The Husky offensive line was thought to be a strong position group for the 2012 team coming in to the spring. Four returning starters and only one slot to fill, the left tackle position previously manned by talented veteran Senio Kelemete, now with the Arizona Cardinals. Well, that went out the window early. Kohler was injured for a time, and skilled veteran Colin Porter was forced to retire due to a longstanding and degenerative series of shoulder injuries. Others stuggled with various ailments for periods of time throughout the spring and summer. Still, by the time training camp came to a close, the line had solidified around a veteran interior of returning starters Erik Kohler, Colin Tanigawa, and Senior Center Drew Schaefer, bookended by the newly starting Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie at tackle.
I think that regardless of what the fanbase interpreted or assumed, it seemed apparent that by the time Coach Sarkisian had published an official depth chart for week one that he was confident and perhaps even excited to see his offensive line play in real competition. Many writers, myself included to a certain extent, were not as confident. I projected in my game preview that they would have a moderately successful game, going so far as to project that four sacks would be given up, mostly to outside blitzers blowing by the inexperienced young pair of tackles. They gave up three, and pretty much did their best to not draw a lot of attention. Not a source of strength or outstanding confidence, but also not a complete disaster. True, it could have been much worse, but after real analysis, I think the same confidence I had in the line last week has been turned to worry when looking at the showdown with LSU.
That equation has certainly changed with the injury to Ben Riva, who fractured his forearm on Saturday. He will be out at least several weeks. While Sarkisian may just have the empty right tackle spot replaced by Mike Criste. He may also move guard Erik Kohler back to right tackle, where he started last year, and plug James Atoe in at guard. There are key decisions to make, and they will be made soon.
Looking towards the game at LSU next week, that does not inspire confidence. If a stable version of our line gives up a near concerning level of pressure, letting Price get hit on numerous occasions, against San Diego State, what will that same line, minus one starting tackle, do against a top-five team with intense athleticism at pass rushing positions and a supreme dedication to getting at the quarterback. Under the bright lights and the extra pressure that comes with true southern football, how that that line be able to protect our relatively fragile star?
Even more concerning, how will that same line establish any sort of a run game when they struggled to do just that last week, when Bishop Sankey carried for 66 yards on 22 carries, with one touchdown. And make no mistake, he will have to be the feature back next week, with Jesse Callier’s knee injured, probably seriously. So a reshuffled line, with only one of a two part backfield, against one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. I can’t say I’m ready to bet against the Vegas odds.
I don’t mean to say they can’t step up the effort and focus in Baton Rouge and change the equation once again, but in reality, Sankey’s 66 yards could turn into 45 before our eyes, the three sacks could be seven, and the score will turn very ugly. Scoring 21 points or less next week puts too much pressure on a defense that is improved, but only one game recovered from a disastrous Alamo Bowl loss.
Whether Sankey, Price, or the receivers manage to step up their game, and it will probably need to be all three to pull out a win, it will need to start with the offensive line, or else the elevation in play will be moot. They didn’t lose the game against San Diego State, but they weren’t the reason we won. In other terms, the offensive line may not be able to beat the Tigers alone, but they sure won’t need help to lose to them.