As we do every week before the Arizona Wildcats take the field, we chatted with someone who knows the opponent very well. This week, we checked in with Adam Jude, who covers Washington for the Seattle Times.
Jude shared some great insight on the 16th-ranked Huskies before this afternoon’s showdown.
Here’s what he had to say.
What's been the biggest key in the turnaround of Justin Wilcox's defense? Who are a couple of players to watch on Saturday?
A: “In total defense rankings, Washington went from ranking 106th nationally in 2011 to 31st in 2012 to 12th now, allowing 279 yards per game (and 3.84 yards per play). The Huskies admitted this week that the 52-17 loss to Arizona last year was something of a turning point for them. It was then that coach Steve Sarkisian realized he would have to make some changes, and the result was the full-time shift to the no-huddle, up-tempo offense, which, the Huskies hope, has the defense better conditioned — physically and mentally — to faces similar offenses nearly every week in the Pac-12.
“For all the strides the defense made last year in Wilcox’s first season, UW struggled to slow down the likes of Arizona and Oregon. As for the players, 327-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton probably needs to have a big game Saturday, if not in the stat book than in eating up Arizona blockers to free up UW’s solid linebacker group. Middle linebacker John Timu, UW’s leading tackler in 2012, missed last week’s game against Idaho State with a shoulder injury, but he expects to start against the Wildcats.”
Is there a sense in the Northwest that Steve Sarkisian is really hitting his stride now at Washington in terms of getting the players he wants and using the schemes he's most comfortable with? Do they feel like they are ready to be a perennial top-20 program?
A: “There was some nervous tension going into the season-opener against a Boise State squad that had squeaked by UW in the Las Vegas bowl in December. The Huskies have had three consecutive 7-6 seasons, and there were some rumblings about Sarkisian being on the “hot seat,” fair or not. But the emphatic 38-6 victory over Boise State has raised the bar for this season. With the $280 million renovation to Husky Stadium, which includes an 83,000-square-foot football operations center, there are also expectations for better recruiting, too. So, yes, in short there is a sense that this program is on the uptick.”
A ton has been made of Keith Price's fast start. How has he improved from last season and is it reasonable to believe it will continue throughout Pac-12 play.
A: “It’s reasonable to expect that because the guys around him are healthy and playing well. At least part of Price’s struggles in 2012 can be attributed to a beat-up offensive line. UW lost three offensive linemen to significant injuries two games in, and Price later admitted he lost trust in the guys around in. It looks like that trust and that bond has been completely restored. It certainly helps a quarterback when you have a running back producing like Bishop Sankey, and his receiving corps is deep and versatile.”
Obviously there wasn't a lot to learn last weekend, but what were the two or three biggest things learned about this team against Boise State and Illinois?
A: “The Huskies expected to have some success with the new up-tempo offense. But to be this effective, this quickly? I’m not sure they could’ve realistically projected this — 630 yards of total offense per game, third-most in the nation. Price’s resurgence and Sankey’s surge are probably the two biggest story lines, but the defense’s ability to hold Boise State without a touchdown — the first time that’s happened to the Broncos since 1997 — was certainly an eye-opener, too.”
Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins get most of the headlines on offense, but who is an under-the-radar guy on that unit that has started strong?
A: “In terms of the skill players, slot receiver Jaydon Mickens already has 20 catches for 199 yards and one touchdown in three games — matching his total from his true freshman season last year, when he had 20 catches for 190 yards and one score. He’s quick, confident and a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.”
How much credit should the up-tempo offense get for the production the offense is putting up right now?
A: “Quite a bit. Price deserves a lot of credit too for making smarter decisions. He turned the ball over too much last season, often at the worst times. The offensive line appears leaps and bounds better, too, in part because it’s healthy and has had the same starting five since the start of training camp in August. The Huskies say that cohesion and chemistry has been a factor.”