I have to confess, writing these grades is always a lot more fun after a win. Winning is awesome, and it's even more awesome over a highly-ranked opponent, and especially when it's a fellow Pacific NW school and there are a sizable number of fans from that school throughout the stadium that have to come to grips with their dream season getting a serious reality check while exiting among exultant Husky fans.
You'll note that even though the Huskies won, the grades might seem a bit low. This ties in to what coaches love to call "teachable moments" - as Wilcox said after the game:
We were far from perfect, obviously there will be some things discipline-wise that have to be cleaned up and brought up in meetings. When you can teach after a win, it’s easier to get them to listen and it’s human nature. There are some great teachable moments coming out of that game and we need to get those corrected. I’m really proud of their effort, their toughness, their attitude coming into that game, there was a lot of adversity in the game and I thought that they battled.
That the team won a big game, yet still didn't play their best is nice to see - it means they can play even better. The remaining games on the schedule are all winnable, but the team will have to continue to be focused and play tough - mentally and physically - as they did last night. On to the grades!
QB: Keith Price still isn't the same guy we saw last year, but he limited his mistakes and made enough plays when they needed to be made to eke out a close, tough win. He's still not totally comfortable in the pocket and his accuracy still isn't quite as good as it can be, but hopefully the performance of his line in this game helps him start to rebuild trust in them. He got a little more help from his receivers on scrambles, but Price still isn't seeing open guys and missing opportunities there when he extends a play. I am seeing a little more confidence in some of his throws, but he's still got some room to go to get back to the guy we saw last year. Grade: B-
RB: Bishop Sankey continues to impress me as he runs hard, runs through contact and shows pretty good vision. He doesn't have top-end speed, so he's not a guy that turn a 5-yard crease into a 30-yard run, but he's good about finding seams, sliding through and getting positive yards to keep the chains moving. After the success the running game had in the 1st half the Beavers appeared to adjust and the sledding was a lot tougher in the 2nd half, but I think Sankey is showing us enough that we can expect Sark to keep leaning on the run game. We obviously miss having Callier, as Sark doesn't appear to have enough confidence in Kendyl Taylor or Erich Wilson to be between-the-tackle type runners. Taylor is a really nice option out of the backfield on outlets, flares and wheel routes, and is a good outside runner on sweeps. You have to wonder if Dezden Petty can earn enough trust with the coaching staff to become that guy that spells Sankey in run-heavy gameplans when they need yards up the middle. Grade: B
WR/TE: There were some encouraging signs out of this group. Kasen Williams was a clutch performer, and you have to hope that Price continues to find ways to let Kasen make plays. I'm a bit puzzled why we haven't seen Sark lining Kasen up in the slot more, but I'm sure he has his reasons. A quieter game from Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, but he may still be nursing a sore leg/ankle/foot. Michael Hartvigson and Jaydon Mickens each had a nice play in the game, and you'd hope those plays can be confidence-builders for each and a springboard for more success the rest of the way. DiAndre Campbell may as well have been invisible. The group as a whole showed improvement on moving with Price on scrambles, but there's still work to be done. Grade: B-
OL: These guys helped set the tone from the start; Sark came out determined to run the ball in this game as 9 of the first 10 plays were runs, and they were reasonably successful. The Beavers have been quite good this year against the run, but the Huskies did so effectively in the first half to help open up the rest of the offense. Oregon State countered in the 2nd half, and the Huskies finished with just 99 yards on 33 carries, but the damage they did early paid dividends. They were also better than we've seen lately in pass-protection; KP did go down twice, but overall the OL did a pretty good job of protecting Price and keeping the Pac-12's leading sacker Scott Crichton to just 3 tackles, no tackles for loss and no sacks. The OL still wasn't great, but it was a good effort that they can build off of moving forward. Grade: B-
DL: This is still an inconsistent group. Danny Shelton had a few moments, but he also had a critically stupid personal foul penalty that took 6 points off the board in what could have been a really deflating and momentum changing play. The ends are workmanlike, but just don't get much pass rush and aren't very stout vs. the run. Josh Shirley was unable to get to either QB, and he remains a liability vs. the run. I saw a few nice plays by Semisi Tokolahi, and Josh Banks continues to get a lot of reps - hopefully those reps will pay off for Banks as the season progresses and into next year. I can't help but think that this crew would look noticeably better with a healthy Ha'oli Jamora on the edge. As a group, they didn't generate enough pass rush and got gashed a few too many times by a Beaver running game that hasn't been all that good so far this year. Grade: C
LB: John Timu is clearly gaining confidence, and his pick was the result of him working hard in the film room and proving it on the field. He and Princeton Fuimaono each made some nice plays vs. the run too, though they also got gased a few too many times in the 2nd half. Thomas Tutogi got a lot of reps but wasn't as effective as he's been in previous games. It'll be nice to get Travis Feeney back on the field - his athleticism and aggression are the building blocks for what could turn him into a really good player. He was limited to special teams duty in this game, having missed too much practice time this week due to illness. He's been much better as a blitzer than Timu and Fui - they were both completely ineffective in that role last night. Grade: B-
Secondary: While there were some notable breakdowns - Brandin Cooks going for 54 yards and a TD on a busted coverage being the most notable - this was also the group that did the most to hold Oregon State to 17 points, coming up with critical interceptions time and time again, and preventing Cody Vaz from finding anyone open on the game-winning defensive series when the Beavers turned over the ball on downs. Sean Parker set the tone with his pick in the end zone and then his devastating hit that knocked Markus Wheaton out of the game in the 2nd quarter. Marcus Peters got into the act with his 3rd pick on the year. Desmond Trufant wasn't at his best as Cooks managed 9 catches for 123 yards against him, but he also made some key tackles and was tight on Cooks when the game was on the line. Shaq Thompson also showed flashes with a sack and tackle for loss - I'd love to see more of him used on edge rushes and dogs up the middle, i.e. more like a traditional LB. Grade: A
Special Teams: They weren't spectacular, but they made the plays they needed to make. It was the best game yet for Travis Coons as he made an early 45 yard FG to get the first points for the Dawgs, then calmly nailing the game-winner late in the 4th quarter to give them their winning margin. He also was excellent as a punter, averaging 41.9 on a rainy, windy night and keeping Jordan Poyer from having any chance at a return. Grade: A-
Coaching: There was clearly a ton of pressure on Coach Sark after the disaster last week in Tuscon. Not just his play-calling (lack of) balance, but the way his team has come out flat so often and how they've shown a tendency to fall apart at signs of trouble. Perhaps some credit is due to the inflammatory comments by Oregonian columnist John Canzano for calling out the Huskies last week as soft, but this staff just as obviously was able to parlay that insult into effective motivation. They came out playing very physical and clearly looked to set a tone, and the players afterwards talked about how they intended to do just that. Credit Sark also with setting a tone early in the game with the running game - he recognized that he got out of balance badly last week, and he used a heavy dose of the running game to open up a really good Beaver defense just enough to get 20 points on the board. A bigger test might come this Friday as the team tries to do it again, but this time away from the friendly confines of Century Link Field, and without the black uniforms that seem to help them play more physical and tough. Grade: A+