This is the 11th entry in an ongoing series between Ryan Priest and Alex Hyres. Each week, we'll look at the matchup between Washington and their opponent, give predictions for the game's outcome, and hopefully have a little fun along the way. Up this week is Oregon State. Our previous chats can be found here: Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State,Arizona,Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, California, Colorado, UCLA.
Alex: The UCLA game caused a lot of face to palm action. (Or was it hands to the face? Or face to the hand? Or hand in the face?) Now I'm getting confused. I'll just throw in my yellow towel. (I mean, my yellow flag.)
I hope that last paragraph was as comprehensible as the hands to the face penalty called against the Huskies in the second quarter of last Friday night's game. Though the Huskies have earned a lot of penalties this season, that penalty was not one of them. The Pac-12 even had the gall to admit—on Monday, well after the conclusion of the game—that the refs had made a mistake.
Believing that the Huskies would have won the game if that penalty hadn't been called is more than a stretch; however, it's hard to believe that taking a touchdown off the board would not have affected the outcome. Not only did the penalty negate points, but it also stripped the Huskies of any momentum that would have been created by that play. The Huskies needed any help they could get; unfortunately, they didn't get any help from the men in stripes.
Though the refs impeded our comeback efforts, the necessity of a comeback was created by the Huskies themselves. Back to back turnovers by two of our best players—Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey—put the Huskies in a precarious position for the remainder of the game. With Price at quarterback, the Huskies would have had a chance to come back in the second half. Without Price at quarterback, the Huskies' chances at a comeback were the slimmest of slim. Cyler Miles will be a good, if not great, player for the Huskies, but he was overmatched in the task at hand. Needless to say, there was a lot of face palming in the second half.
I've focused on a lot of the negatives in the UCLA game. What positives, if any, did you take from the game?
Ryan: The biggest positive I took away from Saturday's game is that it gave me no shortage of reasons to reach for my handy bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. Unfortunately for my liver, those reasons—consecutive fumbles on the opening drives, phantom penalties, an injury to the starting quarterback—came early and often.
Kidding aside, it was encouraging to see Damore'ea Stringfellow's breakout performance. After a muted beginning to the season (three catches in four games), String absolutely blew up the scoreboard with eight receptions for 147 yards and a score. (His stat line would have read nine catches for 185 yards and two scores, if the stripes hadn't called that imaginary hands to the face penalty.) His absolute determination in using all of his 225 lbs. to drag two Bruins defenders into the end zone after bringing in a long Cyler Miles pass has whetted my appetite to see what he can do next year, especially alongside a healthy Kasen Williams.
The other major positive that I took away from Friday's game is that even though the Dawgs fell behind early, they never stopped fighting to claw their way back into the game. There were a multitude of times when the Huskies could have thrown in the towel, yet they refused. They showed that, wins and losses aside, this is a team that is willing to fight for their coaches.
Of course, by year five, it's tough to argue that Husky Nation expected to find itself on the verge of losing every true road game that the team has played. I can't help but wonder how different this juncture of the season might look if we had played ASU and UCLA at home, and California and Colorado on the road—clearly, going 4-0 in that stretch is much more realistic than the scenario that the Huskies were presented with this year. I feel like I've said this more times than I can count in the last few years, but the next few games are going to set the tone for how we perceive this team as we enter the bowl game and the postseason. How do you describe your outlook on the season thus far? How do you describe your outlook for the season's remaining games?
Alex: It can be easy to become frustrated with a team in the midst of a season. As football fans, we tend to think too highly of our team after a win, and too lowly of our team after a loss. We probably thought too much of the Huskies after their 4–0 start and too little of them after three straight losses following that start. The wins against lesser Pac-12 opponents made us believe that this team had gained back their swagger, while a loss against a similar opponent made us believe—yet again—that they aren't ready to compete with the best teams in the league.
Steve Sarkisian continues to talk about how close the Huskies are to beating the best teams in the Pac-12. While I am tired of hearing that refrain, I do believe that they are close to putting together a great season. Next season, they will return most of their starters on both sides of the ball, with the notable exceptions being Kevin Smith, Sean Parker, Danny Shelton, and Keith Price. At each of those positions—including and especially quarterback—the Huskies have recruited well and will be poised to break off a great season with the new additions. Most great seasons start at the end of the previous season, which brings me to the here and now.
