Previewing 2011 - Opponents - Washington (Week 7)

We have officially reached the mid-point of our season here in Week 7 and we get to face a team coming off of their bye week. At this point in the year, the mystery surrounding our schemes will be wearing off for our opponents as the amount of game film available on us begins to build up. We are coming off of a game that we will most likely lose to a very good team, which could be demoralizing. If our guys were prepared to play and worked hard, hopefully they won't have taken any hits to their pride, but it's always a possibility. This will be our second consecutive road game, and we will be facing the behemoth that is Oregon the next week before facing all five of our division opponents in a row to close out the season.

Wow.

Now I'm listing all of that stuff because there are many reasons why we could see the team begin to unravel at this point. If Jon Embree and the rest of the coaches can keep the kids believing in themselves, each other and the program, then we'll be ok. I believe in these coaches and I think we'll be just fine, and we'll find something out about this team either way.

Follow the jump to find out what I think we'll find out about the team!

Washington Huskies

Some say the Huskies will be underrated this season, others think they'll regress after losing Jake Locker, most of their offensive line and important pieces on defense including linebacker Mason Foster. What do I think? I don't know, but I do think this will be a tough matchup, especially on the road. 

Offense

Last week we faced a team in Stanford that was replacing three offensive linemen and is concerned about the production of their line. This week, we face a team that is replacing three offensive linemen and is expecting to be much improved. Not only that, but they expect to be better a sophomore and a redshirt freshman among the new starters. Odd, right? Well they have the potential to be better, that's for sure, but you never know when you rebuild a line. They have solid talent returning in Senio Kelemete and Colin Porter at tackle and guard respectively, and they believe the other three starters will surprise people. And they'll have to, because they are going to be protecting and brand new QB. I'll go into my thoughts on the departed Jake Locker briefly, but I promise it will be relevant. Jake Locker was a phenomenally talented and athletic QB. He was a terrible decision maker (I told you it would be brief), but that wasn't always his fault. Now, that's relevant because throughout his career (including last season) he was forced to make plays with his feet after his protection broke down. So we're talking about an offensive line that had some holes last season, and will now feature a number of new, young starters. That could be a recipe for disaster for sophomore QB and current #1 on the depth chart, Keith Price. He too can make plays with his feet, but they hope he won't have to. If the line can keep him upright and allow him to find his (talented) pass-catchers, this will be an offense to be reckoned with.

Of course, he'll have some help. Washington returns one of the best Running Backs in the conference in Chris Polk. The guys is talented, and if he keeps improving at the rate he has been, he could run for 2,000 yards as a senior (but he will definitely bolt for the NFL after this season). He will be dealing with a lack of experience and depth at fullback, but the tight ends that Washington can be just as good as Stanford's, so that will help. He's fast and they will make an effort to get him to the outside, so we're going to have to hope that Jon Major, Doug Rippy and whoever starts with them at LB can sift through the garbage and attack the ball-carrier effectively. We have fast linebackers, which is good, and hopefully our interior linemen can make things difficult for Polk at the line of scrimmage. If we can do that, we won't have to be quite so worried about the Husky's receiving corps.

Washington has one of the best wideouts in the conference in Jermaine Kearse, and a group that will be challenging to keep up with. I'm not sure we have anyone who can deal with Kearse without constant safety help, which will leave mismatches all over the rest of the secondary. This is yet another game in which we'll need our front seven to be much improved this season. Otherwise this game will be a disaster. They will start Devin Aguilar (from the great state of Colorado) opposite Kearse, but there will be plenty of other guys that will get playing time. One to watch this season will be true freshman and Parade All-American Kasen Williams will push for starting time right away. He's a state triple jump champion, but he's much more than just a track star. He will be a guy that we won't enjoy facing for years to come. Add some big, fast and talented tight ends into the mix, and you see why we don't want to give the Husky's QB time to distribute that ball. The hope is that a pretty even rotation at defensive tackle (which it looks like we're going for, with Will Pericak on the second unit with Nate Bonsu) can wear down the middle of the Washington offensive line where they have two new starters and disrupt their offense. Now, they're not a great chance of that, because they have an excellent offensive coach at the top in Sarkisian. We just have to hope that we can keep the deep balls to a minimum, and force the occasional turnover. Otherwise we're going to get a healthy dose of Polk, Kearse and whoever else gets open and it will be a long day for the Buffs defense.

Defense

This will be a battle for the decades...no, not really, but there is one matchup that will be EXTREMELY interesting to watch. Washington sports the best defensive tackle in the conference, and one of the best nose tackles in all of college football in 330 lb Alameda Ta'amu. They guys is a load, and has everything you look for at that position, plus some surprising quickness. It will be interesting to see how coach Marshall helps whoever plays center (probably Daniel Munyer) with Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins at guard. This could harken back to the Miller-Suh matchup two years ago in Boulder. We don't know who will play inside next to Ta'amu, but there are a few candidates, and they sport some pretty athletic defensive ends. The whole line, including David Bakhtiari and Jack Harris will need to be playing well as a unit by this point in the season for us to counter the front seven that Washington rolls out.

At linebacker, they return the leader of their defense, Cort Dennison, but they have zero experience on either side of him. His knowledge of the defense will help, but we may have some success busting runs outside, which we know Rodney Stewart absolutely loves to do. I also like our chances with sweeps, tosses and screens against the Huskies. I also think we'll be able to exploit the middle both with our smaller, quicker receivers like Keenan Canty, and with our tight ends like Ryan Deehan and DaVaughn Thornton. On the outside, we're looking at two experienced and solid starters returning in Quinton Richardson and Desmond Trufant, but there isn't a ton of depth behind them. At safety, they return the experienced Fellner and Parker who will patrol the secondary. At this point in the season, it will be nice if guys who can create mismatches (like the 6'5" McCulluch) can contribute to the offense. This won't be an easy matchup, but we should be able to score on them, and I think Speedy outperforms Polk by a pretty good amount.

Special Teams

They have a solid kicker and two solid punters that will be competing for the starting job. Their coverage units started the year off terribly, and only improved once they put a bunch of starters on the units (some of whom are now gone). If they use those more talented players all season, they might have solid coverage units. They don't have that dynamic returner that people fear, so they're hoping that one of the new guys steps up to take that role. Otherwise we won't have much to worry about (even with the worries about our punting game).

Recap

This is a tough one to call. It's on the road, which makes it harder, but it's tough to say whether Washington will improve or regress. I'm going to abstain from predicting this one (considering it's still like 10 weeks away, it's well within my rights to do so). I will have to take note of some things first like the performance and cohesion of our offensive line and how well our cornerbacks step up when the season starts. I'll need to see what our offense looks like, because right now I'm only guessing. And I want to see how our front seven looks on defense. That's a group that has the talent to be pretty darn good, but they need to make some pretty big strides first. And what about Ray Polk? Has he finally turned into a safety? Or is he still a talented athlete trying to figure out his position. How well do our Fullbacks perform? Yes, there are many things to take into account, which will make these predictions harder and harder. What about injuries? Who steps up that we didn't think (or we hoped) would? Will I get my issues with my cable provider sorted out in time to watch my Buffs at home this season?

Who knows, but I promise to keep all of your apprised of all developments on each of those fronts!

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