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Grading the Game: Washington State Edition

It was a tougher than expected game against our cross-state rivals, but the Huskies overcame a poor 1st half by the offense and some questionable calls by the zebras to take a hard-fought 27-17 win in the Apple Cup. We take a look at each of the position groups and grade their performance for the game.

Your single-season rushing leader and all time rushing TD leader
Your single-season rushing leader and all time rushing TD leader
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On Senior Day in Husky Stadium the team found the sledding a lot tougher than last week against a confident and improving Cougar team.  With the offense struggling in the 1st half, the Dawgs found themselves down 10-3 at the half.  Fortunately for Husky fans, the team righted themselves at the break and stormed out to a big 3rd quarter to take control, and while things were tense for a while (thanks in no small part to some highly questionable calls by the officials), the Dawgs gutted out a tough one and won 27-17 to break through the 7-win barrier and set themselves up for a possible 9th win.  Let's take a look at how each of the position groups played:

QB: It was shades of 2012 Keith Price in the 1st half as he was under frequent pressure and not getting a lot of support from his receivers or run game.  He appeared to have a miscommunication with Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a long sideline route - KP seemed to be looking for a back shoulder or curl, but ASJ didn't turn to see the pass and looked to be running a fly pattern and it was an easy pick for Nolan Washington at the UW 9 when the Huskies appeared to be in good position to get their 2nd score of the 1st half.  Earlier he had fumbled on a scramble off a hard hit from behind, stalling another drive.  After the game Sark alluded to the thought that KP was a little too wound up, playing his last home game as a Husky and trying to avenge a poor performance last year that led to a historic choke job by the Huskies.  But in the 2nd half Price was poised and effective, and with the running game hitting it's stride he didn't have to put the game squarely on his shoulders.  It wasn't Price's best game by any stretch, but he was still 15 of 20 passing for 181 yards and a TD to go with that pick.  He also executed perfectly the read option at the goal line in the 4th quarter to salt the game away 27-17 with just 2 minutes to go.  Grade:  B-

RB: Another week, another sublime performance from Bishop Sankey.  After finding the running tough in the 1st quarter, he got more holes in the 2nd half and Sark made the adjustment to more off-tackle and outside runs and he took over the game.  His 7 yard TD run in the 3rd to put the Huskies up 17-10 earned him both the career rushing TD mark and the single season rushing yards records for UW football.  His screen play on the Huskies' first drive of the 3rd quarter - picking up 40 yards on 3rd & 5 with the Cougars still holding momentum - was huge in getting the offense on track.  He finished with 200 yards exactly on 34 carries and a TD, his 3rd 200 yard game this season and 4th of his career.  If this was his final home game as a Husky, he went out with a bang.  Grade:  A+

WR/TE: ASJ had a couple of classic ASJ catches in this game - passes that only he could get to and secure.  It makes you wonder sometimes why KP hasn't looked his way more often this year.  Kevin Smith and Demore'ea Stringfellow both had nice games, and while it's great to know that String has 3 more seasons of eligibility, it's equally frustrating that Smith has exhausted his and didn't get to redshirt last year.  The bubble screens and rocket motion swing passes were off-target though, and Jaydon Mickens wasn't much of a factor.  Hopefully that aspect of the passing offense will get back on track in the bowl game.  There were a few too many times in the first half when KP was flushed from the pocket that his receivers were not doing him any favors in terms of coming back to their QB and getting open, but they did a better job in the 2nd half.  Grade:  B-

OL: This was a classic 2012 performance from the OL.  It took them about 1.5 quarters, but eventually they began to assert their will in the running game, and they did a terrific job on that screen pass early in the 3rd quarter to bust it for a big gain.  The pass-protection on the other hand was not so good as KP was frequently flushed from the pocket and under pressure, though some of that can be laid at the feet of the WR's for not getting separation from the Coug DB's.  To take the next step to championship-level play, they need to step up their pass protection.  Grade:  C+

