Pac-12 Preview: Washington

The Sports Xchange

August 20, 2013 at 8:59 am.


Keith Price leads a salty Washington bunch that is capable of beating a lof of teams. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)

SEATTLE, Wash. — University of Washington’s football team has been consistent the last three seasons, and that’s not a good thing.

The Huskies have finished 7-6 three consecutive years, leaving fifth-year head coach Steve Sarkisian just a game over .500 during his time on Montlake.

“None of us came here to be 7-6,” Sarkisian said. “We came here to win championships. That’s why I took this job. To come out of the year feeling like it was a success (at 7-6) and go to another bowl game, I think that point’s over, you know? We’re over that. We’re here to win championships.”

He’ll need the 2011 version of quarterback Keith Price and several of the young players to step up in order to do so.

Washington’s roster has better depth, something it will need as it shifts to a more up-tempo offense. But, reality is two projected top-five teams — Oregon and Stanford — remain in the Pac-12 North along with the Huskies. For Washington to get to a 10-win total, something many players are eyeing, several road victories would have to happen. The Huskies are 2-10 on the road the last two seasons, including consecutive bowl game losses.

The biggest change for Washington last season came on defense. After allowing the most points in school history in 2011, the Huskies overhauled their defensive staff. Second-year coordinator Justin Wilcox has a trio of linebackers leading the revamped unit that was second against the pass last year in the Pac-12.

On offense, Husky fans are excited at the prospect of Price running a more up-tempo offense. They still recall how he passed for 438 yards and four touchdowns in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. And, although that was in a 67-56 loss against some quarterback named Robert Griffin III who generated 777 yards, the ever-hopeful Husky fans wonder how much offense he can generate in a faster attack.

However, Price slumped in 2012 after that spectacular 2011 season and needs to get back on target. If he can average out the two seasons, he’ll have this line: 63.4 percent completion percentage, 2,895 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 142.1 efficiency rating and that would be good news for Washington.

Washington is hoping that new wide receiver John Ross will have a breakout season and help Price. Ross has caught several deep passes during fall camp, often burning much more experience defensive backs. He already appears to have a good rapport with Price. The Huskies desperately need a third receiver to help tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, and it appears Ross could be it.

Both Seferian-Jenkins and Williams had off-field issues that might impact their early playing time.

Seferian-Jenkins, who holds about every Washington tight end schol record, received a DUI in March and had to spend a night in jail as part of his sentence. Washington is not saying whether or not he will play in the opener against Boise State.

Williams was pulled over for speeding and cited for being under 21 and operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol or marijuana. He was fined and received two years’ probation. Williams was just under the legal limit for DUI in Washington state, so he received a lesser penalty than Seferian-Jenkins. Williams led the Huskies in receptions last year and is expected to challenge for an All-Conference spot in his junior year. Washington also kept Williams’ punishment “internal.”

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Huskies open Aug. 31 at home against Boise State in Husky Stadium, which has undergone a $250 million-plus renovation. No pressure. The Broncos beat Washington 28-26 in a taut Vegas Bowl to close last season. Washington oddly has a bye week after playing Boise State. Two less-challenging games — at Illinois and vs. Idaho State — follow before a visit from Arizona to close the month. The Huskies think a 4-0 start is possible before they head to Stanford Oct. 5.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Better red-zone offense. Even with RB Bishop Sankey grinding out 1,439 yards, third most in school history, and Seferian-Jenkins as a massive 6-6, 266-pound target, the Huskies floundered in the red zone last season. Of prime concern were turnovers in that part of the field. Two of them cost Washington the Apple Cup in a deflating loss to close the 2012 regular season. Washington was 10th in red-zone offense last season in the Pac-12.

AREAS OF CONCERN: Special teams. A long return late in the fourth quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl set up the winning kick for Boise State. On the flip side, Washington was forced to use Travis Coons in all three kicking facets last season. He was solid when kicking field goals (9 of 14), though he missed a 35-yard attempt for the win as time expired in the Apple Cup. Freshman Cameron Van Winkle has been accurate in fall camp. Colorado transfer Zach Grossnickle also gives Washington an option for punts and possibly kickoffs.

–Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.