It is crazy how much this game will matter as far as how this season is viewed. While 8-5 may not be a record that anyone was getting excited about preseason, it would represent progress, and any progress is good progress. However, another 7 win year, the third in a row, would be another listless year in the doldrums. Lose to Boise State tomorrow, and the question all offseason long will be about whether or not Coach Sark is the guy to get this program back to national relevance. Win and all of the sudden everyone will spend the spring and summer wondering just how high the expectations should be for 2013, the season when everything is supposed to come together.
I have had a couple weeks to look over stats, rewatch games, and think over how I feel about both teams, and I’m comfortable saying that I think Washington should win. The only time the defense has looked retro-Holt this season has been against spread teams. Oregon, Arizona. LSU was really the only exception, and I think that had a lot to do with early season inexperience and a hostile road environment. Against more traditional, pro style offenses that feature talented running backs and a pocket passer, Washington has been very resilient. Stanford and Oregon State come to mind, Cal and Utah also fit into that mold. While it’s always foolish to question Boise State, especially with Coach Peterson running things, I don’t think Boise State, now sans-Kellen Moore, to score more than 17-20 points.
But, as was often the question throughout 2012: can the offense preform well enough for that to be enough? Against Boise State, that answer isn’t necessarily clear. As has become a rule under Peterson, Boise’s defense is disciplined and fundamentally sound. They play smart football and they don’t take random weeks off. Washington simply isn’t going to run up 40 or 50 points, even if last year’s Keith Price is brought back via time travel. However, if the Washington team that takes the field tomorrow in Vegas is comparable to the best version we’ve seen this year, it could very well mean a solid victory if the defense delivers the way I expect it to.
That best version I’m talking about isn’t going to blow anyone away. When I recently ranked the top ten individual performances from 2012, Price didn’t have a single appearance. The only time he played exceptionally well was against Portland State and Colorado, who were exceptionally bad teams. So don’t expect him to throw for 300+ yards and four scores. While it’s certainly possible Price changes everything out of the blue, it’s foolish to expect fireworks or record breaking numbers from him anymore. Look for efficiency at the quarterback position, and effective playcalling to get the ball to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams down field. 60% passing for 200-250 yards with a score or two from Price would be all Washington needs from Price, as long as he doesn’t turn over the ball more than, perhaps, once.
How can the Huskies make the possible? Give Bishop Sankey the ball again and again. If you kidnapped me and prevented me from seeing the game, told me at its conclusion that Sankey received fewer than 20 carries, and asked me to predict who won, I would pick the Broncos every time. It’s a familiar routine, and it isn’t always exciting, but this Washington offense needs to establish the run and let Sankey do his thing in order to make things easier for Price when it comes to making smart decisions in the short and intermediate games and giving him an opportunity to take a few shots to ASJ and Williams downfield. If the run fails, or too many passes are called early on, those shots downfield probably won’t be available, and it will be that much more likely that Price makes foolish overtime-in-the-Apple Cup type mistakes.
Of course, even if parts of my nice, convenient little game plan works, even if Washington’s defense harasses Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick like they harassed Sean Mannion, and even if they bottle up starting back D.J. Harper like they did Stepfan Taylor, Boise State could still manage 17 or so points. And even if Bishop Sankey pulls out one of his terrific 150+ yard, two touchdown performances, Washington could lose 17-14 if Keith Price spend the whole game hucking the ball out of bounds and fumbling on scrambles. And if a dynamic Sankey and efficient Price do manage to score three or so touchdowns, the defense could pull an Apple Cup and stop operating down the line.
Overall, I’m going to predict that we see a Washington defense well-prepared by Justin Wilcox and an offense that is ready to contribute enough to win while limiting costly mistakes. However, another thing to watch for: penalties. If Washington is penalized like they were at WSU, they will almost certainly lose, because the Broncos simply won’t do that to themselves. But with so much time to prepare, I’m willing to guess that the Huskies won’t shoot themselves in the foot on that same level.
Washington win, but not by much.
UW 24, Boise State 17