Saturday will be the kickoff for Steve Sarkisian’s second season at Washington. Expectations are as high as they have been in many years. The Huskies open the year with a re-match of the controversial 2008 game at Husky Stadium.
It was probably the best game the Huskies played during their last dreadful season. It looked as if Jake Locker and the Huskies would get the upset win, but an un-sportsman like conduct call on Locker, who threw the ball over his shoulder, set up a longer PAT, which BYU blocked and held on to win.
Who knows how the season would have turned out if they had been able to hold on to win, but the past is history, and it is a new season. This year the Huskies come in with a lot more firepower on offense, while BYU is coming into the game without their leading rusher from 2008, and new starting quarterback. Still, while neither team is nationally ranked, it should be a heck of a contest.
On offense Washington is led by Heisman candidate Jake Locker. So much has been written about this young man over the summer, it is time for him to show the country that he can live up to his potential. His career at Washington has been up and down, but this is his shot to go down in history as the quarterback who led UW’s turnaround.
Locker isn’t alone in the backfield this year, as the Huskies are returning 1,000 yard rusher Chris Polk. Polk is a powerful runner who should only put up better numbers this year with another year of experience. Polk's production is a huge factor for Locker because if the Huskies can produce a running game with their tailbacks, Locker is more free to be a pass first QB.
The passing game for Washington should be the most potent part of their attack. With Locker improving his passing ability, receivers like Jermaine Kearse and Devin Agular are able to provide big plays through the air.
For BYU their offense needs to replace last year’s starter in Max Hall. BYU did pull in the top quarterback recruit out of Washington, in Jake Heaps, but Heaps has been unable to distance himself from Riley Nelson, so the Cougars will use a two QB system to start the year.
Some feel it is just to give Heaps time to mature, and that he will eventually take over the job, none the less both are expected to see time against Washington. BYU is hoping the combination of the two can replicate Hall’s productive of 33 touchdowns in 2009.
BYU was expecting last year’s leading rusher Harvey Unga to return, but he was dismissed and unavailable for play this year. The Cougars will use a running back by committee approach with Junior’s J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya shouldering the load.
Whoever the quarterback is will have four returning receivers to throw to led by senior McKay Jacobson who provided 556 yards and four touchdowns last year. The Cougars will need to replace two of their top three leaders in receptions, both at the tight end position. The Cougars are replacing those two seniors with true freshman in Mike Muehlmann and Devin Mahina.
On defense the Cougars return just four starters, with all three starting linebackers having moved on. The secondary will be strong, but they will be relying on veterans like Vic So’To and Jamson Frazier with a mix of younger players.
Look for BYU’s defense to try and keep Jake Locker in the pocket and wait for the Huskies offense to make a mistake.
On defense for Washington they lost two of their biggest impact players in Daniel Te-Neshiem and Donald Butler. That said the Huskies have brought in some bodies on the defensive side and look to be an improved unit over last year. While it certainly won’t be the strength of the team, look for Washington’s defense to take advantage of the inexperienced back field of BYU.
On paper Washington looks much stronger than the 2008 version, while BYU looks slightly less powerful. Neither team is ranked in the pre-season top 25. Washington has not won on the road in two years, but if they are going to live up to expectations this year they need to start, beginning this Saturday.
Washington 31-BYU 21