After last night's debacle, one of the last things I want to do is dive back into the details of the game and analyze what went right and what went wrong. Honestly, it took a lot of willpower to not throw things at the TV last night, and I couldn't bear to log in to any Husky sites and read the comments - I needed to cool off and let rationality replace rage. Even after a night's sleep and a morning with the kiddos I'm still pissed, but duty calls, so here we go:
QB: While there are plenty other areas of concern with this team right now, issue #1 is Keith Price. Yes, his OL is a sieve. Yes, his receivers - other than ASJ and to a lesser extent Kasen - aren't helping him much by not getting open often enough. Yes, Sark probably wasn't doing him favors by leaning so heavy on the passing game last night, especially in the 1st half. There's still a big problem with KP: he's missing too many throws, he's still too careless with the ball, he doesn't look right physically either running or throwing the ball, and most worrisome, there's a trust issue between him and his coaches. This has to get fixed, because clearly Sark doesn't feel he can trust Derrick Brown, and he clearly wants to redshirt Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist.
Price had moments where he flashed his brilliance from last year, but overall he was forcing the ball, not trusting his reads, making inaccurate throws and just wasn't leading the team the way you need your QB to do. His fumble on the second play of the 2nd half - after the Husky D had stripped the ball away from Carey on the first play, giving the offense great field position - was a killer. The Huskies had a great opportunity to try and take momentum in the game and perhaps close the score to 31-24, but instead they coughed it right back up and you could feel the remaining air rushing out of the balloon. Getting Price right is job #1 for Sark, and everything else is a distant second. Grade: D
RB: One of the only bright spots of the game was the running of Bishop Sankey and Kendyl Taylor. Granted, the Wildcats are surrendering the most yards per game rushing of any Pac-12 team, but Sankey and especially Taylor looked terrific getting to the edges and turning upfield with authority. The staff clearly doesn't feel like Taylor is a between the tackles runner at this point, but if the OL can seal the edges and get him outside cleanly, he's a real weapon. Sankey also established he can be a reliable safety-valve option. It's just a shame Sark didn't lean more heavily on these guys. As well as they were running, I was shocked at the end of the game to see they'd only gained 134 yards between them - they were under utilized in a big way. Grade: B+
WR/TE: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is just a beast. He's clearly not 100% physically, but he's still so talented that it doesn't matter - he's a weapon on the field. Kasen showed how his physical superiority can turn 1-2 yard quick throws to the sideline into 6-7 yard gains. What he hasn't done a good job of is providing Price a consistent downfield target. And the rest of the receiving group continues to be MIA. While you can blame Price for the throw that was way behind Bruns that should have gone for a TD - and instead went for another interception - you can also blame the receivers for frequently not providing open targets for Price on the plays where he actually had some time in the pocket. There were far too many plays where Price had protection, bought more time by scrambling but still couldn't find an open receiver and had to throw the ball away. ASJ was an A+, Kasen was an A-, and the rest were an F. Grade: C
OL: A much-maligned unit, the OL started off well, sealing off the edges and springing Sankey & Taylor for nice gains, and providing Price with more time in the pocket than he's had since Portland St. But Arizona DC Jeff Casteel realized as the game wore on that he could get pressure on Price by bringing extra guys, and then the pass-protection went to hell. LT Micah Hatchie just can't be trusted to consistently protect Price's blindside, which is scary because he's the best OT on the roster right now. Ben Riva finally returned, and he was part of the reason the run game was effective, but he's also just not there yet as a pass-blocker. If I were splitting the grades, I'd give them an A- for run-blocking and a D- for pass-blocking considering that once Arizona decided to turn up the heat on Price, the OL was helpless to stop them. Arizona came into the game with 6 sacks in 6 games; they had 4 last night. Grade: D+
