Husky Nation has developed a growing dread about road games as the Sark era has progressed. And while some of that angst may be overblown, nobody can deny that the loss Friday night to the Bruins fed right into those fears. It had a little of everything - a terrible start that spiraled out of control to leave the Huskies in a big deficit, some terrific play that got the Huskies close but not close enough, bad penalties that stalled drives, terrible penalty calls by the officials that wiped out big plays by the Huskies and costly injuries that dimmed Husky hopes. In the end, it was yet another road loss, the 5th consecutive such loss and another failure to record a big road win. This was a prime opportunity for Sark to quiet his critics, and his failure to do so leaves him wide open for criticism.
QB: Tough game for Keith Price. He was playing pretty well in this one and was in the middle of helping the Huskies dig out of the deep hole they had dug for themselves when he went down hard on his throwing shoulder and couldn't return. I'm sure this isn't how he wanted his last game in L.A. in front of friends & family to go. As a result of his injury, we got to see Cyler Miles in his first meaningful action, and while he showed flashes of promise, he also showed why he's behind KP on the depth chart. It certainly didn't help him that Micah Hatchie went down with an ankle injury - that allowed Anthony Barr to become a real factor and Miles was facing more pass rush than KP. His release is slow which hurts him on the flare passes and bubble screens because it gives the defense more time to react, but showed nice touch on the intermediate throws and a good rapport with Damore'ea Stringfellow. He also showed rookie problems with reading the defense, and his two picks killed any hopes for a comeback. He also appeared bottled up on the ground as UCLA was taking away the read-option, but that remains a big part of what he can bring to the offense. Grade: B-
RB: Not the best of nights for Bishop Sankey. While he wasn't getting much in the way of holes to run through, he also appeared a little slow and a little easier to bring down than normal, though we should probably give a lot of credit to the size and athleticism of the UCLA front 7. Sankey's early fumble was also a big part of the self-inflicted hole the Huskies dug for themselves. There were times it seemed like he was just a half-step away from breaking some big gains, but credit the Bruin defense - they appeared focused on not letting the Husky run game beat them, and they succeeded. Grade: C+
WR/TE: This was a breakout game for true frosh Damore'ea Stringfellow as we saw what all the hype was about from his recruitment. While not a blazer, he was able to get open deep a few times and showed pretty good hands, great physicality and a good sense of how to use his size to his advantage. He should only get better. Kevin Smith made some nice plays as he continues to have a nice Senior season (as Husky fans scratch their heads over why he didn't redshirt last year). Jaydon Mickens did OK with the bubble screens, but danced a little too much on a few. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was unable to follow-up on a strong showing last week with a big fumble on the first possession and coming up a hair short on a big sideline catch to extend a drive. Marvin Hall got open deep and was able to barely hang on, but he did manage the catch even if he failed to take it to the house. Grade: B
OL: Micah Hatchie has taken a lot of grief from Husky fans, but he's quietly had a decent season and was rendering Anthony Barr a non-factor. But once he went down and Ben Riva had to slide over to LT, we began to appreciate Hatchie more. This was a poor performance from the line as they were unable to open many holes for Sankey and allowed a Bruin front 7 that had been in the bottom third in the country in sacks to rack up 4 of them plus many more knock-downs (including the crunching hit that knocked KP out of the game). It's been said many, many times, but if Sark loses his job here, you can look no further than how he's recruited and developed his OL to find the biggest reason why. Grade: F
DL: Tough one to grade; Danny Shelton had a big night, leading the team in tackles and making his presence felt throughout, and Hau'oli Kikaha had a pretty good game himself with 8 tackles and a sack. But the Bruins controlled the line of scrimmage and opened a lot of holes for their RB's, and despite the 3 true frosh in their lineup, the Huskies didn't get as much pressure on Brett Hundley as they needed to. The lack of a consistent pass-rush threat opposite of Kikaha or next to Shelton continues to be a problem; Josh Shirley got a lot of playing time, but he's still a liability vs. the run and was unable to get to Hundley on passing downs. Evan Hudson was just a guy most of the night, and while Cory Littleton forced and recovered a fumble, he's too often a step slow on the rush or late on the tackle. He needs to continue to build his strength and size. Grade: C
