Welcome to the first UW Dawg Pound roundtable discussion. Taking part are Gekko Mojo, Sundodger, CODawg and kirkd, and we tackle a variety of topics. The first topic comes from me:
Let's talk about the season so far: Has it met your expectations? Exceeded them? Fallen short?
kirkd: If you'd told me before the season started that we'd be 3-3 at this point, I'd have been satisfied, if not on the happy side knowing that at least one of the wins would have come from LSU, Stanford or USC. I figured Stanford was the likeliest of the bunch for us to knock-off, and sure enough - that's who we beat, lifting a big monkey off the backs of these Dawgs. But of course expectations change as a season progresses and you see how the team plays, and depending on what happens to the team along the way. In one sense maybe I should say it's exceeded expectations given the injury situation, especially to the OL. In another sense I'm a little disappointed - that we were blown out by LSU, that we shot ourselves in the foot so much in the first quarter at Oregon and never gave ourselves a chance, and that we started flat again against USC and then shot ourselves in the foot again multiple times (seriously - how many bullet holes can the Dawgs' feet handle?) and blew a game that was clearly winnable. Ultimately I'll settle for satisfied, while looking for the team to win 4 more in the 2nd half of the season.
Gekko Mojo: For me, it's fallen short. While I've been thrilled with the significant improvement on Defense - in particular the play of the secondary (seriously, how many "to the house" plays have we given up?) - I've been quite disappointed in a lot of aspects that I hoped would go better. Keith Price has regressed, even once you normalize his performance against the ghastly offensive line play. The receiving corps has failed to perform despite the presence of veterans (paging Cody Bruns). The D-Line has failed to mount a pass rush. The best of our LBs is an undersized underclassman who just converted from safety. The kicking game is a mess. However, the big thing for me was no more blowouts. Getting destroyed by Oregon and LSU are not the signs I was looking for.
Sundodger: Record-wise, this is probably the most realistic-while-still-
CODawg: This is multi-part answer for me. When I looked at the schedule I said we would be 3-3 at this point. And well, we are. I believed we would beat USC or Stanford but probably not both. So if you look at the record only, the Huskies have met my expectations. But when you get deeper, the defense has been absolutely amazing so far. Not in my wildest dreams did I see this much of a turnaround on the horizon. Wilcox has done an amazing job. The defense is fun to watch. That said, had you told me the defense was going to be this good I would have predicted a 4-2 start. So that takes us to the offense. What happened to Keith Price? Yes, the line is young, inexperienced and learning under pressure. There is no Chris Polk, Devin Aguilar or Jermaine Kearse. But Price doesn't look quite right either. And he has stated as much. However, I thought in the second half of the USC game that we finally saw flashes of the 2011 KP, and I look forward to the second half of the season that gets much easier. It took Sankey a couple starts, but I think he is getting comfortable out there. Campbell and Bruns are both starting to help the passing game. And the young offensive line is maturing before our eyes.
The next topic comes from CODawg:
How do you think the second half plays out and what is your bowl prediction?
CODawg: I believe the Huskies will win 5 of 6 games. To me it's either OSU or at Cal. I will say they go ahead and knock OSU from the unbeatens next week and will end in a 3-way tie for second in the North. I think OSU will falter down the stretch. Of all the teams that will have 3 losses in the PAC 12, I think the Alamo will come calling again. Backup plan would be the Holiday.
kirkd: I'm probably drinking purple Kool-Aid here, but I'm going to call for 5-1 the rest of the way; the Huskies win a close one this weekend, carry that positive momentum into the following week and knock off Oregon State, then falter in Berkeley to the Bears before finishing the season off with 3 straight wins over Utah, Colorado & WSU. That would put us at 8-4 overall and 6-3 in the conference, which ought to be good enough for a Holiday Bowl berth at the least, and possibly a return to the Alamo Bowl if either Oregon or USC end up in the BCS Championship game.
If I'm being less optimistic, I'd say 3-3, with losses potentially to Arizona, Oregon State & Cal before rebounding to win the last 3 to salvage a minor bowl.
Sundodger: 5-1 at best, 4-2 at worst. With the way the defense has shown the first part of the season, I think this team is the one that gets Sarkisian off the schnide as a road coach. But the loss won't be to Oregon State (who is more overrated as a top 10 team than was Stanford when we played them). I honestly don't see the Dawgs losing that game, no matter what the records are going into it. That'll probably be the best home atmosphere of the season. The most likely candidate is at Cal on a Friday. Short week and all, and that (snort) motivation for the Bears.....They may very well drop one they should win. Arizona this week is as good a candidate as any.
I see Sun Bowl. Not exactly pleased by that, but I suppose I'll take it.
