Proving that I can occasionally be a gracious guy, I exchanged emails with Anthony Cassino over at UWDawgPound, SB Nation's Washington blog, this week. Here is his take on this weekend's game.
1. Washington beat SDSU 21-12 in unconvincing fashion. Harbinger of disaster or no big deal?
UWDP: Both maybe? The defense looked much improved, getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers, while the offense sputtered a bit. But as a Washington fan, you kind of have some security with Steve Sarkisian calling the shots offensively. It's just expected that he'll get the ship righted on offense and fix what was wrong.
2. How much should we be worried about Keith Price?
UWDP: He's an electric player. If the offensive line can give him any sort of time to find his playmakers, he's going to put points on the board for the Huskies. But the big question is if he'll have that time. Against San Diego State he didn't, and was on the move a lot. He's got the legs to escape pressure and make a play with on the ground when things break down, but the Huskies aren't going to win that way. They're going to have to allow time for Kasen Williams to attack downfield to pick up some big chunks.
Price is going to make his share of plays, but he can't win this game alone. The ground game has to show up this weekend.
3. Washington's having some early season injury troubles. How big of an impact will that make on the game? What does your depth at those positions look like?
UWDP: t's been perhaps the biggest story for UW over the past month.
The #2 (Jesse Callier) and #3 (Deontae Cooper) RB's are both out for the year with torn ACL's and that was expected to be a "by committee" approach. Now a 185 pound true freshman and a walk-on are getting meaningful carries.
The team's second best receiver (James Johnson), starting right tackle (Ben Riva), best defensive lineman (Hau'oli Jamora) and a linebacker who many expected to earn a starting spot (Nate Fellner) are all out.
We're going to see how much depth the coaching staff has built in recruiting since they arrived. It will no doubt have an effect on this game, and Washington's season going forward, as some of those guys were contenders for All Conference honors heading into the season. You can't always just plug in the next guy to replace that production, especially when the next guys are freshmen and sophomores.
4. Sarkisian has had three straight seasons right around 500. What is the general fanbase's mood on the coaching staff?
UWDP: I think the fanbase, as a whole, feels like the program has been heading upward since the day Steve Sarkisian was hired. Famously, Sarkisian left his introduction press conference to visit local high schools and recruit, and the contrast to that was Tyrone Willingham when hired went out for a round of golf.
Sark really shook up the program after last season by getting rid of everyone from the defensive staff, guys that had all been with him since day one, and bringing in new faces. That showed a lot of people that he can make the necessary moves to better the program, even if that means firing a longtime friend.
And the guys he brought in should really elevate the talent level of the program. Tosh Lupoi, new defensive line coach, is widely regarded as perhaps the best recruiter on the west coast and among the best in the nation. Peter Sirmon was one of Tennessee's best recruiters. Keith Heyward was Oregon State's top recruiter. Steve Sarkisian is a pretty good closer in his own right. These new faces already made a splash at the end of last year's cycle, and the current recruiting class is looking like it's going to be second best in the Pac-12, trailing only USC's mammoth haul.
5. We're huge believers in line play around here. How do your lines look on both sides of the ball?
UWDP: Questionable. As mentioned above, Ben Riva is out, and the offensive line just didn't seem to get great push in the opener, or give Price a ton of time to throw. SDSU was blitzing a lot with their 3-3-5 and loading up to stop the run, but against a non-BCS school your lead back should do better than 22 carries for 66 yards regardless of how they defend.
The defensive line is an area where I have a bit more optimism. DE Josh Shirley is really coming on as one of the top pass rushers in the country as just a sophomore. He had 3 sacks last week, and has 9.5 in his last 4 games spanning back to last season. He's slight for a defensive end (they move him around a lot and have him stand up and be a 4th linebacker to hide him and get him good rush angles) but as speed rushers go he's probably going to be talked about with the nation's elite by season's end. The rest of the defensive line is talented, but inconsistent. Including Shirley 3 of the 4 starting DL are sophomores, so the hope is that they improve as the season goes along, but as of right now I wouldn't call them anything more than an average BCS conference unit.
6. For UW to pull the upset, what has to happen?
UWDP: The Huskies have to had saved something from last week that is going to really unlock the offense. The offensive line has to find a way to open holes for Bishop Sankey. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams have to be at least as good as they were last week when they combined for 15 catches. Keith Price has to play Keith Price football. The defensive front seven has to play much better than they have in a long, long time. MLB John Timu can't miss tackles like he did last week (including whiffing on 2 sacks).
There's no magic, they just have to be better than they were last week. I'm equal parts optimist and pessimist, and I keep going back and forth between thinking "there are a lot of little things this team could easily clean up and improve a ton from week 1 to week 2" and "holy cow, this team has a lot to improve on between week 1 and week 2 to not get embarrassed."
Stranger things have happened. UW beat USC in Sark's first year in a game pretty much nobody gave them much of a shot at winning, then the next year they went down to the Coliseum and beat them again. They throttled Nebraska in the Holiday bowl a couple years ago. I don't think anybody expected the first UW/LSU matchup to be as close as it was. But then, they've also been blown out by Stanford the last 3 years, gave up approximately 900 points to Baylor, got steamrolled by USC, and twice by Nebraska. So almost nothing would surprise me.
UWDP: LSU wins comfortably 38-17