First, can I just say that it kinda sucks that this game falls on a Thursday? It’s nearly impossible for me to sit down and enjoy a few (dozen) beers when I know I’ve got to work the next day!
Much like last year, I can see no way the Huskies win this bowl game. We’re facing one of the best offenses in the nation and if our defense has proven anything this year it’s that the nation’s best offenses TRAMPLE us!
However, while my gut says, “Baylor will win,” and calls it a day, I have to admit that my conviction isn’t THERE like it was before the Nebraska game. Which is kind of a good AND a bad thing. Let’s face it, there were ample warning signs before last year’s Holiday Bowl! Nebraska had to play a team it already throttled, for one. Nebraska had narrowly missed out on winning the Big 12 and going to a BCS game for another. That Holiday Bowl had “Let Down” written all over it! Baylor shouldn’t have that problem. Primarily, Baylor has known for a while now it wouldn’t be winning the Big-12. But also, it’s not like we’re talking about a powerhouse football school. Baylor doesn’t have a huge history of winning. Like we were “just happy to be there” last year in San Diego, Baylor has to be THRILLED to be playing in San Antonio this year. They’ve got one of the most exciting offenses in football, one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and they’ll be playing in front of a mostly-partisan crowd. You won’t have to worry about Baylor being “up” for this game. They’re already a mile high.
Another thing you could point to, with hindsight being our guiding light, is the fact that Washington was on a major roll going into that bowl game last year. We’d won our final three games to even qualify; and while I know the opponents weren’t the best and the brightest, there’s something to be said for momentum going into the post season in ANY sport. This year’s Washington team is anything BUT on a heater right now. We’re 1-3 with three highly embarrassing defeats before that Apple Cup cakewalk. What’s worse, whereas last year’s defense seemed to get better every week, this year’s has seemingly gotten worse. Again, maybe that’s more a byproduct of our schedule, but where momentum built confidence last year, momentum is tearing this team apart in a negative way, with regards to the amount of yardage and points we’re giving up. Nobody believes in the defense, the defense is getting shredded, and the offense is feeling the pressure of carrying this team when it is ill-equipped to do so.
With all that being said, I can’t just blindly throw all my confidence behind Baylor winning this game. Precisely because I was SO SURE before last year’s bowl game, and look what happened. We stomped them but good. And that was a team that KNEW they could make our offense one-dimensional because of their elite secondary. They saw how we won those final three games in the regular season: it was ALL on the running of Polk and Locker. They KNEW we were going to have to run the ball to win that game, and still they couldn’t stop us.
Factor in the fact that this year’s Baylor team is one of the very worst in all of college football on defense, and you’re looking at a potential bonanza for this Husky offense.
Dig this: out of 120 teams in Division I college football, only Ball State and Kansas are worse when talking about opponents’ yards per game. They give up 503 yards per game, which is more than 80 yards per game more than Washington gives up. Think about THAT! Think about how bad the Husky defense has been, then think about one THAT much worse!
Now, dig this: what has been the biggest fault of this Husky team on defense? That would be: stopping other teams on third down. We’re TERRIBLE at getting off the field! And, the numbers prove that out. We’re 95th in all of college football, giving up 6.5 third down conversions per game. You know what Baylor is? Second-to-last. At 8.2 per game.
Rushing defense: Washington gives up 152.7 yards per game, good for 57th in college football. Baylor gives up 209.9 rushing yards per game, good for 106th out of 120. Remember now, this is a Baylor team that scores at a clip only bested by five other teams! There are only a handful of teams who would even be able to keep up with this team! And yet, here are 12 teams who have played Baylor on this year’s schedule who have run the ball ALL OVER them!
Passing defense: the real liability of this Husky team. The reason we’re all so petrified of going into Baylor’s home state and playing a game against one of the best QBs in the nation. And yeah, it’s bad. It’s REALLY bad. The Huskies are 102nd in the nation at 266.5 yards per game. Even HERE, Baylor is worse, at 293.1 yards per game. Again, only two teams are worse than Baylor at defending the pass; one of them incidentally is Arizona, who we chucked it around on pretty good. Robert Griffin III is a damn fine quarterback, but Keith Price is no slouch. As long as our receivers aren’t dropping balls left and right, there’s no reason why we couldn’t spread it on just as thick as they could.
But, all that being said, all things being equal (namely: turnovers, penalties, injuries, and WR drops), the Huskies aren’t going to go in there and get into a pissing match with some of the best pissers in college football. If you’re a slow-it-down, grind-it-out team in basketball, you don’t go up against a run-and-gun team and try to beat them at their own game! You dig your heels into the shit and you make that game as ugly as possible!
You want to beat Baylor? Hold them to under 30 points. They’ve been held to less than 30 just twice this year, both were losses. How do you hold Baylor to less than 30 points? Well, in those two losses I was talking about, the teams they played ran for 266 yards and 327 yards respectively. And they figured out a way to keep Baylor to around 50% or less on 3rd Down Conversions. Washington is going to have to do THAT; what better way to do that than to control the clock, slow the game down, and give it to Chris Polk about 40 times?
You know what else hampered this Husky team at times last season? Nagging injuries to key players, like the quarterback. Ditto 2011. You know what this long December layoff did more than anything for our team last season? Gave those players time to recover, time to come back healthy and stronger than ever. Ditto 2011, hopefully.