Washington is thriving at season's halfway point
Huskies are 5-1, but potential potholes are just ahead.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW @ Stanford, 5 p.m., Ch. 4
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The Washington Huskies reached the halfway point of the 2011 season in no danger of being voted off the island. They've not only survived, they've thrived in many areas. They have answered a question at quarterback emphatically, unveiled a dynamic offense and rediscovered a defense.
The second half of the season, of course, will fully determine just how the 2011 Huskies are remembered. But with six games in the books, and at least six to go, it's time to review what we've seen so far, and peek at what may be to come.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Keith Price. No one could have envisioned this — 21 touchdowns, just four interceptions, and on pace to break a slew of school records. Most impressive may be that the 21 touchdowns have come in just 170 pass attempts, fewer than every other quarterback that ranks among the top nine in the Pac-12. (Consider that Oregon State's Sean Mannion has thrown five touchdowns in 240 attempts.) Just imagine what Price might do when healthy.
RUNNER-UP: Chris Polk. The junior running back has 728 yards on 134 carries, the most of any running back in the Pac-12 (worth noting for those who used to complain that the Huskies didn't use him enough). His average of 121.3 yards ranks fourth in school history behind only three of the most memorable rushing seasons in school history — Corey Dillon, 1996, 141.3; Greg Lewis, 1990, 127.9; and Napoleon Kaufman, 1994, 126.4.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Cort Dennison. The senior middle linebacker doesn't always show up in the postgame highlights. But on a defense that has struggled to find its way at times this season, he's been the steadying force. His 50 tackles are tied for second in the conference.
RUNNER-UP: Desmond Trufant. Sure, the junior cornerback has given up a few more completions than ideal. But, like Dennison, coaches laud Trufant's steadying influence. And it's hard to argue he's not around the ball. As well as ranking second in the conference in passes defended (which some could argue is also the result of being thrown at a lot) he also ranks in the conference's top 10 in interceptions (two), fumbles forced (two) and fumbles recovered (two). He's the only player in the conference in the top 10 in all four of those categories.
PLAY OF THE FIRST HALF: Trufant's interception against Eastern Washington. Almost hard to believe now that the UW offense was held to 250 yards by the Eagles, who went on to start the season 0-4. And it's also hard to fathom what might have developed had UW lost that game. Instead, when Trufant made a game-saving interception in the end zone with 29 seconds left, it provided the perfect "teachable moment" for UW coach Steve Sarkisian, able to ride his team mercilessly for its effort the next week, but able to do so with a win in his pocket. UW's intensity hasn't been an issue since.
Runner-up? Polk's 49-yard run on the second play of the third quarter at Utah that started Washington's second-half onslaught. That remains UW's longest run of the season.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Austin Seferian-Jenkins. It's easy to take what Seferian-Jenkins gives for granted. The immensely talented true freshman has 15 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns, and gives the offense a threat down the middle of the field on every play. Runner-up? Left guard Colin Tanigawa, a redshirt freshman who has started every game.
BEST STAT: While UW's defense has taken some well-deserved criticism this year, it has played better of late and has been salty against the run all season, allowing 97 yards per game on the ground. If that were to hold, it would be the lowest since the 1991 national co-championship team allowed just 67.1. The caveat, of course, is that Washington has played a lot of teams so far that led with the pass, and really good running teams like Oregon and Stanford await.
Runner-up? UW's 77-41 edge in first-quarter scoring. That underlines how well the Huskies execute the plays Sarkisian scripts before the game. Washington has scored touchdowns on three of its six opening possessions.
WORST STAT: Despite teams attempting 249 passes against them, the most in the Pac-12, UW has just 13 sacks, tied for seventh. There may be some reasons for it — teams such as Eastern and Hawaii got rid of the ball quickly.
But asked to name a couple areas of needed improvement this week, Sarkisian cited the lack of a pass rush, something that could be an issue as UW plays better offenses the next month.
The other he mentioned? Continued improvement on the offensive line as well as blocking by the tight ends and fullback.
Runner-up? The-pass defense average of 303 yards per game. If it holds, it would be the most in school history.
SECOND-HALF OUTLOOK: Sarkisian is getting deserved kudos for leading UW to its first 5-1 start since 2001, when the Huskies began 7-1 before finishing 8-4. But those waiting to jump on the bandwagon point out that Washington lost to the only team it has played with a winning record (Nebraska, 5-1, beat the Huskies 51-38).
Washington now plays three teams with winning records in its next four games — at 6-0 Stanford Saturday, home to 5-1 Oregon on Nov. 5, and at 5-1 USC on Nov. 12. The Huskies won't be favored to win any of those three, and those games will determine whether they will be perceived as one of college football's elite, or still needing time to grow.
Still, even if all UW does is hold serve in the games it will be expected to win (a home game against 1-5 Arizona, at 1-5 Oregon State, and in the Apple Cup at CenturyLink Field against 3-3 Washington State) the season will be regarded as a step in the right direction. And it would put 2008 that much further in the rearview mirror.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|21||TD passes by Keith Price, on 170 attempts|
|50||Tackles by middle linebacker Cort Dennison|
|97||Rushing yards allowed per game by defense|
|728||Rushing yards by Chris Polk, on 134 carries|
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