Let me preface this article by saying that those of you that know me may question my objectivity in this preview. I am a diehard Husky fan and no doubt will present a biased view of how they will perform this year. I’m sure many of you have heard my tried and true tagline about me and Husky Football: I haven’t missed a home game since I was two years old. 16 years of Saturdays in the fall dedicated to Husky Football. As much as that might be an indictment on my ability to objectively look at this UW team, I think it helps. I have seen UW play absolutely horrendous football over the last few years, but I can tell you all that those days are done. Without further ado.
2010 Record 7-6, (5-4), Beat Nebraska 19-7 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
Jake Locker is gone. I have three UW Jake Locker jerseys that are now in retirement. What could possibly be worse than the hit my gameday wardrobe collection took? UW has to break in a new quarterback for the first time in four seasons. Looking to fill the enormous void left by the #8 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is redshirt sophomore QB, Keith Price. Price beat out the starchild Nick Montana in Spring Practice and held the job all the way through Fall Camp. Price is a very athletic quarterback but his throwing ability is nothing to laugh at. At St. John Bosco High School in Compton, California, Price threw for more yards than fellow Trinity League QB Matt Barkley.
Barkley was a Five-Star recruit coming out of high school and currently stars at USC. Price received limited game action last season in mop up duty against Syracuse, Stanford, and Arizona. But Price memorably came in to throw a key touchdown in a road win at USC. Price’s key performance came against Oregon where he started in place of Jake Locker. Price performed well against the eventual National Champion Runners-up, going 14-28 with 127 yards and a TD in hostile Autzen Stadium. I would expect better than those type of numbers in Price’s full games this year. He has an accurate arm, a multitude of weapons to throw to this season, and a potent running game to go with it.
The guy who is going to make Price’s job loads easier is RS Junior RB, Chris Polk. Polk has had back to back 1,000 yard seasons as UW’s starting tailback. He ended last season on a tremendous note. During UW’s four game win streak to close out the season last year, Polk “put the team on his back doe.” In those four games Polk averaged 27 carries for 171 yards and more than a touchdown per game. Those numbers over the course of a 12 game season would give Polk 2,052 rushing yards on the season. That total seems daunting but Polk is a workhouse that grinds out yards like no other back in the nation. Polk recently underwent precautionary knee surgery that coaches hope will only sideline him for at maximum the first game against Eastern Washington on Sep. 3 (4PM on Root Sports). Polk is joined in the backfield by Senior Johri Fogerson, Sophomore Jessie Callier and true Freshman Bishop Sankey. Having been to Fall Practice, Callier looks great if he ever needed to fill in for Polk and Sankey has speed to burn and will be a dynamic threat for the Huskies this season.
The Wide Receiving corps for the Huskies is deep. Like deeper than the hole Lindsay Lohan’s career dug for itself after Mean Girls. There are a ton of guys who look like Pac-12 starting wideouts on this UW roster. The headliner is Senior Jermaine Kearse. Kearse had 63 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 TD’s last season. The stats are impressive but consistency is not Kearse’s game. He had games of 2, 3, and 4 touchdowns last season and was held for three catches or less four times. Look for Kearse to be close to the same numbers but more of a consistent weapon for the Dawgs. The reasons Kearse’s numbers won’t inflate this year are A) The emphasis on the running game with Chris Polk and B) The other guys at WR this year to take some catches away from Kearse. Senior Devin Aguilar, Junior James Johnson, Sophomore Kevin Smith, and Freshman sensation Kasen Williams all figure to be in the mix at WR. This is a very talented group of weapons for Keith Price. Stanton and I attended several UW practices this summer and Kevin Smith looked immensely improved. We tried to contact “Ocho” for an interview but we aren’t that famous yet. But look for #8 to make a ton of plays this year. The Skyline HS base of readers will be happy to know that Kasen Williams hasn’t missed a beat at UW. He routinely makes acrobatic catches in the air during practice and has been getting a lot of looks to be UW’s top Punt Returner this season. See below if you need to be excited by that statement. Overall, this is the team’s deepest group and will produce a ton of big plays for Price and co.
The Tight End position received a major overhaul since a year ago. Last season’s situation at this position was terrible. Chris Izbicki was the #1 TE after the dismissal of Kavario Middleton. Izbicki could not hack it at the Pac-10 level and as I have heard described by an anonymous source who went to High School with Izbicki at Kentwood, “Izbicki is, was, and always will be an idiot.” Those days are over though as UW picked up an enormous 5-star talent from Gig Harbor High School, Austin Seferian-Jenkins. ASJ stands in at 6-6, 250 lbs and has incredible receiving skills. He figures to be a huge red-zone weapon for the Dawgs and a guy who can post up and move the chains several times a game. Michael Hartvigson from Bothell HS is another guy who figures to be in the mix at TE and posesses a lot of the same skills that ASJ does and will be on the field a lot as a blocker and downfield threat for UW.
The O-Line appears to be a strength of UW’s and not a weakness for the first time in a while. From left to right, the starting Offensive Line will be LT Senio Kelemete, LG Colin Tanigawa, C Drew Schaefer, RG Colin Porter, and RT Erik Kohler. The group is headlined by Kelemete who seems poised for an All-Pac-12 caliber senior season protecting Keith Price. The only player without game experience on the line is Tanigawa. Other than that the line has plenty of experience and talent. The players behind the starters on the depth chart are all very young however so keeping this unit healthy is a key to UW’s success this year. And with the running game figuring to be the focus of the offense, that last point is only amplified.
