Five Ways UW Beat LSU, Five Ways They Lose

The Washington Huskies are 24-point underdawgs on the road at LSU Saturday night, but it's not as if the Huskies haven't played spoiler in the past. Here are five ways in which the Huskies can pull off the shocker in Baton Rouge, as well as five reasons UW will do exactly what the oddsmakers expect.

Five Ways to Win:

1) Price is (up) right: If the offensive line can find a way to effectively communicate and handle LSU's vaunted pass rush, Keith Price should have ample time to dissect a young Tigers secondary. Erik Kohler will have to play the game of his career and newly-inserted James Atoe needs to grow up and grow up fast. Sark once called Atoe an NFL-caliber prospect and his teammates are relying on that talent in this daunting challenge. If this unit can coalesce and band together to create time for the QB and lanes for the backs, it would be both eye-popping and likely the difference in the game. Senior Drew Schaefer is the anchor of the group and his ability to communicate and lead the line will be a crucial element in this game. He's been in plenty of dogfights so his presence is a boost to a relatively young o-line.

2) Playcalling recipe is just right: With only one proven running back possessing significant playing time in Bishop Sankey, Sark will not have the luxury of leaning on Chris Polk as he has in the past. He will need to find ways to get running-type plays out of the arm of Keith Price while also keeping Sankey in a running "rhythm." Bubble and tunnel screens to Jaydon Mickens and Kasen Williams will help alleviate the pressure on the running game and hopefully keep the chains moving. Sark admittedly got frustrated in the SDSU game with his offense's inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. He will need to stay more patient and level-headed this week as his offense will most assuredly face significant adversity. Sticking to the game plan and calling smart, effective plays will be one of the more critical parts of the game for Washington.

3) Getting to Mettenberger: In order for the Huskies to have any chance in this game, the defense is going to have to create turnovers to get Keith Price as many possessions as possible. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a former JUCO player (and Georgia transfer) and had his first division one start last week against North Texas. He was unspectacular in that performance but was able to "manage the game" and lean on his high-octane defense to carry the team to victory. Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has had nice things to say about Mettenberger but I would have to assume he's looking to turn the heat up on the LSU signal caller. When playing a young QB, you want to apply pressure and force him into making a quick decision with the football and hopefully get him to throw a second before he'd like to. If Wilcox's unit can get to Mettenberger and get him to throw some picks or put the ball on the ground, the Huskies could have a puncher's chance on Saturday.

4) Stop the run (via Shelton and Toko): This may be the most difficult charge given to UW this weekend. To be sure, LSU is going to want to pound the football at a defense that made swiss cheese look solid last year. LSU has a stable of capable backs and a huge offensive line that likely fears no one. Saturday's forecast in Baton Rouge is calling for hot and humid conditions and the UW defense will have to find a way to get off the field on 3rd down to avoid exhaustion and cramping. It appears the dawgs are going to employ a "jumbo" look with Semisi Tokolahi and Danny Shelton in the middle. Let this be clear: they need to have the games of their lives if the defense has any chance at stopping the run. Their ability to displace blockers and not allow them to get free shots on the second level of the defense is paramount. Also on this topic, tackling is going to have to be markedly better than last week as there were way too many instances where Husky defenders failed to wrap up against the Aztecs. Sark said defensive performances like the ones versus Stanford and Baylor last year are a thing of the past. It's time to prove it.

5) Exploiting a young secondary: Everyone talks about how great LSU's athletes are, and they are great. However a freshman is a freshman and LSU is starting two at the cornerback position. Freshmen Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins will attempt to shut down the Huskies' passing attack and Keith Price needs to do what a veteran does: outduel youth and inexperience. If the Huskies are going to "take the next step", Kasen Williams and Keith Price need to find a way to outperform their counterparts on the defense. It may be unfair to put the onus on the true sophomore from Skyline but if you want to be great, you must exceed expectations. The same goes for ASJ who is likely to see a good amount of double coverage. The Fox Island, Wa. native is going to need to come up with big plays to keep drives alive and continue to be Price's security blanket. The Huskies will also look for production from Kevin Smith who has battled his way back from an ACL injury at the end of last season. How much he can play remains to be seen but his availability alone is a welcome sight for an offense decimated by early injuries. Additionally, if the Huskies are going to beat LSU, true freshmen Kendyl Taylor and Jaydon Mickens are going to have to make some plays beyond the status quo.
Five Ways they Lose:

