It was a picture-perfect Saturday as Washington re-opened the new Husky Stadium in front of a loud, raucous sell-out crowd. And while neither the stadium experience nor the game itself were perfect, they were both damn good. How good? Let's go through the position groups and discuss:
QB: No player on this team faced more pressure heading into this season than Keith Price. His final play of 2012 was an interception that clinched a close, frustrating loss against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. And wouldn't you know it - his first pass of 2013, against these same Broncos, was another interception. Here we go again? Nope. Price didn't let the pick rattle him, and he quickly bounced back with a TD drive that saw him complete 7 of 8 passes as the Huskies took a lead they'd never relinquish. The up-tempo clearly suited him, and he benefited from much better pass protection and a wealth of reliable targets, as well as a strong running game to keep the defense honest. He made a couple more errors in the 1st half where he got jumpy in the pocket and missed seeing some open receivers downfield, but he was playing pretty well.
He did even better in the 2nd half, where I'm struggling to think of any mistakes he made. He was on-target, authoritative, confident and making play after play after play. He finished 23-31 (74%) for 324 yards and 2 TD's against the 1 interception. And while he probably won't ever be the threat on the ground that his huge Alamo Bowl game suggested, he did pick up another 25 yards on the ground and showed good mobility to escape the rush - his scramble and TD strike to Josh Perkins in the 3rd Quarter was a gem of a play.
He wasn't perfect, but he was very, very good, and a performance like this suggests that he's ready to put 2012 behind him, and not only could he match his 2011 play, he could surpass it. Grade: A-
RB: Husky fans are quickly going to get spoiled when it comes to the running game, as we are witnessing some of the best RB play in Husky history in back to back careers. When Chris Polk left a year early for the NFL, there was a lot of worry about how the Huskies would replace him; as it turns out Bishop Sankey might be even better, and that's heady praise. He hits the hole hard, has terrific lateral quickness, runs hard, and tops that off with outstanding vision. He finds whatever hole exists and exploits it. This was another fantastic game from Sankey (25 carries, 161 yards, 2 TD's), and his success on the ground was a factor in keeping the Bronco defense honest.
Dwayne Washington looked good too - he runs hard and with good pad level for a big back. He doesn't show the same shiftiness of Sankey, but he looks like a reliable backup and should improve with more reps. This position is in good hands. Grade: A
WR/TE: Last year Price had two reliable targets in Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins; beyond that, things were dicey. What a difference a year makes. Despite not having ASJ available due to suspension, Washington was able to take advantage of Boise focusing on Kasen, and Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith and John Ross took advantage. Mickens in particular was a revelation; last year as a true frosh you could see his quickness and burst, but his hands were iffy, and the Huskies didn't have a lot success getting him the ball in space. Last night they did, and Mickens showed why he was a highly regarded recruit, hauling in 9 passes for 109 yards and adding 8 yards on a carry out of the backfield. Credit should also go to Kasen and Smith for outstanding blocking on the edge - they were frequently big reasons why Mickens was able to turn swing passes into big gains. Smith also showed nice hands on his 42 yard gain, stretching out to haul in a long ball that was at his fingertips.
Josh Perkins got into the act too, breaking just ahead of his defender in the back of the end zone to haul in a perfect strike from Price. Hartvigson had no catches, but was effective in the run game sealing the edge and allowing Sankey to turn upfield. Grade: A
OL: If Price was the player under the most pressure heading into this season, the OL was arguably the position group under the most pressure. After a well-documented tough year last year, particularly in pass protection, they were expected to show significant improvement this year as they returned 5 players with significant starting experience. And they did - they allowed just one sack (which was more on KP than the OL) and gave him adequate time to throw, and blocked well enough for the run game to pick up 268 yards. Ben Riva faced off against Boise's touted DE Demarcus Lawrence and rendered him virtually a non-factor.
