Dion: Special Teams Dooms Huskies
The finish was distressing.
The beginning, though, hurt the most.
Stanford’s (5-0, 3-0) Ty Montgomery returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, going 99-yards untouched for the score. From that point on, Washington (4-1, 1-1) played catch up.
And, in the end, it nearly did.
After the defense came up with a critical fourth-quarter stop, the offense finally had the ball trailing the Cardinal by three points with a chance to tie or take the lead. Then on fourth-and-10, Washington quarterback Keith Price scrambled to his right, avoided a sack, stopped and rifled a pass along the sideline to wide receiver Kevin Smith to the Stanford 33-yard line. The catch would’ve extended the drive, giving the Huskies a first down and, with 1:16 left and a timeout, plenty of time to score the go-ahead touchdown that had eluded them all night.
But after a booth review, an official determined that it was not a catch. The call was heartbreaking, especially after the fight the team showed for 58 minutes to give itself an opportunity to win. Then, when you consider it was ruled a catch on the field and the replays seemed inconclusive at best at proving otherwise, you can understand the disappointment for Steve Sarkisian and his team.
“It’s unfortunate the game had to come down to a judgment call like that,” Sarkisian said to reporters afterwards. “I wish the game was won on the field and not in the booth upstairs with some guy (who) didn’t get to feel the emotion of the hard-fought football game that that game was.”
Ultimately, Washington can look back at a number of factors that cost them this game. Its special teams play was poor all night and penalties stalled drives for the majority of the first half, leaving the team unable to capitalize on the superb defensive performance it was receiving.
Before ESPN’s College Gameday arrives on the UW campus for its rivalry game with No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0) Saturday, here’s a position-by-position look at the loss against Stanford.
Quarterback — What can you say about Price? The fifth-year senior showed a lot of heart, rallying his team with one critical touchdown drive after another in the second half while Stanford pressured him from all angles.
Price finished 33-for-48 for 350 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception against the No. 5-ranked team on the road. He was tremendous, especially in eluding the Stanford pass rush by scrambling to extend plays and extend drives late.
If you’re going to gripe about anything, and I always believe that to be valid since the goal is to always improve, he was inaccurate at times and didn’t get aggressive throwing the ball down the field to his receivers until late in the fourth quarter.
There were occasions when Price and the offense had opportunities to lead a critical scoring drive after the defense forced a Stanford punt and instead it went three-and-out because of poor execution. These are areas where Keith Price can continue to improve.
Overall Grade: A-
Running Backs — The nation’s leading running back by yards-per-game average, Bishop Sankey, ran 27 times for 125 yards and two scores. He added five receptions for 21 yards. Remember, this coming against one of the stingiest run defenses in the country. Sankey was also tremendous in blitz pick up against a Stanford team that put constant pressure on Price and UW offensive line all game. Jesse Callier carried one time for one yard in relief of Sankey.
Overall Grade: A
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends — This group was fantastic in all facets all game long. In fact, it can be said that Price should have utilized Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, much earlier. Over the first three quarters, UW’s passing game consisted primarily of screen passes to receivers Jaydon Mickens (nine catches, 59 yards, one touchdown) and John Ross III (two catches, 15 yards) and check downs to Sankey and Callier (two catches, 10 yards).
In the fourth quarter, that changed. Williams (five catches, 89 yards) and Smith (six catches, 98 yards, one TD) made play after play against 1-on-1 coverage because of their superior ball skills. Williams, in fact, had two critical catches that kept drives alive.
Fantastic, but not perfect. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was targeted just five times by Price, finishing with four catches for 58 yards. The one he didn’t catch is the one he’s probably thinking about the most right now. Prior to the fourth-and-10 play, Price threw a catchable ball that hit Sefarian-Jenkins in the hands with 1:32 left.
One other thing I want to point out about the unit’s play is the group’s blocking. The reason why the quick screen to Mickens works so well, and a major reason why Sankey gains as much yardage running as he does, is the work that Smith, Williams and Sefarian-Jenkins do on the edge blocking. They are tremendous.
Overall Grade: A
Offensive Line — Facing an elite defense that brought pressure all game long, the offensive line had its ups and downs. Price was sacked five times over the course of over 50 drop backs. Additionally, he endured several big hits and countless hurries over the course of the game. Penalties were a problem, too. Right guard Colin Tanigawa was called for a false start penalty that stalled one drive in particular. However, Washington did gain 489 yards of total offense against a very good defense as well, the line playing a major part in that.
Overall Grade: B-
Defensive Line — Let’s just put it this way, Stanford’s running backs carried 37 times for a total of 152 yards, good for a 4.1 yards-per-carry average. Anytime you’re able to limit a power-running team to that kind of a number and put on the type of pressure that they did all game which led to two sacks and limited Stanford QB Kevin Hogan to 12-for-20 passing for 105 yards, you’re doing good work.
Overall Grade: A
Linebackers — The entire defense played fantastic, but personally I thought this group was the best. Led by Shaq Thompson (nine tackles) and Travis Feeney (six tackles, 1.5 sacks), this group ran to the ball, made plays in space and rarely missed a tackle. John Timu also had a big game with eight tackles as did Princeton Fuimaono who finished with six tackles, all solo. Their coverage was also vital in limiting Hogan to his low passing day.
Overall Grade: A
Secondary — Aside from one touchdown pass, which came late in the first half on a 1-on-1 matchup between Stanford’s Montgomery and UW’s Marcus Peters, the group was rock solid all game. That play, which came after the offense cut the Cardinal lead to 10-7, really stole the momentum away. However, Peters and the secondary cannot be given much blame here. For one, the coaching staff should not have put the team in that kind of a defense which gave Hogan that 1-on-1 matchup and Hogan took advantage with a great throw.
Looking at the big picture, the unit headlined by Peters, Greg Ducre and Tre Watson at the corners, Will Shamburger and Sean Parker at safety, limited Hogan to 105 yards passing and had an interception. More importantly even, they were tremendous at tackling in space which helped get the ball back to the offense multiple times, including with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Overall Grade: A
Special Teams – The unit that cost them the game. The group couldn’t cover a kick or punt as evidenced by the 290 return yards that Montgomery racked up for the Cardinal, nor could it kick the ball deep to give the defense any help field-position wise.
Overall Grade: F
Coaching – The defensive gameplan was tremendous with the lone exception being the final drive of the first half for Stanford. Not being in a prevent type of defense cost the team seven points and considerable momentum. The terrible play of the special teams has to fall on Sark’s shoulders as well. Offensively, I would’ve liked to have seen more aggressiveness early but 490 total yards against a team like Stanford speaks for itself. Let’s just get it going earlier.
Overall Grade: B
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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