Can Huskies regain momentum for season’s second half?
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is confident his 4-2 team can regain its footing at midseason.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It was a special start.
Washington’s 38-6 rout of then-No. 19 Boise State on the opening night of renovated Husky Stadium ignited the program’s first 4-0 start to a season since 2001.
Now, as they grind through the meatiest part of their schedule, the No. 20 Huskies are 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 Conference at the season’s midway point, riding a two-game losing skid to then-No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon.
As he looked ahead to the visit Saturday to Arizona State (4-2, 2-1), UW coach Steve Sarkisian on Monday likened this next stretch as the third quarter of the season. And, he noted, the Huskies were quite good in the third quarter during the first six games of the season.
Washington has scored a total of 87 points in the third quarter, the same total as the first and second quarters combined. (The Huskies have scored 37 points in the fourth quarter.) Sarkisian credited the adjustments that have been made at halftime, which have allowed the offense to play faster and more efficient coming out of the break.
The result: UW has scored a touchdown on the opening drive of all five games in which the starting offense took the field to start the second half.
“We place a huge emphasis on that first drive and setting the momentum there in that third quarter,” Sarkisian said. “This is the third quarter of the season, and here’s our first drive. What are we going to do with it?”
Here’s a look at Washington’s midseason report card, and some adjustments to be made heading into the second half.
For the Huskies to have a chance at breaking through the 7-6 ceiling, Keith Price had to return to his 2011 form. So far, he has. The fifth-year senior is completing 69.2 percent of his passes, with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He had arguably the best game of his career in a losing effort at Stanford, despite an injured thumb. Here’s an indication of how good Price has been: ESPN’s Pac-12 blog on Monday ranked him No. 9 on its list of top players in the conference during the first half of the season. He wasn’t even ranked among the top 25 coming into the season.
Junior Bishop Sankey leads the nation at 149.8 yards per game, with 159 carries for 899 yards and nine touchdowns. So not much to complain about here. Sankey’s durability, power and patience have led some NFL scouts to compare him to Emmitt Smith. Sankey is on pace to break Corey Dillon’s season record of 1,695 yards from 1996. He also is on pace to break Dillon’s record of 301 carries in a season. Look for UW to get backup Jesse Callier (6.1 yards per carry) more involved in the second half.
The line deserves credit for creating running lanes for Sankey. New center Mike Criste has been a pleasant surprise, and the return of a healthy Colin Tanigawa at right guard has helped create some continuity. But against the two best defensive lines in the Pac-12, Stanford and Oregon, the offensive line has allowed nine sacks over the past two games, with Price narrowly escaping several more. Now, a shoulder injury to starting left guard Dexter Charles has left his status in question for Saturday at Arizona State, Sarkisian said. Junior Erik Kohler (foot), who made his season debut against Oregon, would likely start in Charles’ place.
Wide receivers/tight ends
Senior Kevin Smith and sophomore Jaydon Mickens have emerged as top targets, while established veterans Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins have taken a back seat at times.
“We’ve got a talented offensive football team in a lot of phases and we know we’re better when we’re balanced,” Sarkisian said. “With that being said, would I like Austin to have more catches coming out of ballgames? Sure. Same with Kasen (Williams), same with Kevin Smith, same with Jaydon Mickens …”
Nose tackle Danny Shelton has been the unheralded leader of the Washington defense, plugging holes inside at 327 pounds.
Hau’oli Kikaha, after two major knee injuries the past two years, has been a relentless force off the edge. Cory Littleton has shown flashes at rush-end, but UW hasn’t been able to establish a consistent pass rush.
Touted as one of the Pac-12’s best linebacker groups coming into the season, starters John Timu, Shaq Thompson and Princeton Fuimaono have been solid.
Fuimaono has been the team’s best surprise, with a team-high 44 tackles. Thompson, the team’s best athlete, continues to develop into an elite playmaker, and Timu has been the calm leader in the middle. One nitpick: The three starters have forced only one fumble and made no interceptions.
Senior safety Sean Parker, with a team-high three interceptions, has been the defensive MVP so far, and sophomore Marcus Peters emerged as one of the Pac-12’s most physical cornerbacks. Until Oregon, the secondary had been great at denying deep passes. Surely, that’ll be a point of emphasis going against pass-happy Arizona State this week.
Do-it-all senior Travis Coons is 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts. That’s about the only positive for the special teams. Most glaring, failures on kickoff coverage were UW’s downfall at Stanford, and freshman John Ross ranks last in the Pac-12 among regular kick returners, at 18.2 yards per return.
|Huskies at the halfway point|
|The Huskies are 4-2 halfway through their season. A look at the first six games, by the numbers:|
|Red-zone TDs||21 of 29||11 of 20|
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude.