Leading things off, here's my question for the group:
I think it's fair to say that Bishop Sankey has exceeded even the most optimistic of projections for his performance this year. He's on pace to have the most rushing yards (by far) for a 2nd year player in Husky history as he's already at 1,011 with 3 games left to play. What were your expectations of Sankey heading into the year? In what ways has he exceeded your expectations? What do you project for him moving forward?
kirkd: While I certainly liked what I saw out of Sankey in limited use last year, and I thought he had a good chance to be 1A to Callier's 1B when Fall Camp ended, I certainly didn't expect him to be a guy the offense could lean on in much the same way they did with Chris Polk. I guess I figured it would be some kind of split like 800 yards for Sankey and 500 yards for Callier, with Callier much more involved in the passing game.
Moving forward, it's hard not to assume he's going to continue getting better and being a back that rivals Polk in terms of production. He's showing all the signs of a Joel Thomas-coached RB at the UW - he runs hard, he doesn't go down easy, he (mostly) hangs on to the ball. I like what Kendyl Taylor brings to the table, and I assume Callier will return healthy, but those guys are probably going to be complimentary guys next year as Sankey carries the load. Thankfully, they should ensure that he isn't ridden into the ground and stays fresh. Sankey has the potential to finish his career at the UW as one of their best RB's ever, especially if his hands continue to improve and he becomes a bigger threat in the passing game.
Sundodger: I sort of combined Sankey and Callier going into the season. I thought the running-back-by-committee should pick up around 1,500 yards and 15 rushing TD's on 300 or so combined carries. I thought that Sankey would end up being the dominant back by the end of the year, but that Sarkisian would give carries to the more productive of the two on a game-by-game basis. Sankey has been very, very good this season. With two relatively weak defenses coming up, and depending on the bowl matchup, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he finishes with the second-best single season in UW history. He's far more durable than I would've guessed. He's done a great job of getting into the end zone. And even though he's not exceptionally big, or fast, or quick, he's hitting the holes quickly, making a single cut, and getting up field. Even though he hasn't made big plays in the passing game, he's shown that he can catch the ball well. It's just a matter of time in that department.
Moving forward, the depth at tailback doesn't look great in 2013 unless one of the freshmen steps up in a big way or Callier makes a better-than-average recovery from his injury. Sankey should expect a lot of carries again next year. Barring injury, he's going to be a legitimate threat to break the career rushing record. I never thought that was going to be the case when UW really only started recruiting him late in the process in 2011.
Lear Pilot: I don't think anyone expected to have a running back go over the 1,000 yard mark; hard to do when splitting carries. I also get a kick out of the broadcast teams that refer to Sankey as the backup to Callier. Going into the season Callier and Sankey were 1A and 1B, there was very little separating the two backs. After seeing Sankey get some carries last season, I had no doubt he had the talent and potential to be a premier running back in the Pac12. The problem is, over the past decade, few Husky players have exceeded the hype that came with their arrival to the program. Before the season, I expected Sankey and Callier to both be good backs, putting up good numbers. I'm not at all surprised that Sankey has taken advantage of the situation and is performing at a high level. I'm thrilled to see how durable he has been, 25+ carries a game is good old fashioned blue collar football. I think Sankey has a fair chance of putting up VERY good numbers against Colorado and WSU. With three games left, I wouldn't be surprised if he made a run at a few other records.
Gekko Mojo: Since my expectations for Bishop were to split time with Jesse Callier as the "second guy", his performance to date has greatly exceeded my hopes. When you look at how high and tall he was running in the SDSU and LSU games versus how he has leveled down and started to hit holes with authority, the difference is like night and day. While he may not be a War Daddy, he is a versatile, slashing kind of guy whose strengths are his quickness into a lane and his ability to slip past tackles. The fact that he has shown the durability to take on 30+ carries in a game is a huge bonus. I don't see any reason that the next two game plans don't get built on his shoulders given that they are on the road and that they are against teams who, realistically, can only win if we get loose and careless with the ball (ahem, Keith Price). Now, if we can just find a viable second option to provide Bishop some relief ...
