My opinion about this game has ranged considerably in the last month or so. Heading into Fall Camp, I felt very good about Washington's chances for revenge - Boise State had eked out a late win by just 2 points last December on a neutral field, and with the grand re-opening of Husky Stadium and most of our key players returning, this should be a win - possibly by double-digits. But then I remembered stud DE Demarcus Lawrence sat out that game for Boise State for disciplinary reasons, and I recalled just how bad the Husky pass-protection was last year. I remembered how shaky the Huskies have looked in opening games under Sark the last 3 years, and how good the Broncos usually are with extra time to prepare for an opponent (especially in marquee games). And I started to get really nervous. So where have I landed on my prediction for the game? Honestly, I'm figuring it out as I write this, poring over season previews of the Broncos and their position groups and projecting how well we do (or don't) match-up.
On offense, we all know the keys: The OL has to give Keith Price time to throw and has to open some holes for Bishop Sankey; KP has to be more careful with the ball; and the WR group needs to show big improvement over last year. The matchup of Lawrence vs. Micah Hatchie makes me very nervous, and NT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe is a load. But this OL is seasoned, and bolstered by the return of Colin Tanigawa. I'm cautiously optimistic here - between the move to a hurry-up offense and the Broncos' tendency for rotating in a lot of guys on their defense, the Huskies will likely get to face a lot of Boise's 2nd team guys, and they are rather green, especially at LB. They are even more green in the back 4, where four of their top six CB's have never played a major college football game. If our group of WR's have indeed improved significantly (the return to health of Kevin Smith, the emergence of Fr. phenom John Ross being key factors), this could be another area where Washington can exploit the Broncos, though the reported absence of Austin Seferian-Jenkins due to suspension removes a major weapon from KP's arsenal.
On defense, there's reason for concern - the WR group for Boise State is arguably their deepest units with a lot of potential, and they're going up against a secondary that lost a 1st round NFL draft pick in shut-down CB Desmond Trufant, and also the steady and under-appreciated Justin Glenn at S. Can The Bronco OL features experience on the left side and youthful talent on the right and a promising big back in Jay Ajayi, and while it will be important for NT Danny Shelton to be a disruptive force in the middle, it's even more important that the Husky ends hold their edges (a major problem last year). The return of Hau'oli Kikaha should help. The key of course for Boise State is the play of QB Joe Southwick. He started slowly last year in his first season at the helm, but improved over the course of the schedule and showed good mobility and improved efficiency. With a year under his belt he's not an obvious candidate to get rattled, but it's a good bet that this will be the loudest opposing crowd he's faced yet. Washington will lean on their strong LB group to keep the Bronco running game in check, and I would expect to see some timely blitzing from this group to try to unsettle Southwick.
Looking at the special teams battle, it looks like a bit of a wash - both teams are uncertain in these areas but with reasons for optimism. The game could very well come down to who wins this aspect, and I just don't have a strong feel for either group at this point. That leaves coaching and intangible factors; in the former, as much as I think Sark has a really strong staff right now, I have to give the edge to Chris Petersen. In the latter, what worries me is what I noted earlier - a trend of Sark teams showing first-game jitters and sloppiness. When you factor in the hoopla over the re-opening of the stadium, there is the potential for our team to lose focus, a dangerous state to be against a disciplined team like Boise that loves to exploit that with trick plays. On the other hand, this Husky team is the most experienced of Sark's tenure, and I tend to believe them when they say they feel they have something to prove this season.
So that's 773 words, but no prediction yet. What does all of that add up to in my mind? I think this will be a back and forth affair. I don't see it turning into a low-scoring defensive slog; I think both offenses will find a lot of success, though I think it will fall short of being a complete barn-burner. Ultimately I think the Huskies have too much talent, too much experience and too much motivation to lose this historic game, and while the Broncos will put up a very tough fight, I see Washington pulling out the win: Washington 34, Boise State 27
Jeffrey's prediction (via video):
Huskies vs. Boise State Prediction (click on the link to view)
Fans of each side are each calling that their team will blow the other out, and if it isn't a blowout, it will be at least a two touchdown win. That usually means that the game will be relatively close.