1) #17 loses his head: Sark mentioned this week that Keith Price sometimes gets a little down on himself and it can rub off on the team. If LSU is able to get to Price early and often, it will be a very long night for the Huskies. Further, if Keith loses his composure and it begins to manifest itself in the rest of the team's demeanor, the score will also get out of hand. Against San Diego State, it was apparent Keith was antsy in the pocket, apparently not having much faith in the o-line. Should he get hit hard early on, it could be all that it takes to rattle his confidence in his blockers and get down on himself.

2) No running game: This is probably the biggest concern for Sarkisian heading into this week's game. With Jesse Callier going down for the season with a torn ACL, the burden falls on Bishop Sankey to be the feature back in Washington's rushing attack. At 5'10, 200 lbs, Sankey is not built to carry the ball 30 times a game a la Chris Polk. LSU's front seven are extremely stout and running the ball straight at them just isn't going to be an option for any stretch of the game. As mentioned earlier, it's going to take some innovative game planning and play calling in this area for the Huskies to have success moving the ball. LSU wants to make the Huskies one dimensional, and if they do, the Huskies are in trouble.

3) Can't stop LSU (by ground or air): Think Alamo Bowl 2011. I know, it hurts. If LSU decides to run the football and can do so easily, that's spells serious trouble for UW. The Bayou Bengals have a couple of really solid backs in Junior Blue and Michael Ford, both of whom will attempt to wear down Washington's defense. If LSU decides to throw the ball and does so effectively, that's even worse for Sark's Huskies. Zach Mettenberger is hardly Andrew Luck and if he can complete passes at will, don't expect a UW victory. Home field advantage, superb athletes, and an injury plagued roster should force Wilcox's hand to some degree in calling a fairly aggressive game. The Washington defense can't afford to sit back and play the wait-and-react defense of a year ago. If they do, it's curtains for the Huskies in Louisiana.

4) Kasen and ASJ are Neutralized: It is no secret going into this game that Kasen Wiliams and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are the Huskies' most potent offensive weapons. If the Lousiana State defense is able to effectively take No's 2 and 88 out of the game, Sark is going to have a very difficult time trying to find a way to move the football. Given ASJ's increasing national recognition, and KP's tendency to throw to him, blanketing Sefarian-Jenkins in coverage will likely be LSU's top defensive priority. Kasen Williams is a pivotal player in this game for the Huskies and if he's absent from the stat sheet, it likely means a loss for the dawgs from Montlake.

5) Special teams meltdown: Les Miles' squad has returned punts for touchdowns in three of their last four games dating back to last year. The Huskies looked shaky on special teams in its season opener and can ill afford a poor performance this Saturday at LSU. Odell Beckham Jr returned a punt for a touchdown last week against North Texas and Husky fans will be holding their breath every time the ball is kicked in his direction. It's an understatement to say that special teams coach Johnny Nansen has his hands full trying to stop LSU's return units. But he will also be charged with breathing some life into a return game that hasn't seen a kick returned for a touchdown in what seems like a century. A special teams debacle for UW would be yet another ingredient in a recipe for defeat.

Overall, it's going to be an extremely difficult test for a relatively young Husky team that has endured significant injuries already in 2012. This is the type of game that you would hope UW could at least be competitive in after three years under Sark's guidance. A blowout would seemingly be a step back for a Husky program hoping to put a foot forward in it's journey back to national prominence. From my vantage point, a lot of elements of this game seem stacked against the Huskies in this matchup. Here's to hoping this author is dead wrong.


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