We have two games to get our pass rush right going into a bowl game. With all options on the table, how do we do it?
kirkd: We have to hope that Josh Shirley keeps developing, that Cory Littleton improves, and I guess hope that Wilcox & co. can devise some new blitz packages. Really, there's not much else that can be done other than continue working with the kids on the roster and hope they improve. I have no idea what to expect out of Jamora next season after his 2nd knee injury, but this is an area where his absence has really been felt. We have to hope that there are some pass-rush demons in the upcoming recruiting class (Daeshon Hall, I'm looking at you).
Sundodger: I'm not sure that there's a "fix" for the rush this season. The Dawgs are down bodies, they've tinkered with personnel and alingments (I liked using Hudson inside with Shelton out at end against Utah - similar to the way the Dawgs put Te'o-Nesheim in the middle in their nickel packages), and they've blitzed when it was appropriate. I think that just due to the lines that the Buffs and Cougs (who are down to something like 6 healthy scholarship linemen right now) will throw out onto the field, a guy Shirley can have games like he did to finish out 2011, when he had 5.5 sacks over the last three games. I think that these are two lines that the Huskies will simply be able to beat with speed on the edges, and timely blitzes from guys like Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson (who I think are the two best that the Huskies have in that regard).
I also think that even though the sack numbers weren't great against Utah, I thought the rush was better than it'd been the last few games. Wilson definitely had pressure on him.
Lear Pilot: We move Shane Brostek to the defensive line! Too bad I typed this after Sark made that announcement. In all seriousness, we know what we have on the defensive line, it isn't going to change between now and a bowl game. We aren't going to get more of a pass rush without being more creative. We need to do a better job of disguising our blitzes, being effective in our blitz, and start sending a wider variety of blitzers. By that I mean, one play send the strong safety, the next play a corner, the next play a linebacker, and call more zone blitzes. Keep the opposing team guessing and give them a lot more to think about.
Last Saturday we found out that ASJ is seeing time at defensive end, how do you feel about having one of your few offensive weapons (a possible All American) playing on defense too? Is Sark brilliant, or mad?
Lear Pilot: It doesn't bother me at all to see ASJ getting playing time on defense; he is one of the few modern day athletes that can be successful playing both ways. I also like it when a head coach is creative and tries to think outside the box. Ten games into the season, the talent on the defensive line isn't going to suddenly improve. As I mentioned in my answer to Gekko's question, the only way to improve the pass rush this far into the season, is to get creative. Letting a super athlete like ASJ play both ways is a creative way to try and improve the pass rush.
Gekko Mojo: Should ASJ play Defensive End? I don't feel all that good about it, truth be told. Obviously, I haven't been at practice and don't know how much he's played the position. However, my impression is that he hasn't had many reps there and, let's face it, guys who haven't gotten reps are more exposed to injury. Their reflexes and instincts haven't been honed on how to avoid certain situations that could be perilous. If he was an overwhelming force then, yeah, you'd have to consider it. With far less training, I'm not sure he is a huge upgrade over the next best body and with games upcoming versus Colorado and WSU, I'm not sure it is worth it - even for the 8 or 9 obvious passing downs he'd be in on. That said, it is a wicked cool thing to brag about.
kirkd: I'm not a big fan of it personally; it exposes him to unnecessary injury risk, and every rep he takes in practice at DE is a rep he's not taking at TE. Let's face it, this kid is the biggest weapon at TE this program has ever had, and as much as it would be cool to see him excel going both ways, I just don't see the reward coming close to balancing out the risk. What concerns me is that Sark trying ASJ at DE doesn't reflect well on the development of kids like Jarett Finau and Taniela Tupou, two guys I've had high hopes for.
Sundodger: It was a cute little novelty last weekend, but I'm not a fan of it moving forward. It was a surprise to Utah, but it won't be anymore. I don't necessarily think that there are players that will look to target Seferian-Jenkins, but things can definitely get a little chippy in rivalry games especially, and the risk simply isn't worth it. Even if he generated a third down sack on his own, or allowed a teammate to get one, there's not any more real value in that play than there is in simply defending the pass and forcing an incompletion.