Although Sankey ran all over Boise in the Las Vegas Bowl, Boise has a decent defense against the run. The lack of dominance of Sankey will mean that the burden will fall onto the shoulders of Keith Price, and by extension the pass blocking of the o-line. The return of Demarcus Lawrence will make a much bigger deal than many UW fans will realize, and the line will be tested to start the season.
That being said, Boise graduated some key pieces of their defense. Overall UW will probably do a bit better offensively than last time. Defensively, UW will have to deal with Joe Southwick after another offseason to study the system, and who returns both of his top targets in Kirby Moore and Matt Miller.
I am hoping I am wrong, but I see UW having a lot of trouble defending the passing game, and the scrambling ability of Southwick. I see Boise pulling out a 34-28 win in the new Husky Stadium.
UW 41, Boise State 21
Home field advantage and a healthy, confident Keith Price are enough to mitigate the missing Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. The offensive line, while still not approaching "great," gives a credible performance on the ground again, and the Dawgs rush for 185 yards, with Sankey going for 127 (on 23 carries) and a pair of touchdowns. The biggest improvement is in pass blocking, and Price is given enough time most of the time to complete 24 of 37 passes for 284 yards and two TD's. The most important part is that he's only sacked once and doesn't throw any interceptions, and connects with 8 different receivers. Without Sefarian-Jenkins, Kasen Williams is bracketed the entire game, but manages 6 catches for 83 yards and one touchdown over Boise State's smurf-like corners. DiAndre Campbell catches the other TD in a very solid performance. Travis Coons adds two short field goals, and the Dawgs wear down Boise States' defense in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Boise State's running game isn't terribly effective against the UW's length and speed, averaging only 3 yards per carry. The single big play allowed on the ground does go for a TD, though. Southwick completes a high percentage of his passes and does connect for 2 TD's, but doesn't have much opportunity to get the ball down the field. And the Huskies manage to sack him four times (one each by Hudson, Feeney, Littleton, and Shirley), and are able to get somewhat consistent pressure without blitzing (but still blitz frequently). Will Shamburger and John Timu each collect interceptions. Shaq Thompson is the defensive player of the game, with 13 total tackles and 3 of those coming behind the line. After the game, Marcus Peters complains of being "bored out there."
Chris Petersen is gracious in defeat, and calls the new Husky Stadium "the loudest venue he's ever coached in. Bar none."
Deaonte Cooper has one carry for 6 yards.
Huskies win 34-24.
Call me a homer or call me crazy ... but I like the Huskies in this one. Here are some Dots that sway it for me.
- The new Husky hurry-up is going to exploit a big weakness on the Boise State defense: lack of depth on their defensive line. While one can argue that their first line front seven are pretty decent despite the lack of starting experience, that second line is pretty green and it will be forced into action. It only takes a big play or two against that second line to swing the game.
- No matter how much the Boise faithful wants to downplay it, the noise in the new stadium (130 decibels?) is going to be worth a few negative plays which may be the difference between one forced punt and one FG. If these teams are a two point difference on a neutral field, even two negative plays could be a factor in this game.
- The Husky O-Line --should-- be a bit of a surprise to the BSU defense given the new role for Criste and the addition of Colin Tanagawa. I think KP's jersey will be a bit cleaner in this one.
- I have a lot of confidence in our front seven being able to take away the Boise State running game and otherwise neutralizing the play-action. However, I remain quite concerned about our ability to take their passing game away straight up. If we lose our grip on this game, it will be because of BSU's advantage at WR over our corners.
- It is really hard to beat the same team twice. It is even harder to beat them twice in a row (unless you are Stanford beating UCLA).
- Boise State sucks at Husky Stadium. There is data to support it. It is science.
- The Dawgfather will be there.
- I will be there. Enough said.
Huskies 31, Broncos 27