford game.  For once, we were all Duck fans and for once they did what we willed them to.  Oregon beat Stanford easily and the Huskies controlled their own destiny in the Pac-12 North.

Wazzu was next and that didn’t prove to be much of a challenge.  There was much hoopla leading up to the game but it was mostly due to the Huskies being on the verge of clinching a spot in the Pac-12 championship.  While it was clear that the Cougars had improved as the year went on, their defense was put to shame by the Huskies attack and the Dawgs won 52-28.  Purple flooded the field in Pullman and now we’re here.  A day away from the most important Husky game in 11 years.

Sark’s boys have moved up to number 7 in the BCS.  But, the rankings don’t really matter.  If the Huskies win they’ll be in the Rose Bowl, if they don’t it’ll most likely be the Alamo.  I don’t know what will happen.  No one predicted that this was how the season would turn out so there’s not much point in predicting how tomorrow will go.  Yes, we beat USC once but it will be tough to repeat the Huskies most complete performance since 1994.  I hope, I pray for a win.

I guess the moral of this year is that maybe we should stop thinking about next year.  Oh, next year will be great.  While Price won’t likely win the Heisman this year, next year he comes in as a top 3 favorite.  The defense will be one year older and only graduates 3 starters.  There’s a top-15 recruiting class coming.  The future is lit up, but how dumb would it be to dream of 2013 when we’re a 60 minutes away from grabbing roses.  We don’t know if Justin Wilcox will be here next year.  We don’t know who will be injured.  So, instead of next year there’s tomorrow.  Who could ask for anything more.

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Getting To Know Your Dawgs – Linebacker

We’re almost done with this series, and I might not get to the secondary portion until after the first game.  We have a few different posts planned for tomorrow and that one might not make the cut.  For now, you get to know the Washington Husky linebackers.  This is a little difficult to decipher who’s a linebacker, who’s a safety and who’s injured.  I’m going to go from the two-deeps that the Huskies released on Monday and I’ll also include a freshman you may have heard of.  As usual, the starters are first.

LB – Travis Feeney (RS Fr.)

Feeney was a top player on the scout team a year ago, as he red-shirted.  He was moved during camp to play linebacker because of the injuries.  He was a safety until he was moved and I think he’ll play a position where he’s able to cover the slot receiver and is used in passing situations more.  He is listed as the starter but expect him to split time with Shaq Thompson.  Also, this is Nate Fellner’s position and once he comes back from injury, Feeney will have a battle on his hands.

MLB – John Timu (So.)

Timu was thrown into the storm last year and played fairly well for being a true freshman.  Coaches have raved about him this off-season and his teammates must feel the same way about Timu because they elected him a team captain.  I expect Timu to have made a huge improvement over last year and be a leader on this team.  He’s the ‘quarterback’ of the defense and I would bet that he’ll lead the team in tackles, barring injuries.

LB – Princeton Fuimaono (Jr.)

Princeton challenges for the coolest name on the team and is also the most experienced linebacker.  Fuimaono had a decent sophomore season and figures to improve this time around.  He has been slowed for most of camp because of a hamstring issue but seems to be on the mend.  Princeton is a guy who will definitely need to play against the power teams.  He isn’t as quick in pass coverage as the converted safeties, but I’m betting he’s better against the run.

Rover – Shaq Thompson (Fr.)

Shaq is listed on the depth chart as a nickel back (which is a 3rd corner, essentially) but expect him to play more of an outside linebacker while lining up all over the field.  I could list Thompson in the secondary, but he’s been doing drills with linebackers recently and I think, to the less educated eye like mine and most fans, he’ll act and appear more as a linebacker.  Matthew and I have written about Thompson in a couple of different places.  I think he’s a game changer and the coaches seem to, as well.  He may not be a game changer this year but he’ll show flashes of that.  Shaq will make mistakes but he’s the type of player the Huskies haven’t had on defense in a decade.  I think you could call this defense a 3-4, a 4-3, a 3-3-5, or a 4-2-5.  I tend to think of it simply as a 4-3 but that puts in Shaq with the linebackers.  Expect 2 of the Thompson, Fuimaono, and Feeney trio to be on the field most of the time and Timu being on the field almost all of the time.

The others who will see time:  MLB Thomas Tutogi (Jr.), LB Taz Stevenson (Jr.), LB Nate Fellner (Sr.)

All of these guys will see time on the field.  Tutogi came to U-Dub last year after transferring in and could be a solid contributor.  He will definitely see time on special teams (he blocked the punt in the Apple Cup).  I think Tutogi will play more and more as the season goes on and he’s more than a capable back-up.  Taz was moved off of the safety position and is playing the same position Feeney and Fellner are playing.  He played quite a bit his freshman year but was injured a good share of his sophomore year.  Fellner was going to be a starting linebacker before suffering an injury in camp.  He may be back by the third or fourth game.  Fellner is a veteran who always seemed like he could be a good linebacker.  In a quest to get the best 11 players on the field, the coaches moved him there this spring and he seemed to transition well.  I hope he can make it back and I think the defense will be better if it does.  All of these guys suffered injuries in Fall camp.  Tutogi and Taz are healthy now but their injuries put them behind a little bit.

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

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