With a star of its passing attack likely out for Saturday's opener against Boise State's stifling defense, the Washington Huskies need big performances from a corps of promising young receivers.
All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is not yet cleared from a broken pinkie finger, UW head coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters Monday. Seferian-Jenkins was a vital cog in the Huskies' passing attack a season ago with 69 receptions for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. Only wide receiver Kasen Williams was more productive.
UW will not be able to duplicate Seferian-Jenkins' transcendent pass-catching ability in a 6'6", 280-pound frame. Instead, the Huskies must rely on a blend of speed and youth when attacking the Broncos Saturday night. A trio of freshmen earning rave reviews face a steep and immediate learning curve.
Lightning bug John Ross drew comparisons to Pac-12 counterpart De'Anthony Thomas for his explosive play on special teams, Seattle Times beat writer Adam Jude reported. Thomas now plays running back for Oregon, but his performance as a true freshman receiver in 2011 provides an example as to what a speedster such as Ross can do in space.
Ross and running back Bishop Sankey are vital to spreading the BSU defense from sideline to sideline. Sankey was one of quarterback Keith Price's primary targets in the Huskies' 28-26 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas loss, catching six balls for 74 yards, including a 42-yarder.
The Broncos ranked No. 5 against the pass last season and really flexed their muscles in December's bowl win. Price threw for 242 yards but averaged just 6.2 yards per completion and was intercepted twice.
"They have a lot of the same [defensive] principles as last year," Sarkisian said during his weekly teleconference Tuesday.
BSU defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski's principles include a tenacious pursuit of the quarterback. Beginning with standout defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, the Broncos produced 38 sacks in 2012 and repeatedly forced opposing quarterbacks under duress.
The BSU secondary sprung the trap that the Bronco front set, turning that aggressive pursuit into 18 interceptions.
Price dealt with the pressure last season in part by finding his tight end on the short, quick routes Seferian-Jenkins is so adept at running. He caught six passes for 61 yards against the Broncos, as well as Price's lone touchdown throw.
Ross and Sankey widening the field can offer some compensation for Seferian-Jenkins' absence in the middle of the field, opening things up for Damore’ea Stringfellow. Should Kwiatkowski opt to key in on Williams, UW's top playmaker, the 4-star prospect Stringfellow will see plenty of opportunities.
Darrell Daniels' size makes him a potential target for the red-zone targets the tight end would typically garner.
Saturday is a true baptism by fire for the Huskies' first-year triumvirate, but succeeding against the Broncos sets a promising tone for the remainder of UW's season. The Huskies' receiving corps will rarely see a pass defense as good as this.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.