This week’s Pick Six is with Washington beat writer Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
There were concerns here over LSU’s lack of execution at times in their 41-14 win over North Texas (two touchdowns called back by penalties). What were the concerns coming from Washington’s 21-12 win over San Diego State?
The biggest involved the running game on each side of the ball. UW rushed for just 106 yards and in the process lost their starting tailback, Jesse Callier, for the year due to a knee injury. The Huskies also lost starting right tackle Ben Riva for an extended time with a broken forearm. The tailback job now falls to sophomore Bishop Sankey, and the line will be shuffled a bit to fill Riva’s spot. UW still has to show it can mount a steady running game without the departed Chris Polk.
The defense was mostly a bright spot, holding the Aztecs to just 12 points, fewer than any game last year. But SDSU rushed for 199 yards and five yards per carry and seemed to get more comfortable on the ground as the game wore on. LSU will obviously present an even stiffer test of UW’s ability to stop the run.
Apparently the Huskies have been hit with a serious rash of injuries in preseason and week one. What are the biggest issues besides Callier and Riva?
Starting WR James Johnson is out indefinitely with a dislocated wrist; starting LB Nate Fellner is out for a few more weeks with a broken foot; and DE Hau’oli Jamora, maybe the team’s best defensive player heading into last year before suffering a knee injury in week four, has suffered another knee injury and is out for the season.
How would you characterize the abilities of Huskies quarterback Keith Price?
Price’s 33 passing touchdowns last season shattered the record at a school that has sent a bevy of QBs to the NFL. His biggest positive attributes are his accurate passing – his 66.9 completion percentage last year was also a school record. There’s also his ability to manage the offense. He is given a wide latitude to call plays at the line of scrimmage, the team often sending in two and Price picking the best one at the line. And there is his ability to make plays on his feet. Many of his best plays come when he escapes the pocket and finds an open receiver. He is extremely accurate throwing on the run.
How much pressure is fourth-year coach Steve Sarkisian facing this season?
I don’t think there is any more pressure than there is on most college coaches. UW fans – and more importantly, the administration – realize that there was a deep hole out of which to dig when Sarkisian took over as the Huskies had gone 0-12 the year before. Sarkisian has done an admirable job stabilizing things to get UW to winning records and bowl games the past two years. He’s well aware the time has come for UW to take the next step – he has made “take the next step” the theme for the team this year. But he is not under any realistic pressure for his job or anything like that. UW is still a young program overall with just 12 seniors on the roster and only a handful of senior starters, and it’s most realistic to think the breakout year for this team will come in 2013 when Price would be a senior and just about every other key player would return. Sarkisian has a contract through 2015 and every assistant has at least a two-year contract. The real pressure comes next year.
What has Justin Wilcox done to fundamentally change the UW defense as its new coordinator?
The biggest change may be adding more 3-4 looks to the basic scheme. He has also added much more versatility in terms of the number of personnel packages and the way they disguise them. The defense seemed to simply throw a lot more atSan Diego State than it showed to opponents last year. Wilcox also has a calmer approach to his job than did predecessor Nick Holt, which seems to have been embraced by players.
Finally, what doesWashington have to do to win the game?
Contain LSU’s run and protect Keith Price. So basically, manage to stand up to LSU on each side of the line. I think this game is pretty much that simple. UW was beaten decisively by all four ranked teams it played last season and dominated up front in each. That’s the biggest area of concern and where UW has to improve to begin winning games like this.