A number of Colorado players have said Washington is the most balanced team they have prepared for this season... do the Huskies have any real weaknesses?
Chris Fetters: "Every team has some weaknesses, in my opinion. I think what Washington has been able to do well this season is play to their strengths, which is a byproduct of good coaching. Their strengths lie with their skill players and a quarterback that understands how to take what defenses are giving.
"There’s no doubt Washington wants to be balanced on offense. They feel that gives them the ultimate advantage in terms of keeping things unpredictable. They are about 56/44 run/pass, which means UW runs just a little less than Colorado.
"USC exposed Washington’s weaknesses through superior athleticism. That’s why many say the game is not about x’s and o’s but jimmys and joes. But overall, it’s definitely hard to point to any specific area that has been a season-long weakness. The coaches have done a very good job of identifying cracks in the armor and shoring it up as soon as possible.
"If anything, the fact that UW lost their leading sacker and tackler near the end of the season yet held Washington State to a season-low for points in their house speaks to their ability to get the ‘next man up’ ready to pick up the slack."
Washington had some seven wins seasons, and even one eight win campaign, under Steve Sarkisian... but what did Chris Petersen do to help the Huskies really break through as a program?
"If you take Petersen’s words for it, it’s definitely not one thing. It’s a lot of things coming together at the right time. They bit the bullet with Jake Browning playing last year as a true freshman, knowing he’d be much better this year. Everyone in general is a year older in the system, and while they had a few impact seniors leave last year the vast majority of playmakers on both sides of the ball came back. And for all the players named to the Pac-12 first team this week - a record haul for the Huskies - they are still relatively young. Only one of the nine named is a senior.
"Injuries haven’t been a crusher like it has been for other programs, so there’s been an element of luck there. But mostly, it’s the team being able to internalize and focus and stay on task despite all the outside noise. The ability of the team to remain consistent in their preparation has been remarkable."
What can Buffs fans expect to see schematically out of Washington on Friday, and who are the Huskies' top players, on both sides of the ball?
"On offense, they are multiple. They like to run a lot of jumbo sets with multiple tight ends, but they’ll run just over 50 percent of the time, so they aren’t wedded to just a power game. They’ve been able to utilize play-action a lot over the top for big plays: they’ve had seven pass plays of over 50 yards this season. And the combination of John Ross and Dante Pettis has resulted in 30 combined touchdowns, a Pac-12 record for a receiving duo.
"Defensively, they like to play two of their big three linemen together in their base sets, with two outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage to rush or hold the edge. They love to play an extra defensive back in their base packages too, and usually that’s Budda Baker. Taylor Rapp, the Pac-12 freshman defensive player of the year, has done such a good job at one of the safety spots it’s allowed Baker to play that nickel spot and move around to make an impact. The Huskies have been able to create enough pressure with four rushers to scheme and disguise their coverages well, although lately they’ve been blitzing more. Their corners, Kevin King and Sidney Jones, are good enough to be left on islands."
Do the Huskies have any injuries of note?
"Their biggest injuries are to Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor, two of their biggest impact players on defense. Keishawn Bierria, Victor’s running mate at linebacker, was held out the second half against Washington State for an undisclosed injury, but Petersen said Monday he expects him back for Friday’s game. Starting safety Jojo McIntosh was out for the Arizona State game but came back for the Apple Cup and should be good to go for Friday. Other than that, the only other injury of note is to backup linebacker Sean Constantine, who has been out for the whole season."
Lastly, how do you see Friday night's championship game shaking out and what is your score prediction?
"One of Washington’s toughest games was at Arizona, and it was the only other game where they had to deal with a running quarterback. They got shredded by Brandon Dawkins, but found a way to win in overtime. Sefo Liufau runs in a different way than Dawkins, but is still just as effective. I don’t know if UW will try and put a spy on Liufau or what, but containing him and Phillip Lindsay is job one. They have to force Liufau to beat UW through the air.
"Offensively for Washington, I expect this one to be a slugfest. UW will try and take their shots, but they haven’t faced a complete defensive backfield like Colorado this year. USC is very good, but they aren’t as sound as the Buffs. As always, the key will be if Jake Browning has a clean pocket to throw. If he is given time, like he was in the Apple Cup, he will find open receivers.
"In the end, this game has the makings of a classic smash mouth affair, with field position, turnovers and special teams all having an impact. I know UW is favored by around a touchdown, and as we know Vegas knows all - so I’ll go with Huskies 31-24."