Posted: 9:07 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013
By Avinash Kunnath
Steve Sarkisian silenced the doubters on opening day, but a lot more has to be done for the Washington Huskies to be considered legit.
Not to be dramatic, and I know that I have said this a number of times before, but this is the most important game of Steve Sarkisian's tenure at Washington. I have intentionally been avoiding creating what the scene around the program will be like should the Huskies drop Saturday's opener against Boise State in my mind all off-season because of how ugly I imagine it would be. With how strong the Huskies' early Pac-12 slate is, they absolutely cannot afford to lose any of their non-conference games, especially one as winnable as this one. For all of the respect that I have for the Boise State program (And I have quite a bit), this is not going to Lincoln to play Nebraska or Baton Rouge to play LSU, the Huskies should win this game. But then again, they "should' have won the Las Vegas Bowl too. (Cue anxiety)
What Husky fans should be confident about
It's at home: As I mentioned above, this is the first time in three years that the Huskies will be hosting their marquee non-conference game as opposed to hitting the road to play at a hostile venue. The grand re-opening of the renovated Husky Stadium will also add a bit to what should be a comfortable atmosphere for the Huskies, assuredly giving them at least a small advantage.
It's a rematch, and the Huskies lost round one: I don't know exactly why, but I feel that re-matches in the same season, or in this case back-to-back games, always favor the team that lost the first game (Think 2010 with Nebraska). The Broncos are a very focused and determined team, but you have to think that losing the Las Vegas Bowl, especially in brutal fashion, ate at the Huskies all off-season and they are maybe a little bit more motivated for the game than the Broncos.
The Broncos lack speed and playmakers on offense: The Broncos are big at their skill positions, but not fast, and that has really seemed to play to the Huskies' advantage in recent seasons. Speedster running backs and receivers have seemed to be poison to the Huskies under Sarkisian, but they tend to do well against running backs who try to run them over and receivers who try to out-jump them.
What Husky fans should be worried about
No one plays better out-of-conference than Boise State: The Broncos have long been the little giant killers of college football and the reputation has been well earned as they rarely lose big non-conference or bowl games. The Broncos almost always show up when they are playing a big time opponent out-of-conference and they have outstanding focus, something that the Huskies haven't been described as having much lately.
Pressure: The Huskies have generally wilted and played tight when the pressure has been put on them under Steve Sarkisian. Will the Huskies be able to stay loose and respond properly with everything seemingly on the line Saturday night?
The Broncos get after the quarterback, and they will have their best pass rusher this time: The Huskies dodged a bullet when the Broncos' best pass rusher, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, got suspended for the Las Vegas Bowl, but they still couldn't protect Keith Price, and it was a big part of why he threw two very costly interceptions. The Broncos get Lawrence back, and unless things have changed, Price getting pressured a lot has been a recipe for offensive disaster.
Players on the spot
QB Keith Price - The time is here for Price to step up plain and simple, it's now or never. It seemed like defenses weren't the least bit scared of Price when he had the ball in his hands in 2012, and it completely shut down the Husky offense. He's a senior, the offensive line is experienced now and he is facing a Mountain West team at home - he needs to finally get it done in a big game.
WR Kasen Williams - The Broncos' starting cornerbacks are both 5'9 and neither weighs more than 178 pounds and Williams needs to be able to take advantage of it. This should be the game where Williams goes from being a good receiver to a great receiver.
DE Cory Littleton - Littleton officially beat out Josh Shirley for the rush end spot and now he needs to prove that he deserved to. The Huskies gave Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick days on end to pass in the Las Vegas Bowl and Littleton needs to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Man, this is a tough one. Based on setting, sheer talent and match-ups, the Huskies should win this game, but I hate betting against the Broncos is big non-conference games.
I think that the Huskies control the ball again with Bishop Sankey from the get-go and pick their points when to hit Kasen Williams downfield, and I think it will be very successful. The Husky defense will do their part too, and keep the Broncos' skill players in front of them, building up a lead in the first half of about 10 or 14.
However, just when you think the Huskies are going to cruise to a comfortable, though not easy victory, disaster will strike with a big turnover or special teams gaffe and suddenly it will be a nail biter with the pressure mounting. Suddenly, with things tight, the Husky offense won't run as smoothly and they will be clinging to a one-score lead late, but I think this time they hang onto it and grab a huge win, allowing Husky nation to give a big sigh of relief.
Washington 28 Boise State 23