It is Thursday today, and that means that enough time has passed for everyone to calm down about the carnage in Baton Rouge. Yeah, there are still a few articles published each day questioning the offense, and a whole load of Pac-12 Power Rankings in which the Huskies are seventh or eighth, but that can’t be helped. I wrote earlier about the massive overreaction that took place in the wake of the LSU game, and how I was very much a part of it in the hours after the game ended. Well, now we’re facing the possibility of a very different sort of mass miscalculation heading into Saturday’s game against Portland State.
Keith Price has thrown two touchdown passes in two weeks. That sounds really bad, and it is. The thing is, I’m fairly confident that Price will throw between three and five touchdown passes against Portland State. They are an FCS school playing in the Big Sky Conference. Last week, they lost to North Dakota 45-37. A few days ago, they chose to fire their defensive coordinator mid-season. If Price doesn’t have a huge day, there will only be two explanations: the much-maligned run game carried the load in such a way that passing was superfluous, or the Huskies are a lot worse than I thought. Obviously the former would be kind of nice, while the latter is unlikely.
The point I’m trying to make is that Portland State is really bad, at least by Pac-12 standards, and Keith Price should be able to slice up their secondary. The other point I’m trying to make is that #17 slicing up the Portland State secondary won’t be any more impressive than 157 yards and an interception against the Tigers last week.
That probably sounds a little ridiculous. Of course throwing for, say, 360 yards and four touchdowns would be better than throwing for 157 yards and zero touchdowns. It would help the team earn a victory and it would improve the confidence of Price and the team in general. But it wouldn’t change anything, because the Price that took the field against LSU is the same Price that will take the field this Saturday. It has been a week. He hasn’t reinvented his throwing motion, Sark hasn’t fundamentally changed the offense. If he suddenly puts up great numbers, it will be because he took care of business against a really over matched football team, not because he is suddenly a markedly better quarterback.
I don’t mean that as an insult. Price is really, really talented. An average game against SDSU and a bad game against LSU can’t take that away. His stats against the Tigers were actually rather remarkable considering how horrifically bad the other ten players on the field performed alongside him. But make no mistake, if Price does put up the purely hypothetical numbers mentioned above (360 yards, 4 touchdowns), it won’t mean that he wouldn’t fail miserably if the Huskies played LSU again the next week.
That is what I’m trying to get at. While a lot of people overreacted to how bad Saturday’s game was, it will be just as easy, and just as foolish, to overreact to a dominant win against Portland State. And that doesn’t just apply to the quarterback position. If the banged up offensive line suddenly seems like a veteran unit, don’t think too much of it. If the defense holds Portland State to 10 points, don’t think too much of it. Even if Bishop Sankey has over a hundred yards rushing and a couple touchdowns, don’t think too much of it.
Sure, be encouraged that it certainly can’t be a bad sign. And of course, enjoy watching your team perform well. But take everything with a big, fat grain of salt (that’s in the title!), because we won’t really know anything more about this Husky football team until they take the field against Stanford, a very worthy opponent, on September 27th. If great things happen this Saturday and are then repeated against Stanford, rejoice, but anything that appears to be progress will be suspect until that time.
Of course, in extreme circumstances, my points may not apply. If Josh Shirley gets seven sacks, consider it a breakout performance. If Kasen Williams catches 17 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns, it means he’s the real deal. Go buy a number two jersey. But unless records are broken, this article will remain valid.
Now, if the Huskies struggle against Portland State, by all means be worried. If they lose, go ahead and freak out. If that double standard seems unfair, well, it isn’t. It’s just the cost of scheduling FCS opponents. Major conference teams may get the win in almost every case, but in reality even a dominant win is just keeping the status quo. In anything but a crushing victory, the major conference school loses. Look back at Washington’s too close for comfort season opener against Eastern Washington last year as a perfect example. The Huskies barely won, and it was treated as a loss. If they had lost, it would have been treated as the end of the world. That’s fair. If Coach Sark wants an easy win, he has to accept the risks of high expectations.
There is a bye week between Saturday’s game and the Stanford game. That’s a long time to try to read far too deep in to a single game. This article will not stop others from getting a little too excited about whatever takes place, but I’ll at least try my best to heed my own warning. No promises though, September 27th is a long way away.