Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013 Washington Football Preview

Last night, while laying exhausted in the wake of facilitating my fourth annual Massive Basketball Preview, my computer died.  Like won't start up, unrecoverable data died.


Undeterred, I quickly bought a replacement, and am back in the game after only one night incommunicado.  Huzzah!


Last week, CU put in a rare complete performance against a Pac-12 opponent.  On the road no less!  Yes, the Buffs still wound up losers by over 20 points, but for them to be playing competitive football well into the fourth quarter is a massive improvement.

Looking to build on that improvement, Colorado travels up to Seattle this weekend to face off against the Washington Huskies.  The odds are still stacked against them, but another week of solid gains on the gridiron is within reach, even if the scoreboard tilts strongly the other way.

Kickoff from newly renovated Husky Stadium is set for 6pm MT Saturday evening.  Television coverage can be found on good ole Pac-12 Networks, with the radio broadcast on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last season's preview can be found here.

In all honesty, I had completely forgotten about this game before I looked it up.  It fell on the weekend that the men's basketball team was earning their 2012 Charleston Classic title - under those circumstances, how am I supposed to remember another cookie-cutter blowout loss?  But, upon further review, I'm surprised this turd didn't stick in my brain more, as Folsom Field was treated to one of the most inept offensive performances in program history.

Before I get to the struggles with the ball, I should mention that the Colorado defense actually held strong through the first half, only allowing seven points and 159 yards.  Washington didn't even get that score till the final minutes of the opening 30, giving many in BuffNation hope that CU was on the verge of some late-season Folsom Magic.
The defense played well, but the offense provided no support.  From: the BDC
Unfortunately, the story of the second half was a now-familiar tale of woe.  Coming out of the locker room focused, the Huskies scored on five of their final six drives, blitzing past a weakening CU defense.  QB Keith Price was the star for Washington, throwing for five touchdown passes.  He only accumulated 248 yards through the air, but his 22-29 passing day was more than efficient enough to lead his team to victory.  In the end, the 38-3 final was a fait accompli.

While the defense had broken over the final drives of the game, the loss wasn't on them.  It was the offense that was particularly putrid, only racking up a total of 141 yards, and it was their inability to move the ball in any way shape or form that wasted a serviceable effort from their defensive counterparts.  Yes, the Huskies deserve some credit for making the Buffs look like Sisyphus and his boulder, but this was the game that featured the now infamous QB sneak on 1st down.  CU's focus and execution that day set the game of football back 15 years, and you can't put that all down to what Washington was doing.
The FUCK?  From: SBNation
The dumpster fire under center that underscored offensive futility throughout the final few games last year was on fine display against the Huskies, as quarterbacks Jordan Webb, Connor Wood, and John Schrock combined to go 10-23 for a so-small-you-could-miss-it 51 passing yards and two interceptions.  That is beyond unacceptable from a modern D-1 offense.  In that light, maybe that QB sneak on 1st down was a necessary evil - an attempt by the coaches to get something, anything out of their awful signal-callers.

That the performance came in a home game, when there was no road crowd excuse, is only further damning. I'd say I hope the CU offense does better this weekend, but I'm having a hard time coming up with a way they couldn't.

The Huskies in 2013 - 

UW comes into this weekend at 5-3 on the season, 2-3 in Pac-12 play - essentially not very impressive to an outside observer.  Featuring large-margin wins over Boise St, Illinois, an FCS pushover, Arizona, and, most recently, Cal, their schedule is light on meat, but at least you can say they've won the games they should've.
The Huskies have swarmed weaker opponents this fall.
Problems have arisen when stepping up in competition.  Their three losses this season came on three consecutive weeks against the Pac-12's three best teams by progressively worsening scores. The Huskies were dealt a fatal blow to their hopes of a more meaningful season, and they undoubtedly remain a full step behind the league's elite.

