Thanks to UW Dawg Pound’s John Sayler for joining us to answer some questions about the Washington Huskies.
What's the mood around the Washington fan base right now as UW faces three tough games to end the season?
Players and coaches have to take the “one game at a time” approach or else they get ahead of themselves and can lose focus on the only thing that matters: the next game. As fans, we can do whatever the hell we want, and folks are looking at these last three games plus a potential Pac-12 Championship game as a chance to prove that the team is worthy of a playoff selection. You always have those fans who want to lecture everyone that we should only be concerned with our upcoming opponent, and we have to remind those people that they are not in fact part of the actual team.
Since losing to ASU, all UW has done is beat down on a pair of pretty bad teams. Both Oregon and UCLA possess some talented players, but they are not complete football teams. There has been some fear all year long that the Husky offense is not good enough to beat really good teams, and that concern still lingers.
How does this UW team compare to last year's excellent squad?
The offense is clearly not as good without explosive WR John Ross. Add to that season-ending injuries to three of Jake Browning’s favorite receiving targets, and the weapons in the passing game are far less dangerous than in 2016. The offensive line has been good but not great, which was the case a year ago as well.
The defense should have suffered a dropoff after three members of the secondary moved on to the NFL, then both starting corners were injured (one out for the year, one has been out since the beginning of Pac-12 play and is not back yet). But the defense is actually better than a season ago, at least from a statistical standpoint.
Overall I’d say this team is not quite as good as the one from last year, but these next few games should give us a clearer indication.
On offense, everybody knows Jake Browning's name, but who else should Stanford fans pay attention to Friday?
Washington has three excellent tailbacks in Myles Gaskin, Lavon Coleman, and true freshman speedster Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin is the slippery jump-cut back, Coleman the one-cut downhill guy, and Ahmed is —well— fast, and is getting more and more focus in the offensive scheme as Washington searches for someone other than Dante Pettis to make explosive plays.
Pettis is the clear #1 target for Browning. That was the case entering the season, and is even more so now with the injuries to UW’s receiving corps. Look for blocking TEs Will Dissly and Drew Sample to step up in the receiving game, based on nothing other than the fact that they have helmets and uniforms and are not injured.
What are the strengths of the defense and how do they match up against Bryce Love in particular?
Washington’s defensive strength starts with their two defensive tackles, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines. These guys are really hard to block, even with two guys. The inside linebacking corps was a clear strength entering the season, but something strange has happened there. Pre-season All-American Azeem Victor fell so far on the depth chart that they have actually moved him to a defensive end/OLB position. The emergence of Ben Burr-Kirven, Brandon Wellington & DJ Beavers has not only added depth to the position, but has actually strengthened it. I’m not trying to say that all of these guys are playing ABOVE All-American level, but they are playing very, very well. I can’t help but think that Victor is not 100% right; be it health or something else.
Washington didn’t sell out against the run versus an Oregon team that clearly was not a threat to pass the football. I would expect the same philosophy against Stanford. Bryce Love doesn’t need much of a crease, so I don’t think any defense can completely shut him down. Great players make great plays.
What happened against Arizona State? Do you think the Sun Devils' formula for an upset one that Stanford can repeat, or was it fluky?
Bear with me because I have been asked this question every week since that game, and I’m trying to not just recycle the same answer.
Ever have one of those days when you stub your toe going into the bathroom first thing in the morning? Then you go to make coffee and realize it’s gone and all you have left is some freeze-dried Folgers under the sink. After that you check your phone to find out your primary email address has 20 new spam messages. Finally, you are running late for work and when you get to your car the windshield is covered in ice…
That’s the kind of night UW had in Tempe.
I absolutely do not want to take anything away from Arizona State because they played a solid game that night. Their offense put together a really nice opening drive, then managed to avoid any major mistakes the rest of the night. Defensively, an ASU defense under Todd Graham that lives and dies by the blitz decided to show lots of blitz but bring virtually none.
Scheme can only do so much, however, and it was the way that the Sun Devils’ front seven got the better the UW offensive line that was the key. They were dropping seven into coverage and rushing just four guys, but those four were getting to Jake Browning. Browning was clearly confused by the lack of blitzes, and when he saw everyone covered, ended up holding the ball until the defense either sacked him or flushed him from the pocket.
UW still had plenty of chances to win that game, but it almost felt like it was not meant to be:
· Zero explosive plays from the offense
· A punt blocked deep in UW territory
· Two missed field goals (both under 30 yards).
Stanford is a better team than ASU from what I have seen, so an upset is certainly there for the taking.
Finally, what's your prediction for the game?
This one is not going to be easy.
The revenge factor from last year only goes so far; it certainly didn’t prove to be enough for Oregon. Stanford has always been a disciplined football team under David Shaw, and lack of discipline is something that Chris Petersen teams absolutely feast on. UW cannot count of the Cardinal to make a ton of mistakes, and with a back like Bryce Love, six points is always just a missed tackle away.
UW has allowed teams to score on their opening drive consistently this season, and if that continues it might be enough to give KJ Costello some confidence. I don’t expect Costello to make a ton of plays, but if he is able to make a few and avoid huge mistakes, this will be a grind.
Overall, I feel UW has the advantage on both interior lines, and that is where football is generally won or lost.
UW 23, Stanford 13