First Down: The Basics
Stanford @ Washington – September 5
Last Year: Stanford 35, @ Washington 28
Stanford battled Locker and the Huskies to a draw in the air while winning the ground battle with 244 rushing yards on a 6.8 average, versus Washington's 140 yards on a 3.7 average. It was the fourth straight devastating loss for the Huskies, who'd been pasted by Oregon and Oklahoma and lost on an excessive celebration/missed extra point to BYU. Of course, eight more devastating losses were in store for the Huskies.
Stat Battle: Washington O vs. Stanford D
Stats listed opponent offense (Pac-10 Rank), Stanford defense (Pac-10 Rank). All stats Pac-10 only. The first six 2008 stats are good and last three stats bad for an offense, so the larger the first six stats are, the better the offensive rank and the worse the defense rank, and vice versa for the final three stats.
Points Per Game: 12.3 (9), 28.9 (8)
Yards Per Game: 262 (9), 392 (8)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 105 (7), 163 (7)
Yards Per Carry: 2.9 (7), 4.7 (8)
Passing Yards Per Game: 157 (8), 229 (9)
Completion Percentage: 45.0% (10), 60.4% (8)
Yards Per Point: 21.3 (9), 13.6 (6)
Turnovers: 24 (9), 19 (6)
Sacks: 19 (5), 24 (4)
Returning Starters: 8 (Avg: 7.4), 8 (Avg: 6.4)
Predicted Points Per Game: 22, TBA
Some of the offensive numbers actually aren't awful for a team that lost its starting quarterback and running back early last year, and there's enough returning talent such that the offense should be the Pac-10's most improved. But the defense was absolutely abysmal last year, and I don't see reason to think they'll improve more than the dead cat-bounce theory dictates.
Speaking of injuries, holy Batman. Jake Locker: lost for the season the first week of the Pac-10 season (against Stanford, no less). Backup Ronnie Fouch completes 45 percent of his passes with four touchdowns to 13 interceptions, despite the receivers being one of the team's better units. Top-20 running back recruit Chris Polk, a true freshman, gets injured in his second start. Twelve months later, he is now a redshirt freshman. Add in an offensive guard who missed half the season hurt, a defensive backfield absolutely decimated by injury, defensive MVP EJ Savannah lost for 2008 for off-field shenanigans and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
Now, consider that in Washington's first four games, they were horribly overmatched and blown out twice (Oklahoma and Oregon), horribly overmatched only to lose on a heartbreaker (BYU) and then lost by a touchdown in a game in which their starting quarterback and Team MVP was lost for the season. Plus, you have a head coach who's never been super-close with players, everyone knows is on the hot seat and will finish with an 11-37 record. The table was perfectly set for Washington to quit last season, and that looks like exactly what happened en route to 0-12.
Prognosticators are calling for Washington to be among one of the country's most improved teams this season, and I suppose that's smart on a number of levels: this team can still be a pretty putrid 3-9 and I guess that would qualify as a major improvement, for one. All the returning offensive talent and players back from injury mean the '09 Huskies should be 10-point favorites over their '08 brethren. Plus, of course, Washington has one of the larger fan bases out there (or, at least, it did in its heyday) and so predicting a strong finish is good business.
Bottom line though: if the Pac-10 is half as deep as everyone says it is, Washington should be touchdown-plus underdogs to everyone in the league, save for WSU. We'll ignore the fact that the OL stinks and Jake Locker, for all his scrambling ability, has thus far displayed Vince Young-like accuracy (not a good thing) in his college career – and is now in a pro-style offense that minimizes scrambling and stresses accuracy. Generously assume that the offense will do enough to be competitive in the league. Even so, the defense is by far worse than any school's, save for WSU's. Simply put, I am not buying the Huskies.
Second Down: Backfield
Jake Locker completed 47 percent of his passes freshman year and was injured for the season four games into his sophomore year. He was a top-10 quarterback out of high school, but, today, there are several sources of uncertainty: his lack of a college track record, UW's switch to a less scramble-happy system and the fact that backup Fouch completed 45.2 percent of his passes last year most prominent among them. All told, I'd probably take Locker… oh, wait, I was going to say something like third or fourth and list a few guys, but I just flipped through the Pac-10 starting quarterbacks and they all stink. When your Preseason First Team All Pac-10 quarterback is Jeremiah Masoli and No. 2 is Lyle Moevao, you know your conference is very weak at quarterback. So Locker's upside is undoubtedly higher than just about anyone else's in the league, and even if he has a mediocre season, he's still probably in the Pac-10's top half.
Running back presents much the same story of unproven raw talent in Polk, even down to the fact that he was injured for the season early last year. Polk probably has less upside than Locker, but his backups, Curtis Shaw and Brandon Johnson, provide more quality depth than the guys behind Locker. All told then, this is one of the Pac-10's better backfields and among Washington's best units.
Note: All unit ratings are on a five-point scale, with 1 the worst and 5 the best. Units are rated relative to an average BCS conference team, with a team full of one a last-place team, a team full of threes a .500 squad, and a team full of fives a conference favorite and national title contender.
Third Down: Line
Well, from center to left tackle should be decent enough, as two juniors and a senior, all returning starters, are back. None are exceptional – expected on a team that rushed for just 99 yards per game – but experience is nowhere more important than on the line. The right side of the line, however, looks absolutely barren. The three-deep I have shows a redshirt freshman, two sophomores, one of whom was starting at DT last year as a true freshman, a transfer from junior college, a transfer from Drake, and a sole senior buried as the backup right guard – behind the sophomore who was a DT last year. This has all the telltale signs of a disaster in the making: absolutely no experience to speak of, the one senior so ineffective he can't earn a starting position even in this situation, and the coaching staff knowing they're in a bind and bringing in two transfers from outside and a transfer from the defense to try to tide them over. Luckily for UW, the left side of the line is more important than the right, and last year's poor rushing numbers were partially due to Polk's injury, but this line is still very much a work in progress, and one of the conference's weakest units.
Fourth Down: Receivers
Maybe Locker's presence enticed them all there, or maybe it was the ghost of Reggie Williams, but the receiving situation isn't half-bad. Tight end Kavario Middleton was a five-star out of high school who started five games as a true freshman last year, so he looks every bit the part. Plus, four-star Chris Izbicki, suspended last year, is back at tight end, so that position can only improve. Both receivers return as well – Jermaine Kearse caught 301 yards as a true freshman last year and is a solid No. 2 receiver in the conference, while D'Andre Goodwin quietly led the team with 692 receiving yards and Honorable Mention All Pac-10 honors last year. Devin Aguilar, who caught for 246 yards last year, and Cody Burns are two more highly-recruited true sophomore wide receivers who provide quality depth. With Goodwin just a junior and everyone else an underclassman, this figures to be one of the Pac-10's best receiving corps next year, and right now it certainly holds it own. The numbers should be way up with improved quarterbacking.
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