Of particular interest to me is their loss at Arizona State back in October.  After a pair of close losses at Stanford and against Oregon, the Huskies crumbled in the desert, allowing 29 unanswered points to be put up in the first half (26 in the second quarter alone).  The Sun Devils knew how to put away a defeated opponent, and capitalized on repeated mental lapses from Washington.  On the day, UW fell to negative five rushing yards (helped by seven ASU sacks), which was critical for a team that relies on it's balanced attack.  That they got on the scoreboard at all after losing five yards on the ground is impressive, but the 54-23 defeat was well earned.
The Sun Devils repeatedly got into the Washington backfield.
Statistically, even with the rough day in Tempe, the Huskies feature one of the better offenses in the country (14th overall, 502 yards per contest).  The key aspect of their attack is balance, as both the passing and rushing units appear in the top-25 nationally (218 yards per game rushing, 284 passing), and the team has gained essentially the same number of first downs on the ground (93) as through the air (97).  Most concerning for the Buffs on Saturday is their impressive 49.6% conversion rate on third down.  These guys keep the chains moving by keeping the defense guessing.

On defense, UW has struggled a bit containing the run (177 rushing yards allowed per game, 77th nationally), but excel against the pass as signified by their 14th best defensive pass efficiency rating.

Star Players - 

The offense is lead by senior QB Keith Price.  A three year starter in Seattle, the 6-1 SoCal slinger has already set 11 records for UW, including career touchdown passes and career completion percentage.  Entering the final stages of his time in Purple and Gold, Price is enjoying another fine season, having completed 64% of his passes en route to accumulating 2169 passing yards and 16 scores.
Price looms large under center for the Huskies.  From: the Seattle Times.
Almost as important to the success of Washington is running back Bishop Sankey.  The 5-10 junior is third in the nation in rushing yards per contest, and has finished with over 100 in all but two games this year.  His already fantastic 2013 campaign was only furthered last week by his 241 yard, two score performance against Cal.  While Price has the records and the captaincy, Sankey is the heart and soul of the offense.
Sankey is a brilliant runner.
Combined, Price and Sankey account for 83% of the Washington attack.  You can stop one on any given Saturday, but the other is more than capable of picking up the slack at a moments notice.

On defense, the squad is lead by a pair of fantastic defensive backs.  Senior Sean Parker and sophomore Marcus Peters have combined for six interceptions and 12 passes defended on the season.  The duo have kept the pass defense strong in the wake of first round pick Desmond Trufant's departure to the NFL.

The linebacking corps is headlined by Sophomore Shaq Thompson.  The former five-star recruit, and one of the most sought after commits of the 2012 recruiting class, has blossomed into quite the player.  Thompson can play almost anywhere on defense, but his 53 tackles and three sacks on the season tell me he's just fine as a LB.  Remember his name, cause you'll be hearing it a lot in future seasons, both with Washington and in the pros.
Thompson will only continue to get better at linebacker.
Up front, the defense is anchored by big defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha.  The junior from Hawai'i has 39 tackles and six sacks on the year.

Coaching - 

There's no doubt that Steve Sarkisian is a good coach.  My only doubt is whether or not he can ever be a great coach.  He's a perfectly mediocre 31-28 (21-20) in Seattle midway through his fifth season, and has yet to win more than seven games in a given year as a head coach.  Given the increasing money flowing in the UW program, I don't know how much longer the offensive guru is going to be given to break into solidly positive territory.
Coach Sark needs to start winning the games that matter.
Washington is riding a streak of three-straight bowl appearances under Coach Sark, but what have they really accomplished?  They're still solidly third or fourth in the Pac-12 North, with little hope of climbing higher any time soon against the likes of Stanford and Oregon.  It's probably a little too harsh, but they remind me of the Iowa State teams of the mid-2000s - good enough to win a few games, but, when you get down to it, irrelevant due to their inability to win the ones that matter.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 8-0.  Against the spread: 4-3.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +2.86 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU +28, M/L + 2750, O/U 61.5

The Buffs have yet to even come close to wining a Pac-12 game since their shocker over WSU last season, and I have no doubt the same fate awaits in Seattle.  The Huskies, coming in off a bye week, should have no trouble dispatching Colorado at home.  UW has only one loss in the newly renovated stadium - coming against mighty Oregon - and Husky Stadium, a much tougher road environment that the Rose Bowl, will really challenge the still developing Colorado offense.  Kiss any hope of that elusive upset goodbye.

As to the spread, last week opened my eyes a bit.  If this team can continue to play with heart and effort deep into the fourth quarter, they should be able to cover the four score requirement.

Washington 49 - Colorado 23


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