Momentum is ubiquitous in college football. Whether it's during a single drive, a single quarter, a game, a set of games, or even a season—momentum is often the difference between success and failure. At the end of last season, the Huskies failed to create momentum after losing two winnable games against Washington State and Boise State For the sake of this season and next, the Huskies must create the momentum that comes with a three-game winning streak to end the season. If they finish with yet another 7–6 season, we can look forward to an offseason of questions about the direction of this team. If they finish the season with a 9–4 record, no one will really care about the losses—the focus will be on finally breaking the seal of 7–6 and finishing with a respectable record.
Besides replacing the outgoing starters, what do you think are the chances that the Huskies will have to replace the Bishop?
Ryan: I'm glad you brought up Bishop at the end, because I was going to do so regardless. In your statement above, you indicated that you think the Huskies lose only Danny Shelton of their third-year players who are eligible to enter the draft. For my part, I'd be inclined to think that Shelton sticks around for his senior year—it's hard to believe that he wouldn't improve his draft stock with another year under the tutelage of Justin Wilcox and Tosh Lupoi—and that Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey head to the NFL.
Clearly, ASJ hasn't had the season that he'd hoped for this year, but there's no doubt that he'll be a high draft pick, regardless. He possesses the kind of measureables that NFL scouts drool over, and though his offseason DUI will no doubt cause some to question his maturity and decision-making, I don't see such an isolated episode as something that will cost him dearly. After all, it's not like he quit the team and started dabbling in the booger sugar.
Back to your question, though: 99 times out of 100, I would say that the Huskies would be breaking in a new running back next year, no question. Sankey has every reason to leave: He's going to own some of the major rushing records at Washington, running back careers in the NFL are famously short, and perhaps most importantly, his draft stock won't likely rise by staying for another year. Sankey will have to look no further than Marcus Latimore to see the potential costs of playing an additional year of amateur football. What gives me pause, though, is his obvious commitment to earning his college degree, which is an accomplishment that is clearly a priority for both him and his family. There's a good chance that the latter circumstance will win the argument, and if that's the case, we can bet on seeing Sankey don the purple and gold for one more year in 2014.
Alright, it's time to reach for your crystal ball. Does Saturday mark Washington's first conference road victory for the season? Or will Washington fans yet again lament the team's performance away from Seattle?
Alex: All signs point to another Husky loss this Saturday: A redshirt freshman making his first start on the road. A defense that seems to have regressed since the beginning of the season. And most notably—a history of struggles on the road against Pac-12 opponents.
Yet with all those signs pointing to another loss, I think the Huskies can and will win this game. Cyler Miles has already played a meaningful half of football on the road with some success. I expect that if he gets the call this Saturday night, he will be more successful in a game plan that emphasizes his strengths as a quarterback. The defense will be challenged yet again; however, Oregon State's offensive style seems to play into the strengths of the Husky defense. The history of struggles on the road against Pac-12 opponents is only an issue if the Huskies let it become part of the game. It's up to the coaching staff to ensure that their previous struggles don't impact the game.
For the Huskies to win this game, they will need to rely on the running game. Obviously, Bishop Sankey will be a huge part of that effort, but if the Huskies are going to win this game with Cyler Miles, he needs to be part of that effort too. If the Huskies can keep the ball—or better yet, take it away—from Oregon State's passing attack, they will limit the number of opportunities their regularly-paced offense has to possess the ball. If both of those storylines hold true, I'll call it Washington Huskies 31, Oregon State Beavers 21.
Ryan: Both teams come into this game needing a victory, and badly. The Huskies haven't had anything even resembling a statement victory this year, and for the umpteenth time in his career, Sarkisian finds himself entering a game that has the potential to swing the opinion of the UW fanbase either behind or against him. On the opposite sideline, Mike Riley's Beavers have fallen to 6-4 after losing their last three. On paper, Washington should have the decided advantage: They have a potent rushing attack to match up against the Beavers' anemic run defense; and while Oregon State has the conference's best passing offense by statistics, Sean Mannion has struggled mightily in the last several games, throwing seven picks against just four touchdowns in his last three games.
Ultimately, I'm going to go with recent history: Between Oregon State and Washington, the home team has won each year since 2009, and UW's road struggles have done nothing to convince me that they're prepared to break the streak. I hope like hell that I'm wrong, but I think Washington goes winless in conference road games this year, with a final score of Oregon State 31, Washington 28.