There's a lot of angst, anger and frustration out here among Husky fans in the wake of a close game that came up just short against the favored Boise State Broncos yesterday. The loss leaves the Huskies at 7-6 for the 3rd straight year and means they enter the off-season on a 2-game losing streak. Pressure will mount on Sark & the rest of the coaching staff to show tangible progress next year, as many feel the program is stuck in mediocrity and wonder if Sark can get this program to take the next step from fringe bowl team to legit conference championship contender. I'd like to gently remind readers that Boise State was favored by 5.5, so while losing yesterday was tough to watch given the nature of the game, they actually outperformed what the betting public expected.
But, there's plenty of time to examine the season as a whole and look ahead to what we can expect next season; for now, let's take a look at this game and analyze what went well and what didn't. On to the grades:
QB: I'd like people to look back to last year's Alamo Bowl and recall what Keith Price looked like in that game. I don't mean so much the numbers, though they were terrific - recall how agile and athletic he looked in that game. Compare that to what you saw yesterday - in my view, the KP of now is significantly less agile and quick. I don't know what the real story is with his knees and legs, but he sure looks like a different guy, and it affects his game. Yes, his pass-protection has been less than ideal; yes, he suffers from a lot of drops from guys other than Kasen Williams and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. But I think a big part of his problem is that he's not 100%, or even close. He can't escape pressure like he used to, and I think his footwork is affected.
Yesterday was almost a microcosm of his season: he started off poorly, and in fact he looked really bad early on as he was under a lot of heat, missed open guys and made bad decisions and throws (the interception on the throw to Kasen down the sidelines was a terrible pass). Then he turned things around as he got a little more time in the pocket and started finding ASJ. But in the end he made another bad decision, getting picked-off to end a possible game-winning drive. It wasn't all his fault as he was under a lot of pressure early, and didn't get any help from his receivers other than Kasen & ASJ, but he made a lot of mistakes.
Price wasn't terrible for the day, as he did have a nice stretch from the 2nd quarter until that last pass. But he wasn't good either. He had the two really poor throws for interceptions, he lacked the quickness to escape pressure, he misfired on open guys and he frequently threw into coverage while not spotting wide open guys. Given how gimpy he is, his TD scramble was very impressive as he willed himself across the goal line. But that was about it for his running - he had other opportunities but couldn't take advantage, and his timing and accuracy are off. I said before the game that the OL is the biggest question mark for next season, but I'm inclined now to think that QB is the biggest question mark. We're going to need better play out of the position next year to have the season we want and expect. Grade: D
RB: As disappointing as Price has been this season, Bishop Sankey has been a revelation. I liked what I saw out of him in his limited action last year, but I don't think anyone expected him to produce the 3rd best rushing season in Husky history. He capped off a terrific season with his best game yet, setting a Husky bowl game record with 205 yards on 30 carries, and added another 74 yards on 6 receptions. I thought the Huskies could run on Boise State, but I didn't think they could do that well. Sankey was simply outstanding, finding creases and taking full advantage, cutting upfield at all the right times and running through contact to generate extra yards. He's not the perfect RB as he lacks elite speed, but that's just about the only thing missing. After starting off the year questionable in the passing game, he's now proven to be a great outlet option, and hopefully he can continue to develop that aspect of his game and become a wheel route threat like Chris Polk was before him. The only blemish on Sankey's day was the early fumble (not that I got to see it live - go pound sand you ESPN hacks), but without him the Husky offense would have been in real trouble. Grade: A
WR/TE: A tough group to grade; Kasen and ASJ were terrific as per usual, and the rest of the group was nearly useless, as usual. Jaydon Mickens had multiple drops and DiAndre Campbell was almost completely ineffectual. One thing that would really help the passing game next year is for someone - anyone - to emerge as a dependable option opposite Kasen. Not only would it help the QB to have more options on each play, it would also result in Kasen and ASJ seeing less bracket coverage and double-teaming and make them even bigger threats. On the plus side, these guys blocked well and deserve some credit for Sankey's huge day. Grade: C
OL: This group was as schizophrenic as ever; they were awful in pass-protection early, and though they improved over the course of the game, recall that Boise State's best DE was suspended for the game. On the other hand, they were opening big holes for Sankey in the run game. And when you see that the Husky offense generated 447 yards against a very good defense, you have to look up front and throw some credit their way. Grade: C+
DL: One of the better games this front has played all year. I'm a little surprised to see that Bronco RB D.J. Harper finished with 74 yards, as it seemed like our front pretty consistently held the Boise RB's to 1-2 yard gains. They were good at the point of the attack, holding their gaps and shedding blocks to get their hands on the RB. And while they failed to record a sack on Joe Southwick, Josh Shirley did get some good heat on him including causing 2 fumbles. Shirley was also consistently getting held, something that Kirk Herbstreit pointed out on the broadcast. This was a promising game from a unit that has struggled at times and has been hit hard by injuries. Grade: B-
LB: You can see the potential of this group - a young collection of fast, aggressive players that are improving. What was a huge question mark heading into the season has become the biggest reason for optimism for the defense moving forward. They weren't perfect - Feeney whiffed on a beautifully executed blitz and these guys deserve some of the blame for some poor zone drops that left Boise receivers wide open all game. But they also were swarming to the ball and made it almost impossible for the Broncos to run anything wide as our LB's were too fast to outrun. Grade: B
Secondary: Arguably the worst game of the year for this group. I don't know if they weren't comfortable playing a lot more zone than they normally do, but they were poor vs. the Boise passing game, consistently allowing huge openings in their zone drops. They were also burned badly on the Bronco trick play as Glenn got sucked out of position. They did a nice job in run support, but their primary responsibility was defending the pass, and yet they allowed Southwick to have his best game of the year. Grade: D
Special Teams: While it's unfair to pin the results of a game on one or two plays, you can point to two plays by the special teams there were critical failures - Coons missing a 41-yard FG attempt early in the 4th quarter that would have given the Huskies a 1-point lead, and the short kickoff and terrible coverage on the last kickoff that allowed Boise State to run it back 47 yards and start their game-winning drive on the Husky 42 yard line. Thomas Tutogi abandoned his lane trying to pinch inside, and that's exactly the seam that Shane Williams-Rhodes found as he cut outside for daylight. It's not that the special teams completely failed - Coons did hit his next attempt to give the Huskies a brief lead late, and Danny Shelton made a nice play early to block an extra point. But in a game as close as this one was, those two big errors loom large. Grade: D+
Coaching: For all the gnashing leading up to the game about the coaching edge the Broncos had with Chris Petersen, I thought Sark did well in prepping his team. I will probably always think that he doesn't lean on the run game enough, and I quibbled with a few of his decisions to pass instead of run, but his offensive gameplan overall was a good one that caught Boise State off-guard, rolling up 446 yards and 26 points against a top-20 defense. Imagine how much more impressive the effort would have looked with a strong performance from the QB position. That said, it was also a bit puzzling to see our pass defense - easily the strength of the team this year - look completely ineffectual. I know that Wilcox was likely worried about the Bronco run game, and our safeties were aggressive against the run, but our zone coverage looked as bad as it did during the Holt, Baer and Hundley years. Grade: B-