(1090 The Fan) – The Washington Huskies entered Saturday’s game facing a solid Arizona (3-0) squad that pounded them 52-17 in 2012. It also was facing its conference opener after a 3-0 non-conference start, needing a win to legitimize its standing in the polls and its ability to contend for the Pac-12 North title in a division that features powerhouse programs in Oregon and Stanford — the two schools next in line on its schedule.
Thus, the game was important on many levels and, in the end, through a rain-soaked evening in Seattle, the Huskies came through with another outstanding performance to emerge with a 31-13 win and their first 4-0 start since 2001.
As the team prepares to face No. 5 Stanford this week, here is a breakdown of each position and how it fared against Arizona:
Defensive Line — Facing the top running back in the FBS from a year ago in Ka’Deem Carey and a quarterback that was far more runner than passer in B.J. Denker, the defensive line knew its responsibility of dominating the line of scrimmage and keeping outside contain, would be key.
Well, the unit did that and more. A sack each from defensive end Cory Littleton and Evan Hudson, coupled with the strong play of tackle Danny Shelton inside, helped force Arizona into five three-and-outs to start the game, not allowing a single first down until the second quarter. This was important as it allowed the offense to build a 11-0 lead and never look back.
Arizona was able to get its offense going beginning with the second quarter. Carey finished with 132 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries, Denker added 56 yards and a TD on 11 carries including a critical 4th-and-2 scamper late in the half that eventually enabled the Wildcats to cut the Husky lead to 11-6. Also, the unit finished with just the two sacks it generated in the first quarter.
Overall Grade: B
Linebackers — The play of the linebackers was vital all game long. Outside ‘backers Shaq Thompson and Princeton Fuimaono had outside contain, meaning the responsibility to hold the edge of the line of scrimmage and not allow Arizona ball carries like Carey or Denker, not to get the edge. They were dominant from the start. Thompson finished with 13 total tackles as did Fuimaono to lead the team. John TImu assisted on five tackles and helped limit Denker in the passing game.
Overall Grade: A+
Secondary — They weren’t facing an elite passer in Denker and knew it. Early on, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre made an effort to press Arizona receivers at the line of scrimmage, not allowing them any early separation to enable Denker to make quick pass reads. Safety Sean Parker had a big interception on the first drive of the game, leading to UW’s initial touchdown and a 6-0 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Overall, Denker passed for 119 yards with no touchdowns and was intercepted twice.
However, the unit was flagged several times for holding or pass interference which helped extend Arizona drives in the second half and keep the Wildcats in the game.
Overall Grade: C
Offensive Line — Despite going against a stout Arizona front, the starting Husky offensive line didn’t allow a sack of quarterback Keith Price, nor him to be hit or hurried much at all throughout the game. Additionally, the line helped open holes for UW running backs Bishop Sankey, Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington all game long as the team rushed for 244 yards in the slop. Oh, and the unit stayed penalty free until late in the contest after racking up penalties in the first three games of the season. Huge performance.
Overall Grade: A
Running backs — Bishop Sankey continues to carry a heavy load for the Huskies, rushing 40 times in Saturday’s contest for 161 yards and a touchdown for an average of 4.0 yards-per-carry. Once again, Sankey broke off some incredible runs and, when he was limited, it was more of a case of Arizona anticipating the run. Callier stepped up late in the game as UW coaches finally decided to give Sankey some rest, adding 54 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Their ability to pick up first downs routinely, protect the football and even protect Price when needed, was excellent all game.
Overall Grade: A
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends — The Husky offense was predominantly run oriented in the heavy rain Saturday, limiting Price to just 14-of-25 passing. When you aren’t getting a lot of chances, it’s hard to shine. Yet, Kevin Smith had a couple of critical catches including a 49-yard reception that opened up the UW offense in the third quarter when Arizona had started to steal some momentum back. The catch extended a drive that had begun inside the Washington 10-yard line and resulted in a touchdown that gave UW more breathing room with a 25-13 lead.
Smith finished with four receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown, the first of his Husky career. Star receiver Kasen Williams had five grabs for 51 yards and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins had two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. I also thought they were terrific blocking downfield in the run game and only suffered one drop in the game, it coming on a pass that was severely under thrown.
Overall Grade: B
Quarterback – As noted above in the wide receiver section, UW quarterback Price finished 14-for-25 passing for 165 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Now, we must mention the adverse conditions which featured heavy rain throughout the game and strong wind gusts, making passing a stern challenge.
That said, Price had a lot of time to throw all game long and routinely under threw receivers or was late on throws, particularly a third-and-two pass intended for Sefarian-Jenkins on an out route that almost turned into a “pick-6″ in the third quarter. Even on some of the bigger throws Price had, the long ball to Smith, a 20-yard pass to Sefarian-Jenkins, etc., the throws limited yards-after-catch opportunities because they were so poorly thrown.
But at the end of the day, Price led critical drives in the second half when the game was on the line and helped lead the Huskies to a vital conference-opening win.
Overall Grade: C+
Coaching — Without getting too detailed here, I want to touch on a couple things. First, the play-calling was pretty vanilla throughout the game which allowed it to stay tight well into the third quarter despite the excellent play of the defense. Also, to give Sankey 40 carries without much of a breather until late in the fourth quarter, is inexcusable. We all understand how good Sankey is, but as Callier showed when he did get his opportunity late, he is capable of running well too, as are backups Washington and Deontae Cooper. The fact that Sankey is so important to the team, is why he can’t be toting the rock 35-plus times a game. Sankey will be needed next week against a tough Stanford team and deep into the season, subjecting him to as much punishment as the team has early in the season is not smart.
That said, the staff came through with a solid defensive gameplan and opened up the offense when it needed to late with a couple of smart calls.
Overall Grade: B-
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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