DL: For as much flak as this front has taken for their ability to rush the passer, they actually rank 10th in the nation with 3.0 sacks/game.  And they were fantastic yesterday, registering 5 sacks and countless other hurries and hits on Connor Halliday.  Consider that the Cougars coming into the game had only allowed 22 sacks against 639 pass attempts (compare that with the Huskies who had given up 28 in 366 passing attempts).  Against the Dawgs, they surrendered 5 sacks against 59 pass attempts.  Hau'oli Kikaha was a man possessed, notching two of those sacks and another 0.5 tackle for loss and 11 tackles total.  He was a huge part of the Huskies' ability to contain the Air Raid attack of WSU.  Evan Hudson got into the act too with a huge 15-yard sack early in the 3rd quarter that helped kill WSU's drive following the Huskies tying the game at 10-all.  Cory Littleton was active too with 7 tackles, one of the sacks and another 0.5 tackle for loss.  They weren't perfect - the Cougs managed to gash the Huskies front multiple times with their run game - but the pressure they applied on Halliday was a big reason for the success the defense had in slowing down WSU.  Grade:  A

LB: Shaq Thompson was on his way to a big game before getting knocked out the game on the 2nd half kickoff.  As it was he tallied 6 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup as he was all over the field and making some key open field tackles.  Travis Feeney had a nice game as his sideline to sideline speed was a key in helping the Husky defense cope with Mike Leach's spread passing attack.  Both guys though had to be kicking themselves after the game for dropping potential interceptions.  John Timu wasn't as much of a factor given the emphasis on the pass, and his targeting call helped set up the 2nd Cougar TD, but he did get a nice pass break up and then sealed the game with his interception on the Cougars' last drive.  Grade:  B+

Secondary: Facing an Air Raid offense is always a challenge for a secondary, but the Huskies were up to the task.  Their ability to play tight man coverage and mix in some zone looks kept Halliday a step or two slow on getting rid of the ball and played a part in the Huskies' pass rush finding success.  The defense managed 8 pass break-ups on the day, with 4 coming from the secondary.  They also notched a huge interception as the sometimes maligned Greg Ducre came up with a huge pick late in the 4th quarter with the Huskies nursing a 3-point lead, a turnover that would lead to 7 points and control of the game.  Marcus Peters, Sean Parker, Will Shamburger and Tre Watson were all over the field, and outside of a a couple of breakdowns (both appeared to be in zone coverage), the secondary did a terrific job of keeping the Cougar passing attack from picking up big plays and held them to a poor 98.8 passing rating on the day.  If not for a highly questionable pass interference call against Peters in the 2nd quarter, the Cougs might not have scored that first TD.  Grade:  A

Special Teams: It was basically a draw in coverage, with the Huskies slightly better on punts and the Cougars slightly better on kickoffs, but credit Travis Coons with nailing both his FG attempts, including a career-best 48 yarder for the Huskies' first points of the game.  It must have been a good feeling for him after his high profile miss at the end of regulation last year which allowed the game to go to OT and eventually a bitter Husky loss.  Grade:  B

Coaching: It's hard not to think sometimes that Sark gets too tense and wound-up in key games, and his team reflects that.  While the defense was terrific throughout, the offense was out of sorts in the 1st half and just couldn't sustain drives, suffering key turnovers, poor pass protection and inconsistent run blocking.  Maybe some of it was an overload of emotions on Senior Day and a team too wound-up seeking revenge.  Whatever it was, you have to give the staff credit for how they came out in the 3rd quarter and took control of the game.  The offense finally started to click, especially as they focused more on running more at the flanks of the Cougar front 7 instead of up the gut and KP settled down to have a very efficient game.  And even as the game stayed rather tense well into the 4th quarter, the team had settled down, didn't panic and ground out a gritty win against an opponent that lives and dies by their games against the Huskies.

Wilcox had a great gameplan for the Air Raid and his players executed at a high level.  For as much as we've critiqued issues with tackling over the course of this season, they did a great job of that yesterday, and the DL was doing the best job of rushing the passer I've seen this year as they employed a lot of twists, stunts and overloads.  Give Tosh some credit as his linemen have shown improvement in their rush technique.  Grade: B