Washington won seven regular-season games last season for the first time since 2002. But the lasting image of the 2011 season is going to be the defensive eyesore turned in by the Huskies in the Alamo Bowl.
The Huskies rolled up 620 yards and scored 56 points – yet still lost by 11. The defense was eviscerated for 777 yards and 67 points by Baylor.
The beatdown sort of put a cherry on top of a horrible defensive effort for the season. Washington surrendered an average of 35.9 points and 453.3 yards per game; both numbers were the worst in school history. Coach Steve Sarkisian responded by revamping his defensive staff. The new coordinator is Justin Wilcox, who had held the same position at Tennessee.
Washington looks good on offense again this season. The defense? Hmm.
Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12 (3rd in Pac-12 North)
Coach: Steve Sarkisian (19-19, 4th season)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (5) – G Colin Tanigawa, T Erik Kohler, QB Keith Price, C Drew Schaefer, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Defense (6) – LB Princeton Fuimaono, SS Sean Parker, E Josh Shirley, LB John Timu, T Semisi Tokolahi, CB Desmond Trufant. Special teams (0) – None.
Fast fact: The Huskies have to start winning some games away from Seattle. They are 6-21 on the road in the past five seasons, and half the wins came in 2010.
Sarkisian has the makings of another potent offense. Junior QB Keith Price was awesome in the Alamo Bowl (438 yards, four passing TDs and three rushing TDs), which capped a strong first season as the
starter. Price threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns; both numbers surpassed the career season-highs set by predecessor Jake Locker.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins is an emerging star, and though the Huskies will miss WR Jermaine Kearse, there looks to be enough talent on hand to have a solid receiving corps. Sophomore Kasen Williams, like Seferian-Jenkins a former four-star signee, should become the go-to guy, though injury-prone senior James Johnson also could fill that role. Williams and Johnson combined for 64 receptions and 10 TDs last season. Cody Bruns, Kevin Smith and DiAndre Campbell also should be in the mix.
TB Chris Polk, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, turned pro early but wasn't drafted (there were injury concerns). There isn't a back on the roster who can replace Polk, so look for the Huskies to use a committee approach. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey, a former four-star recruit, are the top two tailbacks. Sophomore Deontae Cooper would be next in line.
The line is the biggest issue on offense, though three starters do return. It would've been four starters, but G Colin Porter had to give up football because of shoulder injuries. Senior C Drew Schaefer, who will be a three-year starter, is the standout. G Colin Tanigawa and G Erik Kohler are the other returning starters, though Kohler moved inside after starting at tackle last season. The new tackles, then, should be some combination of Micah Hatchie, Ben Riva and James Atoe. Hatchie, a sophomore, looks to be a rising star.
Wilcox and the revamped defensive staff have to toughen up the front seven and tighten up the secondary. The Huskies were bad against the run (168.7 ypg) and horrible against the pass (284.6 ypg) last season, and all those issues are not going to be solved in one year. The Huskies will use a 3-4 set often in an attempt to get more speed on the field.
The defensive standout is senior CB Desmond Trufant, the younger brother of NFL CB Marcus Trufant (who
starred at Washington State). Trufant had two interceptions and 14 pass breakups last season, along with 64 tackles. His running mate at corner likely will be junior Greg Ducre, who made six starts last season. Redshirt freshman Marcus Peters also is a candidate.
SS Sean Parker is the other returning starter in the secondary; he was second on the team with 91 tackles and also had four picks. Highly touted true freshman Shaq Thompson, a five-star signee who was the No. 4 player overall nationally, will be given every opportunity to win the starting job at free safety. Thompson has excellent size (6 feet 2/210 pounds), good speed and tremendous football instincts. Senior Justin Glenn, who started five games last season, should be Thompson's main competition.
Two starting linebackers are back, Princeton Fuimaono (64 tackles) and John Timu (52 tackles). But neither made many big plays last season, and their jobs certainly are not secure. Josh Shirley, who made seven starts last season as a freshman at end, is a big-time pass rusher (8.5 sacks) who will line up often as an outside linebacker this fall. He had a strong spring and should vie for all-conference honors. Other linebackers who seem likely to get playing time include senior Nate Fellner (20 starts in three seasons), juniors Garrett Gilliland, Taz Stevenson and Thomas Tutogi and redshirt freshman Connor Cree.
The line remains a mess. Senior T Semisi Tokolahi started seven games last season, yet made just four tackles. He and squatty sophomore Danny Shelton (6-1/323) are the top candidates at nose tackle. E Hau'li Jamora was injured early last season, and if he is healthy, he will start. He is one of the few Washington linemen who is a playmaker. Andrew Hudson, Sione Potoa'e and Talia Crichton also will be in the hunt for starting jobs and/or increased playing time.
This is another area with issues: Washington is looking for a new kicker and a new punter. The likely candidates are JC transfer Travis Coons at kicker and true freshman Korey Durkee at punter.
Smith (kickoffs) and Williams (punts) did a solid job as return men last season. The punt coverage was good last season, but the kickoff coverage was abysmal.
Four of the first six games are at home. Alas, the two road games in that stretch are against LSU and Oregon, and there also are home contests against Stanford and USC in that span.
The schedule eases considerably after that; then again, it would have to, as the Huskies play four teams likely to be in the nation's top 15 by the middle of October.
The toughest road game in the second half of the season is against California, while Utah pays a visit to Seattle in the toughest home game in November.
There isn't much time for the new defensive staff to tinker with their product, as the Huskies might have the toughest first-half schedule of any school in the nation. Washington seems destined to start 2-4.
The second half of the season, though, isn't all that tough. Still, if this team can muster eight wins, it will have been a great coaching job by Sarkisian and his staff. A 7-5 regular season is a legit goal for a program that remains on the uptick.
The Huskies have a chance to be a good team, but the schedule isn't likely to reflect that.
The recruiting side
Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 33rd nationally
The buzz: Sarkisian and his remodeled staff filled with young, energetic recruiters put together an impressive haul on signing day, led by five-star S Shaq Thompson, who had been committed to California. The Huskies also loaded up at quarterback with four-star recruits Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist, and added important pieces such as four-star CB Brandon Beaver and former USC commitment Pio Vatuvei at defensive tackle. Sarkisian and his staff have done a nice job getting quality talent interested in the program, and the 2012 class was a big step forward. – Adam Gorney, Rivals.com
WR Kasen Williams. He is set to become a star. His 36 catches for 427 yards and six touchdowns last season were among the best marks in school history for freshman receivers, and it left him wondering what might have been had he not suffered an ankle injury against Utah in the fifth game of the season. Williams, a former Parade magazine national player of the year, appears ready to step up thanks to a more muscular frame and better knowledge of the system. – Ron Newberry, UDubNation.com
For more on Washington throughout the season, check out UDubNation.com
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