Dwayne Washington still needs to work on ball security as he coughed it up again, but his running is looking more and more natural. He keeps his head up more than he did earlier in the season, and because of that he’s seeing holes that weren’t getting spotted back in September. That kid has the home run speed that is so desperately needed in the backfield to make the Husky rushing game go. Washington’s emergence has allowed Pete Kwiatkowski to keep Shaq Thompson on defense full time.
So the Huskies head into the Apple Cup with a confident running back, a quarterback that is peaking at just the right time, and a defense that is still getting after quarterbacks better than any other in the conference. All signs point to a blow out win for the Huskies in Pullman, which can be a dangerous omen.
It’s going to be a strange atmosphere on the campus of Washington State University, because it’s a 7:30 kickoff in numbing cold and on a night when school has already been dismissed and most of the students will have gone home to celebrate their Thanksgiving break. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd this game draws, considering WSU is playing for nothing more than pride merely a week after their irreverent quotable coach all but accused his defense of giving up.
The thing that scares me is that I was at the game in 1982. The vibe was eerily similar. Washington was rolling into tiny Martin Stadium with a bowl bid secured and confident. WSU entered that game with but one win and nothing at stake. Washington was unable to finish and suffered one of their worst Apple Cup defeats in history. While this year’s game doesn’t have a Rose Bowl appearance hanging in the balance, Washington will still enter the game as four point road favorites and will be facing a back-up quarterback. Coach Chris Petersen needs to win this game to push his win record to eight for the season. That alone would be a good feat, given that the previous coach was stuck on seven wins for so long. Petersen doesn’t want to be labeled like Steve Sarkisian was.
Should Petersen deliver the win on Saturday, Washington would enter their bowl game with a shot at nine wins, matching last year’s mark. That would be something to build on for 2015, when Coach Pete will have a full year of his system under his players’ belts. The most optimistic predictions had the Huskies winning 10 games this year, and nine wins would be pretty palatable, even by tough standards. To begin 2015 coming off of a nine-win season would be exciting for the fan base, as well as the young guys that will dot the roster next season.
Speaking of next season, it’s probably not a stretch to say that the defense will likely take a sizable step back from 2014. How can it not when you lose your best pass rusher, your best nose tackle in two decades, and your best linebacker/running back? Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton, and Shaq Thompson will all be in the NFL next year, and so will departed cornerback Marcus Peters. Those are just too many holes to fill in one year.
But the bright spot will be the secondary, the young but so promising quartet of Kevin King, Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, and Naijiel Hale. Those kids have really produced some good football. They were the beneficiaries of a ferocious pass rush and solid linebacker play in front of them, but still, they’ve exceeded expectations. It’s a fun group to build on. John Ross is currently one of the top corners on the roster, and it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll remain there or move back to offense.
Replacing Kikaha, Shelton, and both Andrew and Evan Hudson up front will be a chore. JoJo Mathis has come on later in the year and Will Dissly has shown up when given the chance. I would expect one of the young ends to surge to the top of the depth chart as well. Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman are both intriguing prospects. The Huskies are going to need big play out of Elijah Qualls, Tani Tupou, and Jarett Finau inside. Vita Vea and Greg Gaines have a lot of size and will also get a look.
The linebacking play of Travis Feeney allows the Huskies a solid foundation to build from. Keishawn Bierria will likely take over at one spot and Azeem Victor and Cory Littleton will see a lot of time. Littleton could start at either the BUCK or WIL spots.
On offense, there will be significant turnover on the line. I would expect Dexter Charles and Coleman Shelton to earn starting spots, but after those two it will be wide open for competition. Siofisa Tufunga came on this year, so expect him to slide into the center or guard spot. Shane Brostek will get a serious look after redshirting this season, and I would think that Dane Crane is probably ready to get a look at some serious minutes. It will be a green line, ripe with opportunity but also dangerously thin on experience. I am excited to see what the Portland kid can do, Andrew Kirkland. Big kid! The guy that looks small to me is Matt James. I hope he can use the next year or two to bulk up. They need about four to five more guys to step up and become the rotation with Charles and Shelton.
The kicking has been superb this year, as Cameron Van Winkle and Tristan Vizcaino have combined to make it a stress-free year. Korey Durkee also has exceeded expectations in the punting game. With John Ross returning kickoffs and Dante Pettis punts, special teams appear to be in great shape.
So all of this rambling on a Monday night isn’t entirely pointless. Well, maybe it is, but my main thought is that it would be a lot bigger deal for the Huskies to finish out with an Apple Cup win and set the stage positively for the bowl game practices that will shape next year’s squad, as well as the ensuing December recruiting activity. Washington is playing for a lot on Saturday when you factor all this in.
It’s time to FINISH. Finish strong, Huskies!
Monday Night Musings
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