DL: NT Danny Shelton continues to progress, but he's not getting any help from the guys around him. Andrew Hudson is just not providing much pass-rush and he's too small to hold his gap; Talia Crichton is even worse. One would hope that touted Fr. Pio Vatuvei or once-touted Jr. Sione Potoa'e could provide some support, but they have been basically invisible. JC transfer Josh Banks wasn't much better. They were a big reason Ka'Deem Carey had a big night, as they were rarely controlling the line of scrimmage and plugging gaps, and they generated almost no pressure on Matt Scott, save for the one sack by Josh Shirley that resulted in a fumble. That alone saves this group from a failing grade: Grade: D
LB: DC Justin Wilcox placed a lot on the shoulders of this group, opting to spend most of the game in a 3-4 alignment, and they failed. They simply couldn't fill gaps and wrap up effectively to keep Carey from running all over them, and that failure against the run led to system failures in the secondary as the safeties were cheating toward the line to help slow down the run. They were fooled badly on a number of Scott option keepers, and other than Feeney being in the right place to make an interception, they had basically no positive plays. Grade: D-
Secondary: This was the poorest performance of the year from what has been the most reliable part of the defense. Sean Parker was fooled badly on a double-move for a TD, and they gave up three TD passes of 27+ yards. Parker did cause the strip on Carey to start the 2nd half, but that flicker of hope was quickly extinguished when Price gave it right back, and then Scott put the nail in the coffin with his 4th TD pass to put the game out of reach. The only silver-lining I can find is that Justin Glenn & Parker managed to keep Carey from breaking any of those 20-yard runs into even longer TD runs. Grade: D
Special Teams: Another game, another 6 points surrendered by this unit. This time it came off a punt return (and this from a guy who had averaged just 6.3 yards per return entering the game). While I could have sworn I saw multiple holds on that play by the Wildcats, the refs didn't. It was just a bad game punting for Coons, though he was fortunate Arizona didn't put on a big rush on the one punt snap that nearly went over his head. At least he nailed a 43-yard FG to salvage something positive from the game. Grade: D-
Coaching: I think Sark has a great offensive mind. I saw a lot of well-designed plays last night. But his strategy was a real head-scratcher - he had a QB who has been struggling with his confidence, he was going up against a team that really struggles against the run, and yet he opted for only 2 runs in the opening, 13-play drive. And even when he found success in later drives running the ball, he ended the half with 31 pass plays to 15 running plays. More and more it becomes difficult to argue the thought that Sark is more of a finesse, passing-game guy than one who would like the run the ball down your throat if he can.
Even worse than that though is the clear disconnect that exists between himself and his trigger-man Price. For a QB guru to be having trust issues with a QB who has already proven through his play last year to be a real weapon is very disconcerting - while we can't know exactly what has changed for the offense with the departure of Doug Nussmeier and the arrival of Eric Kiesau, what we can see on the field suggests that the offense has suffered from Nuss being gone.
Wilcox has gained a lot of fans with the improvement in the defense so far this year, but this was not a good game for him. He came out with a 3-4 look and stuck with it for most of the game, but that front was unable to keep Carey from running all over them. Even worse, they couldn't contain the Wildcat passing game, making a number of mistakes - the most glaring of which was Parker getting burned in the 2nd quarter. I was disappointed that Wilcox didn't appear to give Carey the respect he deserved as a threat, and he made him pay.
From a more fundamental level, what's troubling is not just that this team lost again on the road, but that they were blown-out. Losing big to LSU and Oregon on the road was disappointing, but not totally unexpected; getting demolished by Arizona was unexpected and very troubling. A 35-31 loss that was a competitive game would have been a bummer, but understandable. Instead, they suffered what may be the most disappointing loss of the Sark era. Sark said last week that he had told his team that this was going to be the key game of the season, and they laid this kind of egg? With a top-10 team in Oregon State coming to town next Saturday, the road doesn't get any easier, and the season is in danger of spiraling out of control as the losses mount. This is a critical juncture in Sark's career, and he needs to figure out what's going wrong, or he may find himself on a scalding hot seat to start next season. Grade: F