Every season brings with it a collection of silver linings, breakouts and pleasant surprises. Here is a random list of mine.
A few days ago, I published a random list on things that didn't pan out as well as expected for the Huskies in their 2012 regular season. Today, we cover those things that went in the opposite direction and exceeded just about every expectation that existed out there in Husky land. Soak up the list and leave your comments in the thread.
- Bishop Sankey
While many of you had Bishop down as the RB most likely to be leaned on heavier among the threesome he joined with Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, it is not very likely that many of you expected Bishop to effectively replace Chris Polk as a 25-carry-a-game kind of back and provide Sark with a UW record fourth consecutive season with a 1,000 yard rusher. Bishop started out the season slowly as he adjusted to the speed of the game, the full playbook and the physicality of his opponents. The Stanford game became a real breakout for him as he figured out both how quickly he needed to make decisions and how to lower his pads such that when he made contact in the hole, he was still going forward. These two characteristics translated into wonderful production and became about the only good thing that we could hang our offensive hat on all season.
- Physically Tough Defense
Obviously, the Husky Defense last year was an epic embarrassment of incompetence that was a capper to one of the worst decades of defense that we, as a fanbase, had ever been forced to endure. The Nick Holt era will forever be known as the era of "bend don't break" - a strategy that made sense from a football planning standpoint (after all, the offense normally had enough potential to pull out close games), but effectively emaciated an entire side of the game so much so a once proud unit was considered one of the softest defenses year-in-year-out that the conference had ever seen. This season didn't start out too promising in terms of reversing that trend. Teams like SDSU and LSU were able to impose their wills upon us and what we showed was our usual propensity for taking it up the backside. That was until the Stanford game. Not unlike the breakout of Bishop Sankey, some of the young guys we put in place on defensive side had things click for them all at the same time. Travis Feeney, Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and John Timu all demonstrated in that game that while they may still get beat, they weren't going to get beaten up doing it. The results were astonishing. Time and time again, Stanford tried to impose its physical will on our team - often lining up six offensive linemen and two tight ends in formations that were meant to beat us and down and every time, our boys punched them back. From that point forward, physical toughness became a characteristic, not a flaw, of our team. While we certainly have had our let downs along the way, the toughness and nastiness of our D had been established as a surprising new attribute that would endure.
- Home Field Advantage
Although the Huskies were only scheduled to have six of twelve games in Seattle, the transition season to the CLink in order to accommodate the refurbishment of Husky Stadium was expected by many of us to be a factor in limiting the upside of the season. After all, who could expect that the conveniences and the attraction of the most beautiful football setting on the planet could be effectively replicated by an NFL stadium (albeit, a fantastic NFL stadium) downtown for a team that relies so heavily on students to drive attendance. Surely, the "home field advantage" of Husky Stadium could not be ported to SoDo. Think again. The Huskies were able to repeat their success of a season ago by only losing one game, a hard fought affair against USC, at the CLink all season. Husky fans, while not necessarily in the same numbers as you would find at Husky Stadium, turned out and lent their boisterous behavior to the favorable acoustics of the stadium to create an intimidating environment. The fact that the Huskies knocked off two top 10 teams at home is a testament to both the transplanted fans and the advantage of the temporary venue.
- Travis Feeney, Shaq Thompson, and John Timu
It's hard to not look at this exceptionally young linebacking corps and think "shockingly good" when you consider how well they played throughout the season as a whole. There wasn't a single person in this blog that wasn't acutely concerned about this unit as the Huskies entered fall camp. Back then we were thinking that Timu would get crushed again like last year and we were hoping guys like Nate Fellner and Jamaal Kearse could at least get us through some rough patches while Thomas Tutogi could provide some muscle when needed. Instead, the single biggest surprise of the year was the emergence (not necessarily from day 1, but throughout) of the young linebackers as the heart of the defense. John Timu, after some rough early games, emerged as the nerve center of the entire defense and simply began showing up wherever the ball was. He seemed in on just about every play from the Stanford game forward. Travis Feeney, who struggled with some injuries and chronic under-sized-ness, blew up as a fiery enforcer and speedy gap closer. He was an emotional muse for the defense whenever it needed inspiration. And then there is Shaq Thompson, every bit the playmaker he was billed to be when he became a surprise last-second add to Steve Sarkisian's 2012 recruiting class. By the mid point of the season, Shaq had already become one of the most versatile run-stopping, ball-hawking OLBs that we have seen don the Purple and Gold in the recent memory. Every season, one unit emerges as a surprise performer in the grand scheme of things. This year it was this linebacking unit - a unit that brings with it a tremendously bright future.
5. Desmond Trufant
Everyone knew coming into the season that Desmond Trufant had talent. NFL caliber talent. As a DB with both size and speed, he had the both the attributes and capabilities to be a factor in the game planning of opposing offensive coordinators. The problem was that he had spent the previous two years, if not three, being featured in a philosophy that emphasized sacrificing small cuts in exchange for not surrendering big gashes. As such, Tru often looked like he wasn't playing effectively while the guy in front of him was catching hooks, slants and screens ad nauseum. Case in point was the EWU game from 2011. This year, we all knew that was going to take advantage of Tru's capabilities, but I don't think any of us were ready to predict that Tru could become a true shut-down corner that would afford the Huskies the opportunity to play most of the season with one less defensive back than what they had grown accustomed to. That is exactly what happened. Trufant was brilliant in matching up against the other team's best playmaker game after game. Ty Montgomery was not a factor in the Stanford game. Markus Wheaton was completely shut down before being knocked out in the OSU game. Neither Utah or Colorado were able to eclipse the 60 yard mark in gross passing for the entire game. And Marqise Lee? Well, a season low of 2 catches for 32 yards for the leading Heisman contender from the PAC 12 is about all you need to know about that game. While injuries and a really bad Apple Cup tarnished the end of the season, Trufant took high expectations for this season and basically blew them out of the water.
These are my top 5 most pleasant surprises for the year. Who were yours? One more article is under way - a list of those parts of the season that went as planned.