1. Take care of the football on offense.
Keith Price is going to have to make good decisions with the football. As a sophomore, that can be a tough learning experience. No one should expect Price to be able to rifle the ball through traffic with pinpoint accuracy into bracket coverage. However, people should expect that he will not force the ball when something is not there. Price may not have Jake Locker's straight ahead speed or his 240-pound frame, but what he does bring to the table is incredible shiftiness.
That will be the key to Price – how well he can utilize that slipperiness to get away from pressure and keep plays alive longer than they probably should be. That is when Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar can really hurt defenses, by coming back to Price and finding open areas to settle in as easy targets for their scrambling quarterback.
Also, Price will need to tuck and run when the opportunity is there. His scrambling ability will bring a linebacker out of a coverage zone to act as his spy. Once he slips away from the rush and hits the gas around the corner and into the second line of defense, he will alter the way teams defend him because he is capable of really gashing a defense for big yards.
It also means one less defender that 6-foot-6, 250-pound Austin Seferian-Jenkins will have to elude.
The key will be how well Price makes the decision to throw on the initial break from his receiver, to keep and scramble to later throw on the run, or to tuck it and go. All of these decisions are in the hands of one guy: No. 17 with the gold block W on his helmet. Price could be a defense's worst nightmare, or if he has trouble reading the coverage, he could make some fatal mistakes. His decision-making could very well define the Huskies' success or struggles on offense this year.
2. Develop a right (strong) tackle.
Is the answer Ben Riva, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound man-child, or will it be Erik Kohler, the 305-pound technician who is flexible and talented enough to play both guard and tackle? Washington feels like their best potential line right now would be Riva at the strong tackle position, and Kohler inside at the weak guard spot next to Senio Kelemete. That would give the Huskies a quick left side and a huge and powerful right side, as mammoth Colin Porter will be the starter at the strong guard. If Riva isn't able to come back 100 percent from a spring injury that nagged him at the end, Kohler will move out to the strong tackle position. Colin Tanigawa would most likely take the weak guard spot.
Either way you look at it, Washington badly needs someone to step in and consistently perform at strong tackle. Chris Polk likes to run behind Porter, so whoever is lined up between him and tight ends Seferian-Jenkins or Michael Hartvigson had better be capable of both zone and man-up blocking to give the Husky running back lanes to dart though and cut back into.
3. Chris Polk needs 20–25 carries per game.
No. 1 has been an amazingly durable back for the Huskies, having compiled back-to-back 1,000+ seasons in his first two campaigns. He uses his 215-pound frame to great effect, rarely going down after first contact. He breaks tackles, and then uses his balance to change direction and get away from waves of tacklers. His first step is quick enough to get him to the hole, and although he doesn't have sprinter speed, he is plenty fast to get upfield for big gains.
Polk is a work horse; he carried the ball 260 times in 2010, the third-most in UW single-season history. He will need that many carries at the very least this fall, as he will be the featured cog in the Husky arsenal. The entire offense will have many weapons, but Polk will be the one that the rest are built around.
One of the most powerful statements one can make of why Polk needs to touch the ball so often is his per-carry average of 5.4 yards. He doesn't fumble, and he rarely picks a bad running lane.
With a young quarterback at the helm, it's hard to see where Keith Price can go wrong handing the ball to Polk four to five times per drive. Defenses will be tooled to stop it, obviously. Although Washington will rely on the tailback through the 2, 3, 4, and 5 gaps, they will also need to show defenses that they can move the ball elsewhere from the line of scrimmage. Regardless, Polk needs to be fed, and often.
4. Jermaine Kearse has to make the easy catch.
Kearse is immensely talented and should be making his living in the NFL after this season. The one area that he will need to shore up in 2011 is dropping catchable balls. The Huskies just won't have that margin for error on offense this year, so for every acrobatic leaping-into-traffic-with-two-guys-on-his-back catch he makes, he also needs to show Price that whenever he gets into an open space between defenders, he will snare the ball for positive yardage.
Kearse had over 1,000 yards receiving on 60 receptions in 2010. Both of those marks should go up if he makes more routine catches. With so much attention on defense being spent on stopping No. 1 on line plunges and read options, Kearse might see more loose coverage. Coordinators may try to test Price's accuracy by leaving their corners in man coverage scenarios, and that is where Kearse can use his big body and agile cutting ability to get space and make a big target for Price to throw at.
And when he is thrown at, he will need to make the catch - without fail.
5. Third and short will need to be efficient.
Whenever Washington faced third and short last year, they had Locker to keep the ball and bust through the line. He was good at keeping the ball and putting his head down, bullying for short-yardage first downs. Price is about 50 pounds lighter than Locker, so the Huskies may need to rely more on their fullback.
Zach Fogerson would've helped, but lingering concussion symptoms forced his retirement from football. Junior Jonathan Amosa is the guy that may get the first shot at this important role, but the 225-pound former walk-on really hasn't been put to the test yet. Incoming freshman Dezden Petty is going to show up probably in the 220-pound range, so he may also get looks, but that is another unproven option. And the Huskies have walk-on Travon Brooks available, but it's hard to conceive of a scenario where the true freshman would see a lot of action.
Without Locker, the third and short yardage play becomes more of a mystery.
How well the Huskies do on these crucial situations will perhaps go as far in determining the success of the offense as much as the decision making by their new quarterback.
Keys to success - Offense
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