LB: Another tough one to grade - I thought Shaq Thompson had one of his best games as a Husky, flying into the backfield for a couple tackles for loss and utilized more than I can remember on blitzes (and looking pretty good in the process) and added a pass breakup. Princeton Fuimaono was 2nd in tackles with 9, but too many of those were downfield as the Husky LB's had trouble bringing down the bigger UCLA backs, especially Myles Jack. John Timu missed a lot of time with an injury and Thomas Tutogi is just not fast enough to be effective vs. most Pac-12 offenses. Too often the Huskies seemed to be more interested in trying to punch the ball out rather than focusing on bringing down the ball-carrier, and the LB's were most often the guilty parties. Grade: D+
Secondary: As I had feared, UCLA had too many good receivers for our guys to cover. It was not a good game for Greg Ducre or true frosh Kevin King, and Sean Parker negated a crucial interception by knocking down the receiver first. All game long you could see that & Keith Heyward didn't have a lot of confidence in anyone other than Marcus Peters, as he was consistently the only DB playing close to the line. Peters had a pretty strong game, and the pass interference penalty against him was a joke, though it ended up not mattering much as the Bruins ran out the half without scoring. The Huskies really need some guys to step up and give Peters some support. Grade: C
Special Teams: A mixed-bag. Travis Coons remains a stud, and while his 48 yard attempt was a little low, that blocked kick falls more on a breakdown in the blocking up front. He continues to be a weapon with punt fakes, and give the guys a lot of credit for recognizing the opportunity and calling the audible to the fake and blocking it well. Kickoff coverage was again poor and John Ross continues to make some bone-headed decisions on when to bring out kicks. Grade: C+
Coaching: How you grade this depends in large part on how much you think the personality of the coach plays a part in how the team plays and how much you think the rough start by the Huskies reflected problems in the preparation of the team and some issue with Sark's leadership. What I saw was a lot of things that just didn't break Washington's way - ASJ's fumble was a bad start, but given the placement of the pass it would have been tough for him to secure the ball, and credit Jordan Zumwalt for the perfect hit to jar it loose. And then Sankey had the key fumble, followed by a great strip by the Huskies off of Jack, only somehow Shaq failed to fall on the ball. Add in the phantom hands to the face penalty against Dexter Charles that wiped out a TD and you had a "here we go again" terrible start to a road game as the Huskies dug themselves a hole that proved too deep to recover from.
By the same token, this team didn't quit, and you can only wonder if things might have turned out differently if both KP and Hatchie had not gone down with injuries. UCLA was determined to stop the UW run game and our guys weren't blocking it well, so I can't fault Sark for leaning on the passing game. And it was working pretty well, but Mora's gamble was that his guys would get enough pressure on KP to kill some drives, and ultimately they won that battle by cutting short KP's night.
Wilcox didn't have his best night - the UW defense simply couldn't adjust enough to keep the Bruin run game from doing what they wanted to, and his guys continued to miss too many tackles and allow UCLA to convert 3rd down plays when initial contact should have left them short.
Ultimately though it falls on Sark as the head coach - if his OL isn't getting the job done, that's on him; those are his guys coached by his choice for position coach. If his backup QB isn't capable of winning a tough game on the road, that's on him for how he's recruited and developed the position. If his team continues to let themselves get buried early against good teams on the road, that's something he has to figure out how to fix. And while he can't control terrible penalty calls that go against his team, it's hard not to think that all of the legit penalties they incur contribute to refs not giving the Huskies the benefit of the doubt. It's great that they showed fight and made a game out of it, but it wasn't enough. This was a big game that Sark needed to keep the wolves at bay, and he has to live with the consequences of once again falling short. Grade: D