Much is riding on the shoulders of these two men as the Huskies head to the Vegas Bowl.
There are always a million things to see in Las Vegas. The Vegas Bowl is one of them. One day only.
Many of you already know that up until a year ago, I was a Las Vegas resident. As such, I am quite familiar with many (but not all) of the things to do for leisure and distraction in the great Sin City. Unfortunately, I'm also an expert on some of the things to watch out for in my fine town. For instance, if you think the girls that are coming to your room are the same ones on the driving billboard, watch out. If you are considering stopping by the Green Door because you heard the spa is fabulous, watch out. If you think the hot girl flirting with you from the end of the lobby bar at the Cosmo is too good to be true, watch out.
You get the point. When in Vegas, your radar should always be up.
As the Huskies prepare to take on the Boise State Broncos, my radar is already fully operational. There are several unanswered questions that I'll be looking out for and hoping break in the favor of UW. Below is a listing of things that I'll be watching out for.
Boise State's Pass Defense - Over-achieving or Over-rated?
The most frustrating thing about this season, if you are a Dawg fan, has been trying to rationalize the demise of the passing game from top-of-the-conference honors to bottom-of-conference dregs. Despite the presence of a pretty decent rushing attack, the Huskies have been burdened with a turnstyle-inspired offensive line and a spooked QB who has morphed from a darkhorse Heisman candidate into a turnover machine. A big question on everyone's mind is whether or not Keith Price and Co. can reclaim their lost glory and whether or not they can do it against a very stiff Boise State Pass D. The Broncos boast the #4 pass D in the nation and have only surrendered two (count them...TWO) passing TDs to quarterbacks this season. That said, the Broncos have played a pretty QB light schedule and their opponents are still completing a respectable 60% of their passes. Regardless, I fully expect BSU to focus on taking the rushing game away from UW and forcing Keith Price to beat their Pass D.
Bishop Sankey - Breakout of Bust?
There is no doubt about it - the tone of the football game will be set early and it will be Bishop Sankey versus the BSU linebackers in a duel to the death. No matter how good the offensive line run blocks, they are sure to be outnumbered against a BSU team that figures to focus on taking our run game away as a first priority. This means that Bishop Sankey is going to have to make good decisions, make fast decisions and win some 1:1 matchups against tacklers. We cannot afford to not have a running game against a stingy Boise State team and the onus will be on Bishop to have a big, if not his biggest, day as the lead Dawg of our offense.
Josh Shirley - Playmaker or Pine-rider?
While the focus of BSU's offense is sure to center on their very effective running game, the Broncos have become emboldened by the ever-improving play of their QB, Joe Southwick, as their season has progressed. Southwick has become extremely efficient over the final third of the season while the Bronco offense has become more balanced. The secret? A lack of pressure on the QB. The Broncos have only allowed eight sacks all season - a sure confidence builder for any QB. If the Huskies are to defy the odds and to get some pressure on the QB, Josh Shirley is going to have to have a coming out party and get to the QB not unlike the breakout that Hau'oli Jamora had in the Holiday Bowl a few years ago. A few hits on a young Southwick early in the game could create the illusion of footsteps on every passing down and potentially spark some unforced errors. Whether Josh can be that guy remains to be seen.
Trick Plays - How and when?
Unlike Coach Sark who seems to like to unleash his trick plays either a) on the first offensive possession or b) right after a turnover, Chris Petersen is a little more sophisticated. You always know that the trick play is coming, but you also know that it will be delivered at a time and in a form of Chris Petersen's choosing. The anticipation is part of the thrill for Bronco fans and part of the headgames played on opposing Defensive Coordinators. Just like each of you, I've already prepared my string of curse words ready to be unleashed when I see the first sign of a tackle-eligible, triple reverse, wide-reciever option post route begin to get imposed upon our young pup Defense. The good news is that Justin Wilcox may have seen a few of those plays during his time at BSU as a Defensive Coordinator. Maybe we'll get lucky and that one little nugget that he passes along to one single player is enough to stop one of those disasters-in-waiting.
Sark vs Petersen - A Game of Thrones?
In his two bowl games, Steve Sarkisian has developed a bit of a reputation for preparing his team. Two seasons ago, Sark goaded a totally out-of-character physical effort out of his Husky squad in the man-handling of a Nebraska team that had earlier beat the crap out of the Huskies in Seattle. Last season, Sark amped up his team's offense and took a Heisman-led, top 10 Baylor team to the brink in an Alamo bowl that quite literally broke all of the records for NCAA football post season games and left Robert Griffin III as the second best QB on the field. Neither effort was what the fan base envisioned before each game and both have contributed to the notion that Sark, when given time, can devise game plans and prepare teams for Bowls. However, the true master of preparing underdogs for big games just happens to be the man on the other side of field. Chris Petersen not only sports a completely ridiculous 82-8 record as the head coach of Boise State (a Boise State team that has lost only once to a Pac 12 team - that being a Ty Willingham led Husky squad), but he has also engineered some of the most thrilling upsets in the history of the sport. In particular, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl (which, incidentally, is probably the most thrilling football game I've ever seen in my life) was one of the greatest upsets in post-season history not because of the disparity between the two teams, but because, up until that point, the notion that a mid-tier program could compete with CFB royalty like the Oklahoma Sooners was laughable to just about every observer out there. Despite being undermanned, Chris Petersen outplanned, outwitted and outcoached his adversary and, in doing so, sparked the very debate that has led to the formation of the playoff system that will be implemented in just one season. Chris Petersen is, indeed, the master and matching wits against him will be a real test for Coach Sark and Co.
So those are the things I'll be looking out for come Saturday. Unfortunately, I won't be in Las Vegas to protect my fellow Dawgs from themselves. As such, I'll leave you with just one more piece of advice: if the emcee at Absinthe invites you up onto the stage promising you that you'll just have to stand there, just ... say .... no. WOOF!