On offense, it's all the departed weapons, starting with QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. That's a lot of know-how and talent to lose in one year, and they also lost Damore'ea Stringfellow to a transfer. String would have been a huge piece to the 2014 offensive puzzle, given Kasen Williams's struggles to get fit and play at a high level. But their offensive line is senior laden and was expected to drive the train and allow those replacing the likes of Price, Sankey and ASJ a soft landing. Instead it's been a bit of a mixed bag.
Defensively, it's kind of the opposite. They have nearly all of their starters back and it's starting to show up in their performances. But the one position they did lose players to seniority was at safety, and they just happened to lose five players at that position. Add in Greg Ducre's graduation and the Huskies had to replace three starting defensive backs. They've done it with all freshmen, both redshirt and true. UW signed seven defensive backs for 2014, and four of them - Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Naijiel Hale, and Darren Gardenhire - are all seeing action.
On special teams it's all about new faces, minus one. Their kick returner is sophomore John Ross, but UW is using a true freshman in Dante Pettis for their punt returns. They have a true freshman in Tristan Vizcaino that they are using for some kickoffs, but normal kicker Cameron Van Winkle - or Cameron Van Sickle, if you prefer Ted Robinson's take - also does some kickoffs and he's been the go-to FG/PAT kicker for now. Korey Durkee is the Huskies' punter, and he can punt straight on or rugby style.
There's no doubt he's gotten better, but a lot of that has simply been catching up since he literally wasn't with the team the entire spring. He wasn't even in meeting rooms or anything, at least until the end when new OC Jonathan Smith started having individual meetings with him. As far as problems he can present to Oregon - that's truly the $64 question. Until California, he hadn't shown much of a downfield passing game, and it's still very much a work in progress. Really it's hard to say what you're going to get. The last time he started a game in Oregon he helped UW put 69 on the Beavers in Corvallis. I don't think the stage is too big or the lights too bright, but he's going to have to play by far his best game of the season. He hasn't thrown an interception all year and he needs to continue that trend. There are skill players around him that can help him make plays and the Huskies will have to chew clock and grind the game down a little bit like they did at California. Oregon can score so quickly, so some of UW's best defense can be an offense that keeps Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense on the sidelines for as long as possible.
3. Last year, it was Marcus Mariota that was difference maker in the Oregon-Washington game, this year what will the Huskies do in order to slow Mariota down?
Jimmy Lake had the best answer on Tuesday when we talked to him - shut down the run game - and that means Mariota's involvement in that part of Oregon's offense too. Everything starts with the Ducks' ability to move the ball in big chunks on the ground and their passing game goes off of that. If they can win first down and get UO into manageable third downs, they can continue to play aggressive yet still make sure everything is in front of them and squeezed to the inside. It's weird to say that UW has their best chance at success against Mariota if they can force him to throw; after all he's completing passes at nearly a 70 percent clip. But Oregon is at their most dangerous when Mariota can get out of containment and make things happen with his legs. When teams crash in on him, that's when he can go over the top. It's really picking your poison at that point, and if Washington can do to Oregon what they did to California - contain the quarterback, make them take the easy completions and bleed clock, force the Ducks into long, time consuming drives - they have a chance to stay in the game past halftime. Because there's no chance the Huskies can match UO score for score in a track meet. That would be suicide.
4. Who do you feel are the breakout players for Washington this season?
Offensively, Lavon Coleman has done a nice job of filling Bishop Sankey's shoes for the most part. He doesn't have the explosive component that Sankey had, but he's a inside-outside back that is big, tough, and durable. He was productive in high school and he's good for 4-5 yards a carry consistently. Joshua Perkins has always been a productive pass catcher whenever he's been in the game, and he just came off of injury to score a TD versus Cal. It's a bit rough that he'll sit out the first half of the Oregon game due to a targeting call that led to his ejection. Miles seems to have a rapport with Perkins, so that's one less target he'll have available - at least for the first 30 minutes.
Defensively, it's hard not to look at the combination of Danny Shelton and Hauoli Kikaha and what they've done so far. Shaq Thompson is getting all the plaudits (and rightfully so), but Shelton and Kikaha are driving the engine up front for Washington's defense, and they were a huge reason why the Huskies were so successful in shutting down the Pac-12's most dynamic offense up to that point. The play of those two, along with Evan Hudson and Andrew Hudson, allowed new DC Pete Kwiatkowski the full arsenal of blitz packages and schemes design to confuse Jared Goff and get him off his spot. UW seemed to always be a play ahead of Cal in keeping them off-balance and out of rhythm all game long. If Washington can cause the same amount of mayhem in Oregon's backfield rushing only four, it will go a long way toward keeping the Huskies in the game.
5. If you had to pick one player for the Huskies who will be on the field Saturday to be the game changing player of the game, who would it be and why?
John Ross. People again rightly point to Shaq Thompson as the guy who is scoring touchdowns on offense and defense and making plays every game that ultimately make an impact, but Shaq didn't play on offense versus Cal, and Ross is a big play performer on offense and special teams. He's already had a couple touchdowns called back because of penalty, and has already scored on pass plays of 91, 86, 75, and 55 yards so far this season. I'd normally say that once he's in the clear he won't be caught, but maybe there's a Duck or two out there that may be able to stay with Ross. There's only one way to find out, and that's for Jonathan Smith to dial up as many ways as he can to get the ball to Ross in space. He's averaging a score roughly every three times he touches the ball on offense, and is the one true 'home run' hitter the Huskies have on offense.