This is the third 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 Idaho State. Our previous chats are linked here: Boise State, Illinois.
Ryan: Well, I'm as happy as the next guy to see the Dawgs get a non-conference road win, but did they really have to let Illinois make it interesting toward the end? UW continues to have trouble putting away inferior teams, but at least this time those struggles came in a winning effort. I'll take an imperfect win over a pretty loss any day.
After getting lucky with some deep-ball drops against Boise State and the Illini, UW's secondary took its first serious beating on Saturday when Nathan Scheelhaase hit Ryan Lankford in stride for a 72-yard touchdown, beating Greg Ducre on the coverage. With the amount of one-on-one coverage the Husky defensive scheme calls for, we all knew that it was just a matter of time until this happened. Hopefully it'll be a teachable moment for the entire secondary (and, though it hardly bears mentioning, it's always nice when such moments come in a win).
Bishop Sankey continued to show why he is a Doak Walker Award candidate, collecting 208 yards and two scores on a heavy load of 35 carries. Dwayne Washington, after a solid debut against Boise State, had his "welcome to college football" moment when he fumbled the ball away to Illinois each of his two carries, and was thereafter benched in favor of Jesse Callier for the remainder of the contest. I can't hate on him too much, though—I remember being in the stands at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln when UW took on Nebraska in 2011, and watching Sankey as a true freshman cough up a kickoff on the 1-yard line that allowed the Huskers to score 14 points in the space of about 10 seconds. Mistakes happen, especially for players who have barely seen the field as college athletes, and he'll eventually be a better player for having gone through this.
Kevin Smith's triumphant return as a dangerous downfield target has been nothing short of a treat to watch, and you can see the joy on his face from being able to play the game well once more. Jaydon Mickens continues to impress, and Kasen Williams made the most of his grabs, including an impressive second-try snag on a ball that Keith Price rocketed 43 yards in the third quarter. ASJ was quiet and had an altogether disappointing game in which he incurred more penalty yards than he earned receiving yards, but if there's any player on this team I'm not worried about falling into a multi-game slump, it's him—he's too fierce of a competitor to do so.
After two games, my perception of this team is beginning to take shape around two central observations. First, this is UW's most complete and consistent team under Sarkisian; and second, their struggle to put away an inferior team shows that they're still a year away from legitimately challenging for a conference championship.
What were your takeaways from Washington's win at Soldier Field? I know I talked a lot about the offense, and Shirley (*cough cough*) there's someone on the defense you'd like to bring up.
Alex: Well Priest, you read my mind. Josh Shirley—playing a limited number of snaps from the rush end position—was an absolute force on the defensive line throughout the game. Even as the Huskies employed a "smaller" defensive line unit in obvious passing downs, Shirley was able to apply relentless pressure to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, resulting in bad throws and sacks. Shirley was definitely the most efficient player on defense, making the most of his opportunities to affect the game. He is now someone that future opposing defensive coordinators will have to account for in their game plans, which bodes well for the rest of the Husky defense—especially the other guys on the defensive line.
I have to admit that when the Huskies led 31-10 at the end of the third quarter after a 9-yard pass by Keith Price to Jaydon Mickens, I was feeling pretty good about my prediction. However, the Fighting Illini took advantage of a brief lapse in the secondary en route to nearly finding their way to be within a touchdown of the Dawgs before the Huskies finished them off with a field goal and some defensive stops.
While I agree with you about this team being the most complete and consistent in Sarkisian's tenure as UW's head coach, I don't agree that the Huskies' inability to put away the Fighting Illini means that they are still a year away from contending for a conference championship. They won a game on the road, against a team from a major conference. Now, it's fair to say that the Big 10 may be one of the weakest major conferences, but it was a win in which the Huskies controlled the game throughout and even dominated it during certain portions—that drive to begin the second half was impressive. This game will help build confidence among the Huskies, yet it still serves as a learning opportunity. Winning a game and being able to learn from it is the best of both worlds.
When the Huskies travel down here to the Bay Area to face Stanford for their first Pac-12 road game, they will be able to draw confidence from their victory against Illinois and the previous year's victory against the Cardinal. If the Huskies are going to compete for a conference championship, I believe that is a must-win game.
With a game against a significantly lesser opponent, it can be easy to get complacent—as many teams have found with the proliferation of games against FCS opponents.
What do you think the Huskies need to do to avoid complacency and make the most of this game against Idaho State?
Ryan: I couldn't agree more that the Stanford game in Palo Alto will be a must-win if the Huskies are to challenge for the Pac-12 north division championship, but that's getting ahead of ourselves a bit. We've got a few games to think about before we look into that one, not least of which is this weekend's contest against the Idaho State Bengals.
