Monday, July 30, 2012

Pac 12 Preview: Washington Huskies

Back in the day, the Washington Huskies were all about defense. They were relentlessly aggressive, blitzed constantly, and played press man to man coverage on the outside.  Up until Jim Lambright was fired after the 1998 season, the Huskies had a discernable identity on defense.  The 1998 season was their worst defensive season since 1973, and Lambright, who had earned the ire of Athletic Director Barbara Hedges for having the audacity to complain about the lack of funding for the football program(He foresaw Oregon's meteoric facility driven rise before many people and fought to compete with them), was unceremoniously fired. Rick Neuheisel, hardly a guy who emphasized defense, was hired, and the precipitious decline on defense began.

In 2009, when Steve Sarkisian opened the checkbook for Nick Holt, the days of good defense seemed to be just around the corner. What Husky fans didn't expect, was that Holt would coach a tentative, read and react, conservative defense completely at odds with his screaming, hypergesticulating persona. Holt's scheme needed great players, especially great linebackers.  When Donald Butler and Mason Foster, two outstanding linebackers graduated, the defense suffered the worst defense in the entire history of Washington football in 2011.  Now comes Josh Wilcox, who fled Dooley's burning ship at Tennessee for Washington.  Wilcox has been touting a scheme of diversity, aggressiveness and more man to man coverage(Yes!). 

There is legitimate talent on defense with Josh Shirley, Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker, but there's a lot of youth as well.   Danny Shelton is a roadblock in the middle and is much better fit for the 3-4 base that Wilcox plans to implement.  I have my doubts about the linebackers, but I am of the mind that a defense works from the front to back, if the defensive line does their job, the linebackers should have an easier time doing theirs.

Offensively, the Huskies are losing Chris Polk, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar.  The receivers are replacable, as the Huskies have excellent depth at the position with Kasen Williams and James Johnson leading the way. Polk was the engine of the offense the last three years and would always raise his game when the passing game hit its annual late October/early November wall.  Bishop Sankey and Jessie Callier will share the load at running back.  Neither is a great between the tackle runner, so I anticipate Sarkisian will employ some gimmickry in the form of short passes, screens and draws.  Keith Price was very good last year for a first year starter. He was a much better fit in Sarkisian's office than Jake Locker and it showed.  He never really was healthy last year, so if he stays healthy this year, it further expands the playbook and he should have another big year.  Austin Sefarin-Jenkins will go down as the greatest tight end ever to play at Washington, partially because of the pass happy scheme he is in and partially because he's that damn good. Sarkisian knows exactly how to use him.  The offensive line is shaky, but isn't THAT much of a weakness.  Depth is an issue if injuries mount.

This should be a better Husky team than last year, I still feel they are a year away from being a real contender for the Pac 12 title.  The schedule is also brutal, so although the team is better than last year, especially on defense, it might not show on the record.  I think Huskies fans would accept a 6-7 win season again as long as the games against top flight teams are closer than in the past.  No more 60 point annihilations against Stanford, no more blowouts against Oregon(Have not lost Oregon by single digits since 2000), no more laughable beatings administered by USC, if this program is going to take that next step, they have to play with the big boys, and this schedule is littered with them.
Sept. 1 -- San Diego State: WIN
8 -- @LSU: Loss
15 -- Portland State: Win
27 -- Stanford: Loss
Oct. 6 -- @Oregon: Loss
13 -- USC: Loss
20 -- @Arizona: Win
27 -- Oregon State: Win
Nov. 2 -- @California: Win
10 -- Utah: Loss
17 -- @Colorado: Win
23 -- @Washington State: Win
Record: 7-5

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