Jamaal Kearse (US PRESSWIRE)
After four weeks, there continue to be positive steps from this Husky team, and even a few on defense this time against Cal. The season is progressing as planned when you look at the 3-1 record to date, with a tough road game looming late Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City.
Keith Price is a stud. Four weeks into the season, and after all four games he has been a clear positive. After Eastern I lauded the way he took care of the football. From the Hawaii game on he has been lights-out accurate and his ability to avoid big sacks has been uncanny. The way Price can avoid the rush, get outside the tackle box and freeze the linebackers really killed California. The Bears secondary is very good, but asking them to defend the Husky receivers for upwards of six seconds on some downs is asking a bit much. Price’s efficiency rating is in the top-10 in the country and his 14 touchdown passes are well on the way up the Husky school record book. The current mark was 28, set by Cody Pickett in 2002. At this rate Price would almost surpass Pickett's mark in the October 29th game against Arizona.
Washington has something this year that I didn’t dream of – an offense that can win a shootout. And that might be necessary because the defense is clearly a project to this point. Washington is going to rely on their offense to win games, something that I didn’t think would happen.
Jamaal Kearse looks ready to contribute. Last spring I wrote how much I loved what I saw from Kearse during the scrimmage periods. Dick Baird and I both commented about how much quicker to the hole he appeared to be compared to some of the other linebackers, and he has good hands that would enable him to fight blocks and catch interceptions. Well, he wasn’t able to beat out Princeton Fuimaono or John Timu, but slowly he has made the coaches notice him. He was promoted to first team kickoff coverage and he took his opportunity to lay a great hat on a Cal return man, dropping him in his tracks with a thundering hit. Now he is going to start while Timu nurses a sore neck he got while dropping his head attempting to corral a Cal ballcarrier. I really liked what I saw out of Kearse in his snaps last Saturday. He will make mistakes, but I can live with those because he goes without fear, and plays faster. Mistakes out of aggression just seem easier to tolerate, and I’m ready to see more of #58.
Erik Folk is hitting his stride. Folk's kickoffs are going deeper and higher than they were in week one. And his field goals have been right down the middle. Even on his miss, a 52-yarder against the wind, his end-over-end boot was going right between the pipes. It just got blown down by the Husky Stadium winds that are frequent. His leg may not be the strongest, but right now he is in the zone. He is a real weapon now and seems about as close to a sure thing as the Huskies have had once they cross the opponents’ 30 yard-line. That is a real potent weapon and it definitely makes a difference in how Sark calls plays when he’s in that area of the field. He has some margin for error because he knows he’ll have three points at the worst once he approaches the red zone.
Steve Sarkisian is an offensive genius. Doug Nussmeier deserves mad props here for his work with Keith Price and his coordination of the offense that carries out Sarkisian’s game plan each week. But ultimately, it is the head coach that is calling the plays for this Husky team, and they have been close to unstoppable. Defenses that key on all-Pac 12 shoe-in Chris Polk from the tailback position are being exposed for doing so. Sarkisian is making the linebackers have their heads on swivels as he calls plays where Price can really spread the football around the field. You look at how many different receivers have made catches, and how many levels the Husky offense can attack from, and it really attests to Price’s ability to look at all of his reads. They now have a tight end and they use him to great advantage. They now have a quarterback that can put the ball just about anywhere it needs to go, and Sark uses that skill to loosen up the running and cutback lanes for Chris Polk to pound the rock through. If defenses try to key on Jermaine Kearse, James Johnson finds the weak spot and exposes it.
Sarkisian is doing an amazing job of making the Huskies difficult to defend while at the same time not overworking Polk, which would be an obvious but dangerous call to make. It has to be hard at times for Sark to not just want to give the ball to #1 over and over again, but they need him to hold up the entire season, so keeping his carries per game to 20 to 25 is not only responsible, it is brilliant. Defenses have to defend the entire field, not just the tackle box. Huge kudos to Sark and Nuss.
The defense made stops when it had to on Saturday. Sure the Bears threw the ball all over the yard, and they moved the chains up and down the field. However, the Huskies’ defense held the fighting Tedfords to just three points on the scoreboard in the second half. The defense was able to force some punts, and to force the Bears into field goals. And the goal line stand in the final minute was epic. It was nice to see young players Jamaal Kearse and Josh Shirley have such a big part in that defensive series. It has to give them confidence that they can do it when they need to.
This is a Husky team that expects to win. Does anyone doubt that the Bears would’ve scored against the pre-Sark Dawgs? I think the defense is going to continue to give up big chunks of yardage, but now they seem to toughen up when the ball crosses their 20-yard line. They stiffen and make it extremely difficult to punch the ball into the end zone. Statistically the Huskies have been awful, but if they can continue to keep their opponents out of the end zone and settle for threes, they have the offense to win those types of affairs.