Simply put, Saturday's game represents a major part of what I don't like about college football: The scheduling of patsies to inflate records. I don't buy the argument that it's OK because every conference is doing it (I'm looking directly at you, SEC), either. In my mind, it's essentially a built-in bye week that does nothing more than pad the stats of star players without ever offering a moment of the thrill of competitiveness that we all hope to get from watching a great contest. I can only hope that the College Football Playoff's selection committee, which will be convened for the first time next year, gives teams incentives to not schedule games like these.
Alright, I'll get off my soapbox now. The key to Washington being able to call this week a success is whether or not they're able to maintain a sense of consistency. The Dawgs have shown a troubling inability so far to avoid penalties, especially inexcusable personal fouls, and not figuring that issue out before conference play opens could easily cost them a game or two later in the season. If UW is able to maintain composure and get its starters onto the bench by about 20 minutes into the game (which should be a totally feasible goal in a contest that will likely resemble this), I'll call the team's effort a success.
What's the biggest area of growth that you think this team needs to show before they open conference play against Arizona?
Alex: I agree with you about the schedule. Up until a few years ago, the Huskies were one of only six FBS programs that had yet to play a lower division school. Unfortunately, a string of bad seasons in a row coupled with an athletic director from SEC country led to the Huskies' breaking the seal. Scott Woodward's philosophy in scheduling non-conference games has been referred to as "ABC"—one "A" team such as LSU, one "B" team such as Illinois, and one "C" team such as Eastern Washington—which works if you are actually playing those caliber of teams. I find it hard to believe that Boise State is a legitimate "A" team and the same for Idaho State as a "C" team. Nonetheless, the schedule is set, so it's my time to vacate the soapbox.
Now, on to your question. For any football team, at any level, staying healthy is always one of the keys to a successful season; however, injuries are inevitable. The Huskies have made it through the season relatively unscathed besides the leg injury to Erik Kohler, a pinkie problem for Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and the head injury sustained by John Timu in the last game (thanks for letting us know about that one, Big 10 Network—sike). Staying healthy will be important for the Huskies in this game—just as it is in any other game.
In an effort mitigate the potential of losing a player later on in the season, I would like to see players like Damore'ea Stringfellow, Darrell Daniels, Dwanye Washington, and Cyler Miles play for some extended periods of time to build some confidence before going into Pac-12 play. Each one of the guys I just mentioned are a play away from becoming a player that the Huskies would need to rely for success during the rest of the season. Even if there aren't any injuries that force these guys into meaningful action where they are expected to produce this year, they will be in that position during the future. A few catches or solid runs could be enough to build their confidence, which is only possible if the first team personnel get the job done during the first half.
I think its time for a prediction, but this time with a twist. Besides giving a prediction, let's put something on the line in the case of a Husky loss.
Ryan: I know that pride goes before the fall, but I'm going to state this unequivocally: There is absolutely zero chance that this is a close game in the fourth quarter. None, zip, zilch, nada. Tell you what, this will make my friend Sam happy: If Washington loses to Idaho State, I will wear Sam's Joey Harrington jersey instead of my ASJ threads when Washington plays Oregon.
You know how I feel after typing that? Fine. Cool as a cucumber, in fact.
The reason I feel that way is that Idaho isn't just an FCS team. They're not even just a bad FCS team. They're a really, really, bad FCS team. Since 2008, the Bengals have gone 8-50, and have not won more than two games in one season during that stretch. In 2011, they gave up 64 points to a Washington State team that only scored 358 of them during the course of a season that ended with the termination of Paul Wulff's tenure as the Cougars' head coach.
In light of that, I don't think that the 53-point spread in favor of the Huskies is unreasonable, but I also know that Sark has never been one to run up the score for the sake of doing so. The only way I see this game really getting to be ridiculous on the scoreboard is if Idaho State is unable to do tackle Washington's second- and third-string running backs and receivers—which, now that I think about it, is not at all out of the question.
Can I just say Washington a plethora, Idaho State a dearth? No? Fine then, Washington 52, Idaho State 9.
Alex: In the first half, I predict that the usual suspects will get theirs—Price throws for two touchdowns and 250 yards including a strike to Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey reaches 150 yards with two touchdowns (yawn). Oh, and John Ross finally gets that special teams touchdown I've been calling for since the beginning of the season.
After the first half, during which the Husky offense finally converts copious amounts of yards into points, the second-team offense led by Cyler Miles continues the offensive onslaught with a balanced attack. Dwanye Washington bounces back from a tough game against Illinois with a 100-yard rushing game and a touchdown. Darrell Daniels and Damore'ea Stringfellow combine for six catches and a touchdown to round out the second-team production.
If the Huskies fail to win, I will wear an Oregon Ducks t-shirt and a wig for a week to practice for the freshman team that I coach.
I'll call it Washington Huskies 56 and Idaho State Bengals 13.