Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has his work cut out for him
The day following Washington's 30-27 win over Eastern Washington in Husky Stadium, the Seattle Times Husky Football blog ran a poll. The question posed to readers was to determine their reactions. As of 9 a.m. Monday, 51-percent of readers polled said they were disappointed, 43-percent said they were slightly disappointed but a win was a win, and five-percent said they weren't disappointed at all.
Which begs a follow-up question to the satisfied five-percent: "What exactly were you smoking?"
Amid the beautiful sunshine of a Labor Day weekend, Seattle residents were treated to the best weather we've seen all summer. Seventy-eight degrees and the type of blue skies that Perry Como used to sing about.
But between the lines and on the field, the story for the Huskies was vanilla at best, and massively uninspiring at worst.
Let's grade the game.
UW running back Chris Polk
Gaining 125 yards on 23 carries, Chris Polk again proved to be this team's MVP. Benefiting from very little push from his offensive line against an undersized opponent, Polk's effort and desire produced more of his trademark yards after carries.
Sophomore Jessie Callier got the remainder of the carries. He showed his blazing speed, but also an inability to break tackles and move the pile.
If the Huskies are to reach a bowl game this season, they will do so upon the back of the outstanding talent of Chris Polk.
RUNNING BACK GRADE: B+
Placekicker Erik Folk
If you remove Chris Polk from the equation, then placekicker Erik Folk becomes this team's MVP. The man who famously made the clutch kick to beat USC in 2009 converted all three of his field goal attempts against Eastern Washington, including a home record 53-yarder.
However, kickoffs were sometimes woeful in their distance and cost the Huskies valuable field position on numerous occasions.
Punter Kiel Rasp had a decent game.
KICKING GAME GRADE: B-
Alameda Ta'amu (#74)
Washington's defensive line was expected to be a strength, but against Eastern it was a concern. The echos of their epic effort in last year's Holiday Bowl have completely faded.
Last Saturday, Eagle QB Bo Levi Mitchell was able to throw for a mind-boggling 469 yards, and much of it thanks to a nonexistent pass rush from Washington. While the Huskies played effectively against the run, there was a startling inability to apply pressure in the backfield.
DEFENSIVE LINE GRADE: D
Washington's offensive line struggled
Eastern Washington may have been noticeably smaller up front than the Huskies, but they won the battle in the trenches. Washington's offensive line produced very little push on running plays, relying on Chris Polk's YAC ability. The unit even struggled at times to keep Eagle defenders from harassing quarterback Keith Price.
Was it a case of Washington not giving an inspired effort? Or is the gap in talent with Eastern Washington less than what was expected? Either way, with tougher opponents on the horizon, is UW's offensive line a cause for concern?
OFFENSIVE LINE GRADE: D+
Washington QB Keith Price
Sophomore Keith Price, making his second career start at quarterback, threw for three touchdown passes in leading his team to a win.
But the offense never seemed to click and bogged down repeatedly. Receivers also let him down with several dropped passes. And Price has a long way to go to develop a sense of comfort in the pocket, especially in avoiding the pass rush.
Looking at the big picture, Price seems to have a comfort level and innate ability to make a big play when in the red zone. He showed it last year with his clutch TD pass against USC, his scoring strike to Jermaine Kearse against Oregon and with his three TDs against the Eagles.
As the season goes on, it will be interesting to see Price's development.
QUARTERBACK GRADE: C+
The presence of former Husky linebacker Mason Foster was missed on Saturday
The newest faces on this year's Washington team are the ones at linebacker. Garret Gilliland, John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono all made their first starts. Gilliland made a nice interception in the second quarter, but there were numerous breakdowns in assignments and pass coverages. A critical component to the season overall will be this unit's ability to gel and mature.
LINEBACKER GRADE: C
Wide Receiver Jermaine Kearse
It was a disappointing day for the Washington wide receivers. Several drops and a lack of playmaking did no favors for quarterback Keith Price. Considering the level of opponent, the lack of production against Eastern Washington was a surprise.
But if there's one area that the team can rely on going forward, it would be the receiving abilities of Jermaine Kearse and Devon Aguilar. With the exciting addition of pure freshman Kasen Williams, things should only get better as the season progresses.
RECEIVERS GRADE: C-
Safeties Sean Parker (1) and Nate Fellner (29)
The defensive secondary was playing at less than full strength, with the temporary loss of cornerback Quinton Richardson to injury. But Washington's lack of a pass rush exposed this secondary and things looked ugly. Eastern Washington threw for 469 yards, which was the third-highest total in Husky football history.
Husky fans believed that the days of opposing quarterbacks setting the world on fire and school passing records against UW were over with the end of the Tyrone Willingham era. Not so.
The secondary could prove to be an Achilles heel, sure to be exploited by opponents, unless Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt can find a way to meld this unit and improve its performances tenfold.
SECONDARY GRADE: D+
UW coach Steve Sarkisian
Simply put, the Huskies came out flat and performed in an extremely uninspiring manner. The line play was awful and things looked awful defensively. Being plagued by mistakes is common for season openers, but to barely eke out a win against a lower-division team is too close for comfort.
Former UW coach Don James used to say that the biggest leaps of improvement for football teams comes between the first and second weeks of the season. For this season, the proof in the pudding will reveal itself further this coming Saturday when the Hawaii Warriors come to Seattle to play the Huskies.
COACHING GRADE: D
Former UW coach JIm Lambright
Washington's propensity to give up record-setting days for opposing quarterbacks is nothing new. This "tradition" goes back to 1998, when Jim Lambright's Huskies surrendered 480 yards passing to Oregon State's Jonathan Smith. This trend continued through the Rick Neuheisel regime (1999-2002), Keith Gilbertson (2003-2004) and reached a horrifying crescendo during the Tyrone Willingham years (2004-2008).
With Steve Sarkisian currently in his third season at Washington, the hope and belief is that these kinds of defensive breakdowns are a thing of the past. Bo Levi Mitchell's 469 yards passing this past Saturday was unsettling.
The course of this season will rest on Sarkisian's ability to tighten up the defense and develop quarterback Keith Price.
Following this week's game against Hawaii, a trip to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers looms on the horizon.
Derek Johnson is the author of three books including his latest, Bow Down to Willingham: How White Guilt Enabled a Secretly Malicious Coach to Destroy the Once-Mighty Washington Huskies. You can read a free excerpt at derekjohnsonbooks.com.