Gekko Mojo: Despite my disappointment in the performance of the team thus far, the good news is that we are exactly where we need to be to deliver on the post season expectations of the fan base which, based on our own polls, is a 7-8 win campaign with a third place North Division finish. To get there, we need to win four of our last six and make sure that we handle our business against Oregon State and Cal, in particular. Though our back end is road-heavy, we get favorable matchups against WSU, Cal and Utah to build a foundation of optimism upon.
The next topic comes from Gekko Mojo:
Take a chance and give me one prediction for the second half that the typical fan would call you nuts for making. Need to get the juices flowing? Here's mine: Josh Shirley will finish the season executing at an All Pac 12 Team level including a final sack total of 10.5.
CODawg: Wow, great question. I will predict that Bishop Sankey ends up with over 1200 yards. Maybe that is not too crazy but I see a big second half for the run game.
kirkd: Hmm, good one. This might not be going too far out on a limb, but I'll say that even though Desmond Trufant will end the season on the All Pac-12 First Team Defense and be a 3rd Team All-American on some lists (not a terribly crazy prediction), Marcus Peters will finish the season with more than twice as many interceptions as Trufant, mainly because A) Peters is pretty good, and B) offenses are reluctant to challenge Trufant the rest of the way.
Sundodger: Keith Price will finish with his second consecutive 3,000 yard passing season. Kasen Williams will top 1,000 yards receiving. The defense (by "overall" ranking) will finish in the top 30.
Our last topic comes from Sundodger:
We’ve seen a pretty big change in Sarkisian as a play caller this season. He’s running much more of a true spread attack in terms of his play design both in the running game and in the passing game. Do you think this is a product of the personnel available to him, or do you think we’re seeing the evolution of Sarkisian as a coach?
Sundodger: I think it’s a little bit of both. The personnel issues are the horse, but the relative success he’s had with it is the cart that’ll probably stick around for the duration. There’s been a slow build to this point during the first 3 ½ years Sarkisian has been here. Whether it’s by design or not, all of the QB’s that he’s recruited since Montana (Brown, Lindquist, Miles, and Williams) all fit the mold of pass-first guys that have the ability to turn 5 or 6 designed carries a game into positive yards. Starting next year, the depth at that position is such that he can probably be a little more comfortable seeing that position run the ball without cringing.
I think at his core, he’s a west coast, power running coach. I doubt he’d ever go full Oregon with the spread-option and the tempo. But I also doubt that no matter how well he recruits linemen and fullbacks, the days of him of lining up in the “I” are gone.
Gekko Mojo: Sark the playcaller has evolved out of necessity not just because of personnel, but also because of the nature of the game. Let's face it, playing a straight up pro style - not the Stanford style which depends on gaining numbers advantages on either side of the LOS- requires you to have the personnel to win a majority of your one on one matchups on any given snap since, more times than not, you are telegraphing your play to the D before you snap (even if your QB adjusts at the line). This is a tough thing to achieve in an era of parity brought on by increased exposure of lots of programs and scholarship limits. Even if you can do it, it is still a huge advantage for the other team if they can run 90 plays in a game where you only run 50. No, Sark recognizes that the "time tested" formula is getting blown up by the Kelly's, Gundy's and Holvorson's of the world. He's trying to be innovative in his own way, and rightly so.
CODawg: I believe the play calling is due to the personnel available to him (mostly inexperienced offensive line). As the schedule and offensive line improve, I believe we start seeing play calling more like last year. However, I also believe that Sarkisian is always evolving, so the spread will not totally go away.
kirkd: I think it's a bit of both (how's that for a cop-out answer?) Sark has talked a lot about how he feels the pro-style offense has "stood the test of time", and it was what he ran at USC. Though to be fair, we don't know how much of that was due to Carroll demanding it. When Sark got to the UW, he adapted some to his personnel and used more shotgun and added more spread looks. And while he inherited Jake Locker at QB, he also decided to honor the commitment of Keith Price in his first recruiting class, and every QB he's signed since then is one that has good mobility and isn't strictly a pro-style pocket passer. Also, I think he realizes that his OL play has simply not been good enough to line-up every down with his QB behind the center - the pass-blocking just isn't good enough to keep Price upright with a 5 or 7-step drop.
But I also think it's more than that. While Sark is a pro-style guy at heart, he's also not stupid - he can't be unaware of the trends going on around him and the success being had by guys like Chip Kelly,, Dana Holgerson, etc. Sark is clearly willing to adopt plays and strategies that work, and while he hasn't gone full-blown spread yet, he's not going to ignore what works. What will be interesting to see is if he shifts back to more traditional pro-style sets in future seasons if he can develop an upper-tier OL. I'd bet he will, but I also think certain parts of the spread offense will remain staples in his playbook.
Those are our answers - let's hear from you. What do you think?