That being said, if Seferian-Jenkins plays 8 or 9 plays and ends up with two sacks, Sarkisian will look like a genius. But I'd rather Seferian-Jenkins put his efforts and energy, and body, into making Sarkisian look like a genius on offense exclusively.
We've discussed coaches that might not be living up to expectations this season, in particular Dan Cozzetto. While no one would call the offense much more than "decent" the last few games, there's definitely been an uptick in performance. How much of that do you attribute the line's improved play, how much to Price's improved play, how much to what Sankey's been able to do, and how much to the schedule simply lightening up? And given the youth on the line, the injuries, and the notion that it's been better of late (regardless of the reasons to which you might attribute that), have you seen enough to keep Cozzetto around, or do you think that Sarkisian should still look to make an upgrade there?
Sundodger: I think that pretty much every component of the offense has improved. But the consistency of the line is probably the single biggest factor. I also think that the team struggled with its identity early, but they've settled in to who they are as the year has gone by. Price is more confident in his protection, which has allowed him to be more decisive and aggressive. Sankey has excelled when he's been given carries out of the "I" especially, and the line has had a consistent grouping for a few games now. The schedule has gotten easier, for sure, but I think that the team would've made a step forward regardless. I don't think the competition is as big a factor as I thought it was going to be.
As for Cozzetto, he's been given a tough hand with injuries. But the things that concerned me about him at the beginning of the season still exist today. Early in the season, I said that I think he needs to go at the end of the year. I still think Sarkisian should look to upgrade the position (especially if it comes with a big upgrade in recruiting), but if he evaluates Cozzetto's performance in the offseason and thinks he should return, I'll be skeptical but not necessarily upset by the decision. Things definitely need to improve, though.
Lear Pilot: First, I think a good head coach is always evaluating each position coach. If finding an upgrade is easy, he probably needs to make the change. That being said, I think the criticism of Cozz has been greatly over blown. He's done a great job with a very young group of players. Personally, I think Sark & Ivan's strategy of athleticism over bulk is more to blame than Cozz. I'm all for athletic linemen, but we need more bulk too. The uptick in the offense is due to Sark figuring out how to best use his players by committing to the run game. Not to mention, Keith Price calming down and trusting those around him so he doesn't try and do everything on his own, has helped out too.
Gekko Mojo: I'm not ready to say that the offense has turned a corner after one good game against a decent team all season ... but I would agree with the sentiment that having the same five guys on the line for multiple games is starting to normalize things. The run blocking has been a relative bright spot since the beginning of the PAC12 schedule while the pass blocking has gone from "dumpster fire" to "not quite passable". There does come a point of OLine performance where the talents of the skill players - ASJ, Keith Price, Kasen Williams and Bishop Sankey - are enabled to take over. I hope we are there. As for Coz - well, what do I know? I still think that the horrible play of the offensive line - now in its fourth straight year of ineptitude below its talents- is a crucifiable offense. But, after three straight wins, even the hardest of hard asses feels a bit charitable.
kirkd: What bothers me still about the OL is that even though they are run-blocking a lot better than they did earlier in the season, their pass-blocking is still problematic. Beyond every other factor - the schedule easing up, Sark trusting more in the run game and Sankey's ability, Price relaxing and playing looser, the line getting (relatively) healthy and probably more cohesive in the last few weeks - none of it explains away a nagging issue I've had with our OL and how they develop: namely, we just don't seem to recruit many true OT's, and we seem to end up more with interior maulers that are suiting for run-blocking but are lost when it comes to pass-blocking. I don't know who to pin that on - Cozz? Sark? Whatever it is, I would have no qualms if Sark decided to find another OL coach this off-season.
The offensive uptick is about the reasons I listed above: the schedule easing up, Sark's play-calling evolving to trust the run more, Price relaxing and trusting his coaching, the OL getting some cohesion. And they're all inter-related, though I'd like to say the biggest thing has been Sark trusting that his team can run the ball and being determined to establish the run game.
Those are our answers - let's hear yours!