There's no question the up-tempo helps this group, and most of the pass plays were quick throws that didn't require 5+ seconds of protection, but they did their job in keeping Price upright for the vast majority of the game. Grade: A
DL: This wasn't a spectacular game for any of the DL, but a good, workmanlike effort that allowed the back 7 to make plays. Danny Shelton was strong in the middle, and it was noticeable when he was on the sidelines getting a breather. Hau'oli Kikaha had a strong return after missing most of the last two seasons, and he helps significantly in an area that was a problem for this DL last year: sealing the edge. While some will worry about this group not getting any sacks, they did get pressure on Joe Southwick and forced a few throw-aways or runs that fell short of the first down. Grade: B-
LB: The strength of the defense, this group did their jobs and showed why they are one of the better LB groups around. They filled their gaps, they tackled well and they kept most plays from advancing into the secondary. John Timu was all over the field, leading the way with 13 tackles and Shaq Thompson was right behind him with 9 more. Princeton Fuimaono showed why he's listed as a co-starter with Travis Feeney, making a lot of big tackles to get the defense off the field on 3rd downs. Grade: A-
Secondary: An area of some concern heading into the season as they had to replace 1st round CB Desmond Trufant and underrated FS Justin Glenn, they had a terrific game. They kept the Broncos from getting anything downfield, keeping everything in front of them and making a number of big deflections. Sean Parker had a huge play when he got the ball back for the Huskies after KP's pick and was his usual enforcer self laying big hits. Will Shamburger had a great night taking over for Glenn making some big tackles in the open field fighting through screens. Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre both had strong games and provide some hope that any dropoff in the play of the corners will be minimal. Grade: A
Special Teams: Overall, a pretty good showing by this unit. Travis Coons nailed his only FG attempt, the Huskies got a critical FG block early in the game to keep the Broncos scoreless, Cameron Van Winkle did a good job on kickoffs and Ross showed his explosive potential on one kickoff return. The coverage units were decent, and Coons was steady on punts (they were very close to pinning Boise inside the 1 yard line on his first punt). Ross showed his youth on his other kickoff return, reversing field and predictably winding up with only 8 yards, and probably should have tried to field that final Boise State punt which ended up rolling nearly 20 yards and pinning the Dawgs inside their 5 yard line. It was late in the game with the score well in hand, so the impact was minimal, but it's something for him to work on. Grade: B+
Coaching: The up-tempo no-huddle attack worked as hoped, and the Huskies did a great job of pushing the pace. While the playbook wasn't necessarily new, it was more focused - gone was anything under center, and it was all about shotgun with zone-read and package plays. They showed much better execution on their horizontal swing plays and added a wrinkle or two to their package plays. They had a few issues with timing on the snaps, but they should work out those kinks as the season progresses.
The defense looked surprised at the start of the game in response to Boise matching the Huskies lightning pace and were slow getting into position, and they had some issues in the first half wrapping up on Jay Ajayi, but they buckled down and were terrific in the red zone, keeping the Broncos with a TD for the first time in 16 years. Wilcox seemed content to keep everything in front of his defense, letting Southwick dink and dunk, but they stepped up on 3rd downs, limiting Boise to 8 of 19 (42%) and 1 of 2 on 4th down.
It was impressive was how the Huskies romped in the 2nd half. Boise State appeared to be in great position to make a tight game of it when they marched downfield on their opening drive of the 2nd half and kicked the FG to trim the lead to 10-6, but from then on it was all Huskies, as the next 28 points were all Washington touchdowns. Whatever the coaches were preaching in the locker room, it worked. And in the bigger picture, you have to be impressed at how focused, confident and poised this team was in a setting that could have had them distracted and overly wound up. Instead, they looked like a team on a mission. And this was probably one of the very few times you could look at a Boise State game and say the guy on the opposing sideline out-coached Chris Petersen.
What Sark will like the most is that, despite the Huskies winning going away, there were still plenty of things he'll be able to point to in the film room with the team this week as areas for improvement. This team routed what is expected to be a pretty good team, and didn't need a perfect game to do it. Grade: A