It's a little hard to do a preview of a team I don't know much about, and I don't know much about the Washington Huskies that I haven't read in College Football News or a similar publication. They are in the Pac-10, and are just about as far from LSU as any D1 program in the country. What's more, they've been bad. Epically bad. 0-12 in 2008 bad. 12 wins in 5 years bad.
But junior quarterback Jake Locker is very good, or at least he's very dangerous. Sure, his stats don't wow you. In an injury-shortened season last year, he completed 53% of his passes for a 5.51 yard per attempt average (Jarrett Lee averaged 6.96 ypa). In 93 pass attempts, he took care of the ball, throwing only 1 interception, but also only 1 touchdown.
What's so special about him? He's a mini-Tebow, a strong-armed quarterback who is also a power-running back, and a fiery and intense leader as well. Sometimes it gets him into trouble. For instance, Locker was the young man who scored a apparent game-tying touchdown late in the game against BYU and picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing the ball into the air, which may have contributed to the kicker missing the extra point, and the Huskies lost by 1 point. It was an awful call, and no one blames Locker, but the penalty was called on him.
But make no mistake; Locker is a very good quarterback. If he had coaching and surrounding talent at his disposal, Locker might be on some Heisman short lists, or maybe on their medium-length lists. Husky fans and players are hoping that bringing in USC's offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, as head coach will make Locker's production meet his talent. Reports are that Locker is completing 60% of passes in practice. The situation is such that ESPN's Pac-10 'blogger' says that Washington has the 2nd best QB situation in the conference (incidentally, USC is not #1)
Locker's good, but does Washington have anything else?
It's great to have a quality quarterback and all, but you can't do much on offense without a good offensive line, and CFN begins its Husky offensive line discussion with, "Could things get any worse up front for the Huskies?" Yikes. The running game averaged 2.8 yards per carry last year. The quarterbacks were sacked 31 times, including 10 sacks of Locker before he got hurt in the 4th game. It's not hard to see how a quarterback gets hurt if he gets sacked 10 times in 3 games.
Steve Sarkisian is hoping that a shift to a zone blocking scheme will change the offensive line's fortunes. This has meant that the line has had to get smaller in order to get quicker. I guess if you're THAT BAD, you have to make some pretty drastic changes either in personnel or in scheme in order to try to improve.
The overhaul doesn't end there. Apparently a couple of young receivers have beaten out the veterans. When your wide receivers only catch 3 touchdown passes in one season, a shakeup may be in order. The entire team only caught 6 touchdown passes. Three were to wideouts, 1 to a tight end, 1 to a running back, and 1 to the quarterback on some kind of trick play.
They only scored more than 20 points in a game twice last year. Obviously, offense-minded Sarkisian has a lot of work to do there.
Defensively, things are perhaps a little better. Just in looking at their results last year, when you consider how bad their offense was, and the fact that they were playing in the offensive-minded Pac 10, they didn't give up a whole lot of gaudy points numbers. Sure, they gave up 55 to Oklahoma, 56 to USC, and over 40 to Arizona, Cal, and Oregon. But on the other hand, they gave up only 28 to BYU, and only 16 to Washington State. I know thiese are small victories, but when your offense is horrible your defense is going to give up points due to being put in a lot of bad situations. On the whole, the Washington defense gave up 38 points per game and 451.8 yards per game.
They had problems both in pass defense and run defense. They gave up a shocking 8.1 yards per pass attempt, and allowed a 66.7% completion percentage in 2008. They actually got fewer interceptions than we got, and had a TD/Int ratio of about 3.5:1, which is really bad when you're a defense. According to at least one source, the secondary for the Huskies is "still atrocious".
The rushing defense was not much better. They gave up an average of 5.7 yards per carry in 2008, along with 33 rushing touchdowns. For what it's worth, observers think they actually have at least one very good defensive lineman, senior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. CFN also thinks pretty highly of their linebacking corps, rating them an 8 out of 10. I'm not sure how a team that gave up 5.7 yards per carry can be considered to have a really good defensive end and a very solid linebacker corps, but whatever.
This is a team that really could do very little right last year. They were last in the Pac-10 in net punting average (2nd to last in gross punting average) and in field goal percentage for crying out loud. Alright, that's not exactly true that they couldn't do anything right. They were actually one of the least-penalized teams in the Pac-10, and their kickoff coverage was average. Other than that, though, they really did very little right, and that's a good formula for going 0-12.
I don't want to give the impression that this is going to be a cake walk. This is a BCS conference team, and they gave BYU and Stanford all they could handle before things REALLY went bad last year. A healthy Locker, a new coaching staff, some personnel shakeups, and a new attitude could be a formula for being a half-decent team in the post-Willingham era. Going on a long road trip and starting a game after my bedtime could also work as disadvantages for us.
But it would probably take our worst game to really keep this thing competitive. I am interested to see how our secondary faces off against a pretty good quarterback, and I'd like to see how our defensive line tries to get to him. But our offense should roll over their defense and the game should not be competitive unless something strange happens.