Is Washington football in trouble? After starting the season with such vigor and promise, are the Huskies a team heading towards a mediocre season? Will this team end up as one of the more disappointing endings in Washington football history? I obviously can’t know. But, I suspect that right now, after losing three straight (including a very winnable contest against Stanford and two lopsided losses to Oregon and Arizona State), this season is slowly starting to slip through the fingers of Sarkisian and his Huskies. That said, the next two weeks seem to be very possible wins (home contests against Cal and Colorado over the next three weeks) and could right the ship.
So, what does Washington have to do to start their bounce back towards being a top four team in the Pac-12? The best place to start is on the offensive side of the ball. Washington features one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, but also have a middle of the road offense that at times has shown potential to play like an Oregon or UCLA, but has also had moments where they can’t move the ball. Washington ranks 24th in the nation in total offense, 24th in rushing offense and 39th in passing. However, they also rank a disappointing 42nd in scoring offense.
I will admit, they’ve had to play some tough teams already this season (Boise State, Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State are all more than solid teams). Going up against those teams could have played into their blasé numbers when it comes to scoring and passing. Even like that, they have shown the ability to make plays when they’re down (they’re ranked 11th in 3rd down conversions and 32nd in red-zone conversions).
When it comes down to it, Washington football can potentially become a program built on teams built on having offensive prowess (similar to Oregon). They have the kind of coaching mind leading the program in Steve Sarkisian, who in his five seasons at Washington has brought the team from a cellar dwelling team to one which was considered a dangerous team in the conference. The team still has all the pieces to still make a run at the division title and it will surly begin when Cal steps on the field.
The man leading the Washington football team right now is senior quarterback Keith Price. A pass-first quarterback who has a lot of the same skills as top-10 prospects Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. What Price has on his side, is a bit more firepower in his arm. He doesn’t run unless he has to, but when he does he seems like he has a tad more game speed than the aforementioned quarterbacks. Thus far, he’s passed for 1793 yards on 149-for-231 passing with 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Price has had moments where he has taken over games, but has yet to have that one game where he wins the game all by himself. I don’t begrudge him for that, but I do think this could be a reason he’s ranked as the 15th best quarterback in this years draft class. He could shush the doubters with a run of really good games.
His running back, Bishop Sankey, is a first round talent. He mixes elusiveness, runaway game-speed and shiftiness. He isn’t the most powerful back in the world, he isn’t that tall and he probably could use a few more pounds on him, but he reminds me a lot of Maurice Jones-Drew. He is going to be compared to Lashe Seastrunk, because the two play very similarly and are built in the same way. Those comparisons are valid and warranted, but I would argue that Sankey is just a little slower than Seastrunk. Sankey is not to be undersold though, he’s good. This season, he’s rushed for 921 yards on 172 rushes with 10 touchdowns. He also has really great hands, catching 15 passes for 160 yards and a score.
Price doesn’t only have a great running game behind him. His receiving corps is solid.
Led by senior Kevin Smith and junior Kasen Williams, the team has two stars lining up on the outside. Smith has been a surprisingly top-notch contributor to this season. He had two really bad years in 2012 and 2011, but this year he has become a straight spark-plug for the Huskies. His 5’11, 214 pound frame makes him susceptible to disappearing for periods of the game due to the kind of coverage the opposing defenses are in. But, Smith is a very resilient player who will make his presence felt. Of the receivers, he has the best numbers with 26 catches, 459 yards and three scores.
Opposite him, Kasen Williams is a gem of a player. He is slated to be a second round player who can really be electric. He stands at 6’2, 212 pounds and can run nearly any route. After a solid 2012 season (77 receptions, 878 yards and 6 touchdowns), he has become the man who defenses key in on a lot. So far this season, he has 28 receptions with 400 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown numbers are way down from a year ago, but he is still on pace to have the same kind of output in the scores department. I will say, he has the potential to break out in any game (this weekend’s game seems to be the exact game that sets up well for Williams).
Finally, the offense cannot be previewed without talking about tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He is the best red-zone option Washington has (as he leads the team in touchdown receptions with four). He is 6’6, 276 pounds and plays like such. He can make catches in traffic, his hands are above average for a tight end and he seems to always be in the thick of it when the game is on the line. He will cause havoc for the linebackers who will probably be tasked with covering him for a majority of the game. He will be someone Cal has to keep tabs on all game long.
When it comes down to it, what Washington is, is a team that is good at a lot of things (especially on the offensive side of things) but not great at anything. They sit mid-tier in total offense in the Pac-12, and that may be the story of this year’s Washington football team.
Keep in mind, this team (for all its faults) will be heavily favored to ruin the Cal Golden Bears in Seattle this weekend. In order for that not to happen, Cal would have to keep Sankey from running wild on the front seven and they would have to keep the receiving options in tight windows. I don’t see this happening, but if it did, Cal would have a real shot at this game.