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Grading the Game - UW vs. Utah Edition

With last night's 34-15 win over Utah, the Huskies finish the year 5-1 at CenturyLink Field, their temporary home for the year. There were strong performances from pretty much every unit last nigh - read on to see how we graded the game...

Another terrific game for RB Bishop Sankey
Another terrific game for RB Bishop Sankey

This was a game that was supposed to be close. Vegas oddsmakers opened the lines with the UW favored by 2, and then a rush of money on Utah pushed the line to 1.5 in favor of the Utes. While a few people here and there predicted a comfortable win for the Huskies, most thought it would be a hard-fought, close win in the vein of the wins over Stanford & Oregon State. Instead, the Huskies put up their highest point total of the season vs. an FBS foe, and had their first win over an FBS team that wasn't a nailbiter to the very last play. Remove some questionable calls that went against the UW and a score on a defensive breakdown that followed one of those calls, and the game might have been even more lopsided in favor of the Dawgs. On to the grades!

QB: The game did not start out well for Keith Price; on the first play, he rolled out and had a man wide open on a post route downfield and couldn't pull the trigger. He continually scrambled backwards into the rush and had to hurry throws to the sideline to avoid a sack. He couldn't pull the trigger on open receivers, and hesitated to run when he had open field in front of him. He allowed a delay-of-game penalty to happen when he didn't check the play clock. But slowly, he improved and began to find his groove. He scrambled when 1st down yardage was there. He saw his open receivers. He stepped inside the rush instead of trying to outrun it to the sidelines, and bought himself far more time and options. It wasn't quite the KP of last year, but it was the closest we've seen outside of the Portland State game. KP getting on a roll means 8-4 ought to be a near-certainty, and should give this program terrific momentum heading into next season. Grade: B

RB: I'm running out of good things to say about Bishop Sankey; I was impressed with what we saw out of him last year (which wasn't much given the presence of Chris Polk), but I wouldn't have predicted he'd be this good this soon. It's a testament both to his own abilities, as well as another strong piece of evidence that Joel Thomas is a hell of a RB coach. Sankey ran with great vision, burst and determination. His hands are getting more trustworthy, and while he's not a great blocker, he's willing to stick his face in there. FB Jonathan Amosa had a strong Senior Night with some terrific lead blocks out of the I-formation. I'm stingy on the highest grades, because I like to save them for the very best of performances, but there's no question that against the Utah run defense, this was a terrific game from Sankey. Grade: A

WR/TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a freak talent, and it's becoming more and more clear that we shouldn't expect to see him around beyond the 2013 season - he'll be ready and in demand for the NFL. Remember when a commenter here thought ASJ didn't run over guys? Yeah, I think any misconceptions along those lines have long been proven ridiculous. He's a beast. Kasen Williams also had a strong night with a fantastic catch in the end zone for the first Husky TD, and there were other times he was open downfield but KP just didn't see him or couldn't pull the trigger. Jaydon Mickens atoned for a big drop last week and showed his speed as he had a couple steps on the Ute secondary to haul in a 47 yarder that might have gone for 6 if Mickens had been able to keep his feet underneath him. DiAndre Campbell had a mixed bag, with a bad drop early in the game but a wide-open TD later. ASJ and Kasen still clearly outshine the rest of the receiving corps, but last night we saw glimpses of what the rest of the group is capable of. Grade: A-

OL: This is a group that clearly loves to run-block and have gotten quite good at it. I couldn't help but notice how many times Sankey ran off right tackle for big gains - I have to think the return of Ben Riva has been a big part of why the run game is now thriving. They weren't perfect in run blocking last night, but it was a strong effort against a very tough Ute front that gave Sankey a lot of holes. Pass-blocking was (as per usual) another story, as Price was frequently under a lot of pressure as he was sacked 3 times and flushed probably a dozen more. Utah came into the game averaging ~2.5 sacks per game, so it wasn't a terrible performance given the competition, but they are clearly more suited for a running attack than protecting their QB. Grade: B-

DL: With DE's Talia Crichton, Pio Vatuvei and DT Josh Banks out with injuries, this was a depleted unit last night, something that was evident from the start when walk-on So. Drew Schultz took the field as a starter, and made more clear when ASJ was sent out multiple times on passing downs as an edge-rusher. Given that, we can't be too surprised that there wasn't much of an effective pass-rush until the very end of the game, and that John White IV easily broke the century mark with 142 yards on just 22 carries. That said, 46 of those yards came on a play where Danny Shelton had to sit out because of the new helmet rule, and a play that Utah probably should not have had in the first place but for a highly questionable personal foul penalty that allowed their drive to continue. The DL was reasonably effective most of the night, including a big-time stop on Utah's first drive of the 2nd half when Kyle Whittingham opted to go for it on 4th and 1 on his own 43 and the Husky D stuffed White for no gain. Grade: B

LB: It was nice to see Travis Feeney back out there after battling an illness the past few weeks - he just has a knack for the ball and coming up with big plays. It will be nice to see him continue to develop as a LB as he fills out and learns the position. Fellow 2nd year LB John Timu also continues to develop into a nice player - he showed terrific break and hands in snaring his 2nd interception in the last 3 games. If we admit that Shaq Thompson is really more of a LB than S, then it was a clean sweep of strong performances from this group last night, though we could quibble with how they got overwhelmed on the 2 long TD runs by White. Grade: A-

Secondary: It really is amazing to think how much better this unit is performing this year compared to last year, especially considering there's been very little pass rush from the front 4. While the dismal passing stats for Utah weren't entirely the result of this group - there were a lot of drops by Ute receivers and Travis Wilson had some ugly throws - you have to give credit where credit is due, and limiting your opponent to 8-23 for just 55 yards and an interception is always impressive, even if Utah's pass-catch combo isn't quite Barkley to Lee & Woods. Kudos to the work that Keith Heyward and Justin Wilcox have done with this group. Grade: A

Special Teams: This was an area the Utes were winning until, for the 2nd year in a row, Jamaal Kearse came up with a turnover against Utah. I'm not sure what was up with the continual rugby-style punts by Coons, but they weren't very effective. His "pop-over" kickoffs kept the ball away from returner extraordinaire Reggie Dunn, but at the expense of giving Utah good field position every time. Our return game was not very good either. But the one big play in this part of the game favored the Huskies, so call it a narrow win overall. Grade: C+

Coaching: I think you have to tip your cap to the coaches after this one - they clearly had a good gameplan on both offense and defense, and were it not for a few highly questionable calls by the refs, this game could have been verging into blowout territory. It's also nice to see that Price seems to be on an upward trajectory - hopefully whatever issues he was having in trusting his gameplans is gone and he's on a good wavelength with them. Grade: A