Breakout star RB Bishop Sankey - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Next up in our series that looks back at the 2012 season and grades each position group, the running backs. This was an area that had a lot of question marks heading into the season. How well did they answer them?
If we'd told you prior to Fall Camp last year that the Huskies - already minus their No. 2 all-time leading rusher in Chris Polk who left early for the NFL - would see Deontae Cooper go down for the year with his third knee injury and that they'd lose Jesse Callier for the season in the season opener, chances are you'd have been highly concerned about the UW running game in 2012. Instead, this was an area that was a pleasant surprise, especially considering the circumstances.
Kirk: I had been a fan of Bishop Sankey after the brief glimpses we'd seen of him in 2011 - he showed good burst to the hole and some shiftiness. I expected he'd earn a job share with Callier and essentially be a co-starter for the year. However I did not expect that, as a true sophomore, he'd be capable of being the primary back and not only hold up all season long to the wear and tear, but post the third-highest rushing total in Husky history. Even for someone that was already a fan of his, he was a revelation. He built off the talents that he displayed as a freshmen, showing much improved physicality and ability to run through tackles in a way that reminded of his predecessor Polk. He improved as a receiving threat as the season wore on, becoming an important safety valve option for Keith Price. His pass-blocking still needs some work, but he shows a willingness which is key. The yardage wasn't all him, as he got some nice running lanes from his line, but he also showed good vision by picking the right holes and displaying burst where needed and patience to wait for the lanes to develop when needed.
When Callier went down it created a scramble to find a backup that Sark had confidence in. True frosh were called into action - first up was Erich Wilson, who showed good burst of his own, but also plays with a less physical style than Sankey. Wilson lacked the necessary bulk to handle the pounding nature of the college game, though, and his time decreased over the course of the season as the nicks and bumps he suffered caught up with him. Next up was Kendyl Taylor. Taylor started the season as a slot receiver, but he had experience in high school as an RB and is a more stout physique than Wilson, and when Wilson started getting dinged up, Taylor was shifted to RB duties and acquitted himself nicely, finishing second on the team with 35 carries for 209 yards (6.0 ypc). He was mostly used on sweeps and stretch plays and as a receiving option, but showed a lot of promise. It appeared he took on the role that the coaches expected Callier would fill in the running game.
At fullback was Sr. Jonathan Amosa, who did pretty well in his limited snaps as a blocker and showed good hands on the few occasions Price threw it his way. Dezden Petty saw action as a big back when the Huskies were looking for tough yards, and his performance was mixed. There will be pressure on him this spring to prove he still deserves a spot in the fall when the freshmen arrive and scholarships are at a premium.
Ryan Priest: Entering fall camp, most everyone expected Jesse Callier, Deontae Cooper and Bishop Sankey to battle for the job that Chris Polk had seized with an iron grip for the three years that he wore purple and gold. However, by the end of UW's first offensive series of the season, both Cooper and Callier had gone down with season-ending ACL injuries, and true sophomore Bishop Sankey found himself with the role of featured back unexpectedly thrust upon him. Sankey, who toted the rock just 28 times in his debut season, proceeded to gain a pitiful 16 yards on eight carries against LSU, and UW fans girded themselves for an epic disaster of a ground game in 2012. Instead, Sankey improved more than just about any other player on the team (if not the conference) from the beginning of the season through the end, finishing the year with 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Perhaps his shining moment was a performance for the ages of 144 yards on 20 carries in a winning effort against eventual conference champion Stanford, who finished the year with the nation's No. 5 rushing defense. Sankey's primary backups were a pair of true freshman, Erich Wilson II and converted wide receiver Kendyl Taylor, who in a perfect world would have undoubtedly each taken a redshirt in their debut campaigns. In the coming season, there's little reason to think that Sankey won't have a firm handle on the starting job, and will likely get preseason all-conference and All American consideration off of the strength of his 2012 performance. While Callier and Cooper both continue to recover from their injuries, the hope is that they'll each return ready and able to play in 2013, though ACL recoveries are always far from certain (especially for Cooper, who suffered his third such injury in three years but the first in that particular knee). The smart money has got to be on Wilson and Taylor being utilized in backfield receiving and checkdown roles, and with 2013 enrollee Lavon Coleman seeing the field early and often to spell Sankey.
Jack Follman: Sankey gets an A for completely filling Chris Polk's shoes and improving his ball handling a little bit. The only problem was that there were absolutely no other options in the backfield.
Jeffrey Gorman: Replacing Chris Polk was one of the big offseason story lines for this Husky team. Who would replace the 3 time offensive MVP and 2nd all time career leading rusher in Husky history? Up until the Stanford game, that question still didn't have a clear answer. Jesse Callier, who was expected to be the first option, was lost for the season in Week 1. Erich Wilson II had a few nice runs early in the season but as a true freshman proved to be more a project than immediate help at the running back spot. For these reasons, Kendyl Taylor was moved from slot WR to running back and proved to be a nice option behind the new number 1 running back, Bishop Sankey.
During the Stanford game, Sankey announced himself to Husky fans and the conference with 144 hard fought yards, including a 61-yard touchdown as the 3rd quarter closed. In a losing effort against Oregon, he gained 104 yards and two touchdowns, including this spectacular effort from 6 yards out. He finished his season with at least 139 yards in 4 of his final 5 games, including a fantastic 205 yard performance against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The only game in which he didn't hit 139, in the Apple Cup against Washington State, he still scored 2 touchdowns. Finishing with 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns, he transformed a position with immense question marks into one of the finest seasons a Husky running back has ever had. He currently sits at third for most yards in a season by a running back, behind Napoleon Kaufman and Chris Polk.
Other than Sankey, few other backs got many carries, mostly because Sankey proved to be a durable, every down back. Kendyl Taylor nonetheless proved himself to be a playmaker who when he gets the ball in space can be very dangerous. Erich Wilson and "big back" Dezden Petty did not contribute much and could be lost in the shuffle if Callier and oft-injured Deonte Cooper come back healthy. A great season by Bishop Sankey and the Husky running backs!