Is It Just Me, Or Did The Huskies Look Really Good This Weekend?

It doesn’t feel like the regular season should have started yet, but here we are.  1-0 after a thrilling demolition of a nationally-ranked powerhouse mid-major.

I don’t know what I expected in the season opener, but it surely wasn’t THAT.  38-6.  SIX!  Are you kidding me?  Boise State is a good football program.  Even if they’re not as good as their best teams, they’re still a formidable opponent no matter when you play them.  Then again, who knows?  Maybe we’re looking at a down year for the Broncos.  We’ll find out as the season progresses just how important this win truly was.

The Huskies dominated in every aspect of this game, and the scary thing is:  they could have been better.  We struggled to finish drives in the first half – including a botched 4th down play deep in Broncos territory.  By all accounts, if we were better in that first half, we would have dropped 50 on them and REALLY made a statement.  As it stands, though, I think you have to come away impressed by what the Huskies were able to do.

The new-look offense is giving me goosebumps.  This is, by far, the best the Huskies have looked on offense since Tui was manning the quarterback position.  And I mean, BY FAR!  2013 was going to be a big year for Sark as a head coach because this team has finished 7-6 too many seasons in a row and now it’s time to show us all what he has built.  But, 2013 is also a big year for Sark as a play-caller.  When we brought him to Washington, we brought him in to be an offensive guru.  The results have been more-or-less underwhelming.  Part of that you can easily blame on the lack of talent around the few skill position players we were able to start.  But, to be honest, there was nothing special about what Sark was trying to do on offense.  This team lacked any kind of flash or zazz or whatever you want to call it.  Love it or hate it, but college football isn’t the NFL.  The things that work best in college – the zone-read, the spread, whatever the fuck it is Oregon does – don’t necessarily translate to the pro game.  That having been said, some things about the pro game that Sark was trying to bring to Montlake don’t translate all that well to the college game.

2013 was the year Sark was going to have to adapt to the college game, or else risk losing his job.  It looks like Sark has adapted quite well, even if it’s only a one-game sample size.

I don’t know exactly what it is the Huskies would call their offense, but it’s effective.  There appears to be an element of zone-read, but we’re not looking to convert Keith Price to a running quarterback by any stretch.  There’s a near-constant use of play-action that will punish the more aggressive defenses out there (which should hopefully open up the running game even more).

I’ve never been a huge fan of those sideline passes to receivers on the line of scrimmage, as I feel like they can be a crutch for a tentative quarterback too afraid to push the ball down the field.  However, one way to change my mind on that front is the quality of the receiver catching those balls.  Jaydon Mickens looked a million times better than he did all last season.  He’s a revelation!  His quick-twitch speed out of the slot and on those bubble-screen plays make him instantly one of our more impressive offensive weapons.  True Freshman John Ross also fits that bill, and also looks to be a terror on special teams.  With Kevin Smith rejuvenated and looking better than ever, this wide receiver group is as good as (or perhaps even better than) it was back in 2011 with Kearse and Aguilar leading the pack.  With Kasen Williams drawing the lion’s share of defensive attention (and for good reason, because he’s an unstoppable killing machine), and with ASJ back in the fold after his 1-game suspension, this passing game has a Pick Your Poison element to it that might be unmatched in Husky history.

And that brings us to the best part of the Husky offense:  the running game.  This offensive line is obviously much better at run blocking than pass protection, so to be successful this year, we’re going to need to rely on the running game to do the bulk of the work.  Sankey is every bit the workhorse that he was last year.  Dwayne Washington is an excellent change-of-pace back who should also prove to be solid in the passing game.  And, as long as Keith Price can stay mobile, he’s always a threat to scramble for yards in the open field.  I only noted one play where he kept the ball on a zone-read, which more than anything looked like an excuse to keep the defense honest.  This team isn’t going to expose Price to many unnecessary hits.  So, when you see this team in a shotgun formation (which is, like, 100% of the time), you can be safe in assuming he’s either going to hand it off or fake the hand off and throw it.  Probably 1% of the time he will keep the ball on a designed run, and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For as frustrating as this offense was in 2012, I think we’re in for a real treat in 2013.  The best part about it is – as long as Price continues to make good decisions with the football – this type of offense should translate well on the road.  The Huskies have had some kind of God-awful record on the road over the past decade or so.  If we’re ever going to jump into that elite status of Pac-12 teams, we’re going to have to take our game TO our opponents and overcome all the obstacles that present themselves in stadia outside of Seattle.

In spite of how intricate our offense looked on Saturday, it’s actually pretty simple.  It’s a run-first concept, so right away you’ve got other teams focused in on our backs.  Running the ball on the road isn’t difficult and should be no different than how you’d run at home.  What tends to prove faulty on the road is the passing game, where all the pressure lies on the shoulders of a quarterback who still has to worry about mid terms and finals.  What makes this offense great – especially for someone like Price – is that it eliminates thinking from the equation.  The fast pace not only keeps the defense on its heels (and discourages substitution of players), but it turns Price’s job from one who thinks to one who reacts.  With passing plays constantly featuring the play-action, you’ve got defenses crashing the line of scrimmage.  From that point, it’s either a swing pass to a wide open receiver on the line, or a pass down field.

As I said before, I tend to find these teams that rely on the bubble screen for the bulk of their passing plays to be flawed.  However, I didn’t get the sense that the Huskies were trying to be THAT team.  I thought Keith Price looked down field just as often as he looked down the line of scrimmage.  This is key.  And it brings us back to the thinking/reacting theme.  Defenses are already worried about the run.  Now, they’ve got to be concerned about the bubble screen.  And, just to put the icing on top, they ALSO have to be worried about the deep pass.  So, instead of reacting to what the offense is trying to do (which is what the great defenses tend to do), they’ll be stuck thinking, wondering what in the fuck Keith Price is going to do with that football after he’s had it snapped to him from center.

A defense on its heels like that is a defense that’s going to give up a ton of yards and points to the Washington Huskies.

Speaking of defense, the Husky defense has seemingly picked up where it left off last year, as the pleasant surprise of the program.  Granted, Boise State generated 346 yards of offense and converted 50% of their third downs, but they struggled where it mattered most:  in the red zone.  We allowed them to attempt three field goals and they only converted two.  We kept them out of the endzone completely and our secondary won more 1-on-1 matchups than they lost.  Ducre and Parker looked rock solid.  Our linebackers were all over the field, led by Shaq Thompson, Resident Maniac.  And our D-Line wasn’t given a ton to work with – considering Boise State also employs an up-tempo offense that tends to discourage pass rush – still managed to do the job required of them.

The defense could certainly be stronger, especially against the run, as we’re guaranteed to play some much-better rushing offenses this season.  Boise State didn’t have any problem moving the ball up and down the field between the 20s, which helped them ultimately win the Time of Possession battle in spite of losing the game by 32 points.  On the plus side, though, the Broncos managed a number of intermediate runs that in years past would have gone for long touchdowns.  The secondary on this team is as talented as it has ever been and should keep us in plenty of ballgames.

This type of thrashing has my confidence in the program at a near all-time high.  We finally have an offense that can hang with the big boys, and we finally have a defense that can reduce the damage to a dull roar.  I now no longer think it’s necessarily crazy for this team to go 4-0 out of the gate.  I’m also no longer 100% convinced that Oregon beats us this year.  This team is as talented from top to bottom as it has been in quite some time.  If we’re able to pull a winning record in games decided by one score, this season could truly be special.

It’s two weeks until the next game, because why not have a BYE week after the first game of the season?  Now, I get to sit on all this anticipation.  Whatever shall I do with all this pent-up energy?

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