To give us a little insight into the Huskies, theCassino, from SBN's Washington blog UW Dawg Pound, was kind enough to answer some questions for us. You can find my answers to their questions over at UWDP. Here goes:
1. UW has been a walking MASH unit this year, especially on the offensive line and at running back. How are the Huskies dealing with these issues, and is depth at these positions a major concern?
On the offensive line, there have simply been too many injuries to deal with in any sort of efficient manner. Since the end of last season 4 players who were going to be counted on to be starters in 2012 have gone down. There aren't many programs in the country that have the depth to roll through that, and when you're still building depth on the OL as Washington is, it's even worse.
At RB the solution has been to rely on Bishop Sankey more than was probably the plan, as well as burning Erich Wilson II's redshirt. We're also now seeing Kendyl Taylor as a backup there, when he was a starter at WR when the season began. So a lot of mixing and matching to ease the burden on Sankey.
2. We know Keith Price is a very good quarterback...but is he going to make it through the season upright?
Probably not without some improvement on the line, and quick. Ben Riva's possible return this week may help. But even for QB's with good offensive lines it's not uncommon for them to suffer an injury at some point in the year, it's just the nature of the position, so even if the OL were completely healthy there would be a good chance of him getting injured. His chances do seem much higher than the average quarterback though.
3. Outside of the long touchdown run by Bishop Sankey, the running game looked shaky against Stanford. What are your thoughts on Washington's ability to run the football?
I would disagree that the run game looked shaky. Even if you subtract Sankey's long run, he was still around 4.4 yards per carry against what is supposed to be one of the top run defenses in the country. I think the run game has improved greatly since the first couple of games in the season, and a big reason for that is Steve Sarkisian calling more plays that give Keith Price the option to hand off or throw the ball, so the Huskies are running with better numbers matchups. As they run more and more of that, it should get better.
4. The defense looks much improved under new DC Justin Wilcox. What are the early returns on that unit?
Well the early returns seem to be victories in 2 of the first 4 games that may not have been last season. I don't know if the previous regime's defense would have held SDSU to 12 points and scored a defensive touchdown. I am positive they wouldn't have kept Stanford out of the endzone as was the case this season. Just watching this year's squad versus years past, you see a lot more disguising, pre-snap movement, and players lining up in nontraditional spots (Shaq Thompson all over the place, LB Travis Feeney at Safety, etc). It's like night and day.
5. We are in year four of Steve Sarkisan and, while he has certainly brought it up from the level of horrible that Ty Willingham left it in, UW isn't exactly close to being ready to compete for a conference, let alone national, title. We understand that Washington will be back to being a perennial contender at some point. How much longer does Sarkisan get to prove that contention will come under his watch before the seat starts getting warm?
I think that we'll find out as this season unfolds. When you look at the schedule, Washington is 3-1 and should be favored or only slight underdogs in 6 of the 8 remaining games. Weirder things have happened than a Husky victory over Oregon. For all the talk about USC coming into the year, they haven't looked unbeatable, and let's not forget that UW has won 2 of the last 3 with less talented teams than this year's. It's not out of the realm of possibility for the Huskies to go something like 7-2 in the Pac-12, which is pretty well right in the middle of contention for the Pac-12. But there's still a lot of season to be played and a lot of "if's" to get there.
For a few years, the 2013 season has been looked at as kind of "the year" for the program that should be the real big step. It'll be when all the guys in the program are Sark's and a number of impact players will be juniors and seniors (Price, Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Josh Shirley, Danny Shelton, Sean Parker to name a few), so if the program hasn't taken that step between now and the end of next season, I'd bet that that's when the seat would start to heat up.