Oregon St. faces a significant and intriguing challenge this week in their penultimate road trip of the regular season up to Seattle, where the Beavers will face the Huskies. At 3-4, Washington is below where many expected them to be, in terms of wins and losses, at this point in the season, but not by that much, given their schedule is one of the toughest in the country.
Washington was blown out of Baton Rogue and Eugene as expected, and more surprisingly Tucson last weekend, though there are a lot of teams well above mediocre that would be blown out of those notoriously difficult to play in venues. But the chameleon-like Huskies have been much tougher at the Clink, the Seattle Seahawks' stadium that is their home away from home this year while Husky Stadium is being extensively rebuilt. Washington has upset Stanford 17-13, and gave USC a challenge before falling 24-14 in their home away from home.
To get a better feel for how, and why, Washington is where they are, and what Beaver Nation should expect Saturday night, we got together with Anthony Cassino, the senior editor and acknowledged big dog up at UWDawgPound.com, the authority on University of Washington athletics, for a question and answer exchange.
Despite all the trials and tribulations that go along with an offensive line that had to be rebuilt on the fly (which Oregon St. fans understand FULLY from last year), Bishop Sankey looks to be turning into a formidable force out of the back field. Do the Huskies have the next Chris Polk-grade nightmare for opponents, with the rest of this season and the next couple of years looking a lot like Polk did once he got established?
Sankey's a good back, and only going to get better as he gets more experience and better offensive line play, but I'd hesitate to put him in the Chris Polk category. He's never going to be as big as Polk was so he'll generally rely on another back to spell him a bit, which is one reason why Jesse Callier's ACL tear was a big loss to the run game.
Are the "problems" we've been hearing about with Keith Price all mental, a predictable gun-shyness that comes from getting bounced around the field too much? Or is he playing hurt (and by that I mean more than just normal bruises), and therefore struggling to perform even when he isn't under immediate pressure?
Those things and more. He's not comfortable behind that offensive line, but it's more than just jitters because he's missing throws even when they're there and he has time, which is something he didn't do much of last season. He's not trusting the playcalls and is probably suffering a bit from the loss of last year's OC/QB coach Doug Nussmeier. You look at Price's regression and then A.J. McCarron's improvement at Alabama and it's not a far stretch to say that Nuss probably did more last year than most gave him credit for.
We've also heard that Austin Seferian-Jenkins is playing hurt; what's the status of his health?
His injury doesn't seem to be having a negative effect on his play. He limps a bit after making a catch or just heading to the sideline, but between the whistles he looks like he's close to 100%. And even if he is only 90% or whatever, 90% of Austin Seferian-Jenkins is still an All Conference tight end.
Kasen Williams is struggling at times, but the near-absence of any wide receiver counterpart threat has to be the main reason why. But why is that? We understand Kevin Smith's injury was serious; will he ever be a starting threat-type WR again? And why haven't Jaydon Mickens and DiAndre Campbell evolved into a consistent threat by now? (Which we expected would have happened with at least one of them.) Is there something wrong with the development plan? Or are they "recruiting misses"?
James Johnson was supposed to be the #2 guy coming into the season, but he was injured and it was just announced this week that he'll be redshirting (something we pretty much knew anyway). Kevin Smith's injury was late last season, so I don't think we'll really see him back to form until next year.
Jaydon Mickens is going to be a pretty good player, but he's undersized and still acclimating to the game as a freshman. But it's hard to pass much judgement on these guys given the offensive line play and Price's inconsistency. It's hard to know how much one group's problems are contributing to the others.
All things (like playing LSU, Oregon, and USC) considered, it appeared that the defense was making progress according to plan (if maybe not hopes) under Josh Wilcox and company. Then last week in Tucson happened. Did it seem that regression was a disappointing but predictable bump in the road, a product of running into an under-rated but very good 1-2 offensive punch between Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey (Another "problem" Beaver Nation has experience with, and understands), or a sign of real trouble that may be hard to overcome for a while to come yet?
It was kind of predictable, given this team's track record of crapping themselves when on the road, though I don't think anyone expected it to be that bad. The gameplan just seemed bad all around, and right now this team and coaching staff have no clue how to defend a spread offense.
If the Huskies go on a run in November (and with their schedule, they certainly could), and then win their bowl game, will the "heat" on Steve Sarkisian go away as quickly as it seems to have arrived?
I don't think the heat is going away. 2013 will be year 5 for Sark, and the contributors will be more upperclassmen than the past few years (they could only lose 1 offensive and 3 defensive starters) and all players that he brought in. So if he can't turn the corner with his guys, the perception is going to be that he's probably not ever going to.
The perceived "slowness" of the Huskies return to being a top team can be traced directly to the depth of the team, not the quality of the "best" Dawgs", which in turn traces to recruiting. How much does Sarkisian decide about who to recruit, and how much does he rely on the input of his assistants?
Sark has always been known as a hard working recruiter, so I would imagine that he is pretty involved in that area. I can't really say how much he relies on the guys around him, but I'd imagine that when a guy like Tosh Lupoi comes on, you take what he has to say very seriously.
As for the slowness, one of the primary things that has hindered Sark was just how little depth their was when he came onboard. The rebuild was massive, and there's just no quick way to rebuild a line other than to get some recruiting classes in. Since Sarkisian was hired he has only had 3 full classes, so those guys are still freshmen and sophomores.
The debacle that was last year's Washington St. game had many customers demanding people be fired. How has the game day experience at the Clink gone with the University of Washington running things?
Living in California, I haven't been to CenturyLink for a Husky game, but I also haven't heard much griping about it. I would bet that with it being an all year thing for the Huskies rather than just once for WSU, there is just a better framework in place. They probably learned some things from that too, but it's not like they're playing in a high school stadium either. If they can handle an NFL team, college teams should work there just fine.
Understanding that traffic and a lack of parking are very real obstacles to overcome, how is the atmosphere been at the "Clink" this year? It seemed to actually be pretty good, considering the opponent and the point in the season, for the Portland St. game, but it's been hard to tell from tv if it has projected well to conference games? Will Beaver Nation find the Huskies (who seem to play MUCH better at the Clink than on the road) and Husky Nation tough to deal with Saturday night, or will they be able to take the home crowd out of it the way they did to the Cougars last year in the Clink?
I think the crowd has been just average. The reality is that the team isn't good enough to draw sellouts to an off-campus stadium, and I'd bet a lot of fans are content to just wait til they get into the new Husky Stadium.
USC committed a ton of penalties when they came in, but I think that's more of a USC thing than a CenturyLink thing.
I certainly think the Beavers will see a much better team than Arizona did, and that in turn will spur the crowd. But I have honestly no idea what to expect from this team on Saturday. They could come out and play tough at home like they did against Stanford and USC, or roll over and die like they've done several times this year. It kind of just seems like a coin toss at this point.
Thanks, Anthony; its great to get a good look into the current state of affairs up North as the Beavers and Huskies get ready to renew a very old rivalry, one that's seen a bit of everything over the years.