Overall the offense looks to improve upon last season where it put up anemic efforts at times against the likes of Arizona State and Stanford. I would not underestimate the value of the new tight ends in this system either. The offense looked much more dynamic throwing the ball in 2009 when they had Kavario Middleton in the middle of the field and they have similar threats this year. Keith Price is a question mark, but his job will be made easier by the rest of the offense around him.
UW defenses under Steve Sarkisian have been less than spectacular until the end of the season. In 2009 the team’s best two defensive performances came in the last two games where UW shut out WSU 30-0 and then beat a ranked Cal team 42-0. Last season, UW would have had trouble stopping a nosebleed early, letting Nebraska hand 56 points on them, 44 points to Arizona, 41 points to Stanford, and 53 to Oregon. But UW became a lot more stout on D towards the end of the year, culminating in a dominating defensive performance against Nebraska in the 19-7 victory.
The guy giving hell to Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez there for most of that video was Senior DT Alameda Ta’amu. His presence alone makes UW’s Defensive Line a strength on the team. To give you an idea of the value of a guy like ‘Meda, his combination of size (6’3 333 lbs) and athleticism is extremely rare and thusly ESPN currently has him as the #9 overall player in the 2012 NFL Draft Rankings. Fortunately his presence is accentuated by some talented and proven guys around him on the defensive front. The starting Defensive Line is to be Jr. Talia Crichton at DE, Ta’amu at DT, Sr. Everrette Thompson opposite ‘Meda, and So. Hau’oli Jamora at the other DE spot. Jamora (#52) is seen in the above video terrorizing Nebraska alongside Ta’amu and figures to have a breakout season. Everrette Thompson was a talented recruit four years ago out of Kennedy HS but has never been fully healthy until this year and figures to have a big senior season. There is plenty of depth on the D-Line for the first time in a while as guys like Danny Shelton who appears to be a Ta’amu clone as just a freshman from Auburn HS. At end, #22 Josh Shirley is one of my personal favorite players for his pure speed on the field getting to the QB. Shirley is undoubtedly undersized, but he will make plenty of plays with his athleticism.
The UW Linebacker unit has some major holes to fill this season. They lost 3rd round draft selection Mason “40 Cal” Foster who amassed an incredible 162 tackles last season at weak side linebacker and also lost last season’s Pac-10 tackles for loss leader Victor Aiyewa to graduation. The lone bit of consistency from last year’s corps is MLB Cort Dennison. Dennison is the unquestioned leader of the defense and is visibly embracing that role in practices. Flanking Dennison are two new starters, at WLB it is So. Princeton Fuimaono and at SLB true freshman Johnny Timu. Timu had a great camp and looks the part, but with no game experience his play is a question mark. Timu played Safety in high school and thus has a lot of coverage abilities that the Husky coaching staff likes. Timu also wears the dubious #10 jersey to add to the pressure he faces. Fuimaono played in all 13 games last season and started against Oregon. He plays the same position Foster does and has some big shoes to fill because of it. Despite the fact that the LB’s are relatively inexperienced, this particular group of three has been playing together all of camp as the starting unit and seems to have great chemistry.
The last unit is the Washington Defensive Backfield. This group took a hit when Senior Corner Quinton Richardson fell awkwardly in a practice Stanton and I attended and suffered an ankle injury that may sideline him for the Eastern game. Richardson finished very strong last season with interceptions against UCLA and Cal in the final four games. Opposite Richardson is the man Head Coach Steve Sarkisian deemed the MVP of Fall Practice, Desmond Trufant. Dez is much more than the younger brother of a mediocre NFL corner, he is a true playmaker. He routinely jumped routes in practices to break up plays or make interceptions. He has great hitting ability too, at one point in camp smacking Austin Seferian Jenkins after a catch and causing a drop. Get ready for big things out of #6. Behind the two corners are Sophomore Strong Safety, Sean Parker and Junior Free Safety, Nate Fellner. Parker is a very talented player who played well in limited action last year, intercepting a key pass in the Oregon State game in the endzone. Parker is a sure tackler and has been described as a ball hawk capable of putting up big interception numbers. Fellner had 5 INT’s last season and is a real big hitter.
Yeah. But Fellner has seen his job security decrease this offseason due to the play of Justin Glenn. Glenn is also a Junior and appeared to be a huge playmaker for the Dawgs as a freshman before breaking his leg against Notre Dame. Look for both to play this season and each are capable options. The secondary is deep and full of able bodied guys that can step up on defense.
The schedule is tough regardless of how much this team has improved from last season. UW still has to go play at Stanford, at USC, at Utah, and at Nebraska. That and key games at home against Arizona and Cal. I’ll run through the schedule here.
9/3/11 Eastern Washington- Win
9/17/11 @Nebraska- Loss
10/1/11 @Utah- Win
11/5/11 Oregon (I Honestly can’t predict this game objectively so call this a pass)
11/19/11 @Oregon State- Win
11/26/11 Washington State (At Qwest Field) Win
That is eight wins right there. +/- one game or so because I could see UW losing at Utah but they also have USC’s number recently. That Oregon game is certainly winnable especially with so much on the line in that game being the last game at the current Husky Stadium. Certainly will be a fun season with a lot of excitement building around the program.
Boyd’s Fearless Prediction: 8-4 (6-3)