Washington fought a hard battle against the Boise State Broncos in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl, but fell short of victory by a few yards and two points. After falling behind 18-3, the Huskies clawed their way back into the game and even took the lead at one point in the game.
This game will go down in 2012 as one of the best games in terms of on-field storyline, but it was not as entertaining to the Washington Huskies fanbase. There were serious shortcomings on the field, and it cost them the game.
Even the special-teams unit, who was gloriously effective for three quarters, busted a major play that cost Washington the game. The final score was 28-26 in favor of the Boise State Broncos, but there were a lot of variables that allowed that final score to happen.
Let's explore the Washington Huskies and examine where they succeeded and failed along the path to a heartbreaking two-point loss to the kings of the Smurf Turf.
Overall Grade: B+
Keith Price encountered some issues early in the game when his targets dropped a couple of key passes. These passes would have stopped Boise State from getting out to an 18-3 lead. After the rust got shaken off the offense, Price had little issue finding his open receivers. Unfortunately, the offensive line wasn't cooperating with the plan, and Price did have issues with actually getting the ball to his targets effectively. It wasn't his fault that he almost always had a defender in his face...or worse.
Keith Price: 20-of-39 for 242 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions
Overall Grade: A+
Bishop Sankey keyed the Washington comeback, even if that comeback didn't last until the end of the game. Washington gained the lead late in the fourth quarter largely due to Sankey's performance, a performance which earned him the “Player of the Game” designation. He gouged the Boise State defense for 205 yards and a touchdown on only 30 carries, and many of his runs were on key downs that helped sustain scoring drives. Unfortunately for the Huskies, there is only one tailback on the team that is that good at what he does. He also caught six passes for 74 yards, making him responsible for over half of Washington's 448 total yards of offense.
Bishop Sankey: 30 carries for 205 yards and one touchdown and six receptions for 74 yards
Overall Grade: B
The wideouts for Washington did a good job of getting open and giving Price targets. The offensive line issue that interfered with that relationship will be covered more later on. Kasen Williams threw in his two cents with six catches for 95 yards but zero touchdowns. Again, had Price been protected, there's no telling what these guys could have done. The receivers did get marked off for dropping passes, but they were more than suitably effective for the vast majority of the game.
Kasen Williams: six catches for 95 yards
Overall Grade: A-
While things looked bleak along the Huskies' offensive line, there were plenty of situations where the tight end superstar bailed the line out of sticky situations. The ends played well in the blocking game for Sankey and the short-yardage receivers, but they didn't do a great job of sealing the edge for the ball-carriers. What one tight end did do was eat up the Boise State defense for a respectable amount of yards and even a touchdown.
If not for Seferian-Jenkins, the passing game would have been terrible all day long. He didn't just bail Price out, he absolutely sparked and sustained some of Washington's best drives.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: six receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown
Overall Grade: D
The offensive line was up against one of the better defenses in the nation in Boise State. Washington's offensive line did lose a little bit of credibility, though, since Boise State's top pass-rusher was sent home following an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Washington's offensive line was up against a depleted defensive line with a bowl win on the line. Price was sacked four times in this game, and he was on his back many more times than that from taking legal hits as he released the ball. The offensive line may have paved the way for Sankey, but that seems to be all the line did consistently.
Overall Grade: A
Boise State only rushed for 108 yards against Washington, and that's a huge mark for the most effective portion of the Huskies defense. If not for the defensive line, this game would have been an ugly blowout by the Broncos. The line did what it was supposed to, but the Huskies still only managed one sack.
Granted, that was a sack and a forced fumble that was recovered by Washington. The defensive line did a solid job all game of putting the Broncos in position for the linebackers to have their way in the Boise backfield. Again, for every one thing that went right for the Huskies, there were two things that went wrong.
Overall Grade: C-
From short-yardage passes to the few long runs that Boise broke off, the linebackers were one of the main groups of people making the mistakes on Washington's defense. This game was more than just winnable for the Huskies; it was theirs to lose. The linebackers allowed themselves to get picked apart by the short passing game and on third down by the rushing attack.
The defense did make stops on roughly every other drive, but there were far too many third-and-long conversions by Boise. Namely, a third-and-14 and a third-and-18. (The third-and-18 was converted on the next play, which was on fourth-and-one, but the major mistake was made on third down.)
Overall Grade: D
As the last line of defense, these guys did okay. They only allowed three touchdowns throughout the entire game. On the other hand, there were many plays of over 15 yards given up by a combination of the linebackers and the defensive backs. Boise State gouged the Washington defense for 298 yards through the air, and 110 of those yards were given up on just three passing plays. Make no mistake about it, Washington was not outmatched in this game.
Washington was outplayed. After the Broncos went up 18-3, the Huskies turned on the juice and overtook them to the tune of 26-25 with 4:09 to go. The only major issue with Washington on the game-winning drive was the inability to stop Boise from converting third and fourth downs. Prior to that, the defense simply allowed Boise too much rope. An 18-3 deficit isn't too much to overcome, but it certainly is nothing short of a mess. Alabama did the same thing against Texas A&M, and it made national headlines.
Overall Grade: C
Special teams was the biggest disappointment of the game. It wasn't even a close race. Yes, the defense allowed Boise to score far three to many points, but the defense played at a “C-” level for all four quarters. The defense was consistent. You knew what was coming when Boise had the ball.
The special-teams unit performed almost perfectly through three quarters, and it was the lone star of consistency throughout those three quarters. However, Boise's game-winning drive was set up by a 47-yard kickoff return off a 54-yard boot. That's a net “gain” of only seven yards on a kickoff. That one mistake handed Boise the game on a silver platter. I think that even Wyoming could have gotten a field goal with that head-start.
Overall Grade: B+
You have to give Steve Sarkisian credit for putting together one of the most gut-wrenching, adrenaline-inducing bowls of the season. That will be true no matter what happens from here on out. This game came down to the wire, and it was filled with on-the-fly adjustments that were made quickly. The offensive line and the total defense were severely lacking, so if you think he should be fired for losing to Boise State, there are plenty of reasons to justify that feeling.
Overall, the game was lost by a defense that failed to show up and an offense that just couldn't get around the Broncos defense consistently. The coaches made the proper adjustments, but Chris Petersen is simply one of the best coaches in the nation. You don't come into a game like this with a defense playing at a “C-” level and an offense that can only score occasionally and expect to come away with a win.
Ultimately, Petersen proved to be too much for Sarkisian, but the coordinators seemed to be on top of the entire game plan. It just fell a few yards short in the end. It was a valiant effort, and an admirable battle against a coach that is one of the most formidable in the nation. If these guys can get some serious practices in over the spring and fall, Boise State will not be so fortunate in the 2013 season opener.