With the season fast approaching, it is easy to get caught up in all the rhetoric that naturally flies around fall camps. The optimism can be contagious.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has done an excellent job at bringing a fresh look to the Huskies. While it remains to be seen what he does on the field, he should be lauded for taking that first step.
If Sarkisian is going to be successful this season, these are going to be the keys.
Running the football
There is no doubt that the Husky running game struggled last year. Not only did the backs themselves struggle, but the offensive line had difficulty creating holes for them.
Frankly, a starter needs to emerge out of the stables. Sarkisian was only able to rotate backs the last couple years because they all were supreme talents.
It just won't work the same here at Washington.
Chris Polk and Johri Fogerson have looked the best in camp so far, but so have Curtis Shaw and Willie Griffin.
Polk is the assumed starter, after all the drama surrounding him becoming starter last year and flopping. He has used this last season as a learning experience and as a chance to get stronger.
It's difficult because the two best runners from last year, David Freeman and Terence Dailey, are both gone from the program. That was the reason that Fogerson moved over to the running back slot from safety.
The Sarkisian offense is run-oriented, so this is piece No. 1 that Sarkisian needs to put into place. Otherwise, the Sarkisian era could begin in disaster.
If the running game can succeed, it will take a massive weight off quarterback Jake Locker's shoulders. This in turn will help him develop into the talent he has the potential to be.
Improved Quarterback Accuracy
Both Jake Locker and Ronnie Fouch need to make great strides in their accuracy. Fouch won't see much of the field if Locker is healthy, but who knows how the season will go?
During spring and most of fall, Locker has looked much improved, a mix of being asked to make easier throws and having more solid receiver play.
The Sarkisian offense is predicated on more intermediate throws with the onus put on the receiver to gain the extra yards.
The offense of the last couple years was run-oriented, with all the passing coming on really long third downs or on big plays.
Drops have been an issue, but with the maturation of the younger receivers, that should diminish.
Sarkisian has targeted an accuracy of 60 percent for Locker and that may be high, but Locker looks well on his way there.
Receivers Need to Score Touchdowns
Last season was remarkably devoid of scoring—as evidenced by the 0-12 record—and the receivers scored very few of the touchdowns.
D'Andre Goodwin, the leading returning receiver for the Pac-10, had only one touchdown catch for the whole of last season.
The whole of the receiving unit? Six total catches.
Essentially, the receiving corps needs to make that next step, either to get open on longer routes or catch tough balls in the end zone.
Washington just needs to score more this season, plain and simple.
Pressure Opposing QBs More
It wasn't until the fifth game of the season that the Huskies recorded a single sack. The defense as a whole was atrocious at run stopping, and opposing quarterbacks had all the time in the world to throw.
It was something on the order of, on average, a 63-percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks during 2008.
Watching the team was frustrating because you could see them striving to get to the quarterback, but they couldn't quite make it.
Opposing offensive lines just bossed them up and down the field.
The only bright spot has been Daniel T'eo-nesheim, who most likely will make all-Pac-10 honors this season. The guy just has a motor.
EJ Savannah coming back will have a huge impact on stopping the run game. It's up to the rest of the defensive front seven to pick up their game.
Intercept the Ball
The Husky defense only forced seven interceptions, and Husky defenders only broke up 26 passes all year.
The aforementioned 63 percent completion rate by opposing quarterbacks was no joke. They missed basically only when the quarterback couldn't throw the ball well enough, or the receiver couldn't catch it.
The bright spots are that both Nate Williams and Quinton Richardson got a lot of playing time and have looked like they can be special players for the Huskies.
The bad news is that the Huskies still haven't really sorted out the other safety and cornerback slots.
Thus far the leaders are Greg Walker at safety and Justin Glenn at cornerback, but it's really anybody's game.
Sarkisian hired both a safeties coach and a cornerbacks coach this year—as opposed to just one secondary coach—in the hopes of breathing some fire into both positions.
Jeff Mills, the safeties coach, and Demetrius Martin, the cornerbacks coach, have their work cut out for them but have a lot of energy.
We'll see come game time if Sarkisian's hirings have succeeded.
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