So, the Huskies just beat the Portland State Vikings 52-13 on a sunny afternoon in Seattle. Last week, they lost almost as badly against LSU in Baton Rouge. I know you must be feeling a lot of complicated emotions. Just know that it’s not you, it’s them. The Huskies have been sending all sorts of mixed messages through the first three weeks of the season, so I’ll help you out a bit. Here are a few emotions that are totally healthy to experience from now until the Stanford game on September 27th:
Relief that while the Huskies aren’t good enough to beat LSU, they also aren’t bad enough to come anywhere close to losing to Portland State. Imagine if the Huskies had come out flat and either won by only one or two scores, or, even worse, actually lost to the Vikings. That would have unleashed a whole different spectrum of colorful emotions. Even if you were confident that UW would get an easy victory today, don’t pretend that the thought didn’t cross your mind.
Confusion as to how this team stacks up to Stanford. The Huskies have only gone up against teams they were expected to beat and teams to which they were supposed to lose. Stanford lands somewhere smack dab in the middle, and that makes the match-up tough to gauge. The picture won’t get any clearer this evening once the result of the Stanford vs. USC game is known, as a Stanford victory would spark talk of a hangover game as much as it would inspire confidence in the Cardinal, and a Stanford loss would just be a loss to the best team in the Pac-12, a team that would also be expected to defeat Washington.
Confidence that Keith Price and the offense will almost certainly score more points than they managed against LSU and fewer points than they just picked up earlier today. I would be willing to bet a pretty penny on that. Sure, that’s a range from 4-51 points, but what I really mean is that LSU has a dominant defense, possibly the best in the nation, and this high scoring victory helps to show that the offense isn’t broken. They may not be able to put up big numbers against the Cardinal, but they will be far more functional than they appeared at Tiger Stadium.
Frustration at the ineffectiveness of the Husky pass rush today. Washington managed zero sacks against an FCS opponent. It doesn’t matter how well Portland State’s offensive line played, it is unacceptable for Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defense to be generating that little pressure. The athleticism and toughness shown by quarterback Kieran McDonagh certainly had something to do with it as well, but like I said, there is no excuse here.
Faith in Coach Sarkisian’s will to not only attain victory, but to chase perfection. Instead of heading in to the locker room to celebrate a 45-0 halftime lead, Sark kept his players out on the field and proceeded to scream at them for several minutes over the multitude of first half penalties and an unnecessary late hit on an out of bounds defender by Justin Glenn. Whether or not you think it was necessary, the shouting certainly demonstrated that Sark will not allow his Huskies to feel comfortable, especially not against an FCS opponent. That attitude can not guarantee success, but it can certainly help.
Stress over the uncertainty along the offensive line. Four different players got their first significant time on the field, and the starting line against Stanford will be anyone’s guess. It’s doubtful that Sark himself will even know until he has had more time to analyze game tape and watch practice during the bye week. Against a Stanford team that features a stout defense led by terrific linebackers, this is the single biggest worry for Washington. In fact, if the ragtag line fails to perform well, that may be all Stanford needs to repeat the 61-25 romp of last year.
Awe towards the dominance of Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. I know this was Portland State, so of course the combined 11 catches for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns reeled in by the duo aren’t as impressive as they would have been against an opponent of a higher caliber, but that doesn’t mean the two of them weren’t a sight to behold. Kasen showed rare power and aggression after the catch for a wide receiver, lowering the shoulder to gain extra yards with ease. Seferian-Jenkins simply made the various linebackers and defensive backs charged with defending him look like little children, including when he reeled in a 16 yard touchdown pass despite his defender being flagged for pass interference. These two are superstars, and if they can play anywhere near this level against the Pac-12 teams, the well documented struggles of the offense may be over.
Doubt that a Husky team that has been flagged 24 times for 200 yards in only three games has the discipline to pull off a close win against Stanford. This is what Sarkisian was so upset about. Washington can’t be giving up yards and killing drives with penalties. In a close game, it really could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Optimism towards the performances of running backs Bishop Sankey and Erich Wilson II, as well as the showing by highly touted freshman safety (well, nickelback) Shaq Thompson, as long as it is careful optimism. Sankey and Wilson both ran very well as the number one and two backs, but it’s still dangerous to assume that production can be repeated against a Pac-12 defense. Not counting Colorado, for obvious reasons. Shaq blocked a field goal and had a few nice, solid tackles as he roved all around the field at nickelback, but once again, it was just Portland State. The positive play can’t be a bad sign, but it might end up meaning nothing at all.