I’m sensing a lot of disappointment and frustration reading through some of the comments and e-mails on here, and it’s understandable. After seven losing (or non-winning, I guess, to be technical about it) seasons, UW fans are ready for the turnaround, and there was lots of reason to believe heading into tonight that it was at hand.
It still may be. Just think if the Huskies had managed to convert on that final drive (as I speculated a bit in my game story) —- everyone would probably be talking about one of the greatest UW wins in recent memory.
But it didn’t happen, and it didn’t in part because of some concerning issues that it was thought had improved (specifically, being able to win the war in the trenches) and some issues that arose unexpectedly (what the heck was with the special teams?)
I’ll try to dissect some of that below, though for those who have already written me that every grade should be F’s, you can’t forget the quality of the opponent, and the challenge of that venue. BYU is now 50-15 since Bronco Mendenhall took over. They’re rebuildingm sure, but they’re not Washington State rebuilding. Still a lot of talented players there, and proven systems on both sides of the ball. No one should have thought this would be a rout, so the loss shouldn’t be reviewed in retrospect in those terms. But that obviously doesn’t also mean all of UW’s failings in this one should be excused, either — just taken in context.
On with the grades.
QUARTERBACK: On the day the school launched a web site promoting Jake Locker, he had a chance to firmly plant himself as the lead, well, Dawg for all of those awards. Instead, he turned in a performance that doesn’t read so bad in black-and-white, but wasn’t Heisman-esque (as Times columnist Steve Kelley detailed). He seemed a bit too high on a few throws, such as a deep pass to a wide open Jermaine Kearse down the sideline late in the first quarter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a game that will quiet those who still wonder about his accuracy. As for his running, he simply didn’t have a lot of great chances as BYU did everything it could to keep him inside the box. UW knew that might happen and had a gameplan designed to get him up the middle. But that didn’t work, either. As Steve Sarkisian said later, Locker will have better days. GRADE: C.
RUNNING BACK: I’ve already gotten a few e-mails ripping Chris Polk for not being able to make anything on those runs up the middle. Two things on that — I think Polk ran just fine but often just had nowhere to go; and remember that on the read option plays (those when Locker is in the shotgun) usually it’s Locker who has the option to run or give it to Polk after reading what he sees up front. Those aren’t all necessarily plays specifically called for Polk. Polk was obviously not at his best returning kickoffs, but in terms of running the ball out of the backfield, I thought he was just fine (16-92, 5.8 average). Jesse Callier also had a nice run, two good catches, and another nullified by penalty. The only complaint there is that he didn’t get to do more. Johri Fogerson and Austin Sylvester didn’t touch the ball much (once each). GRADE: B-plus.
RECEIVERS: A mixed bag here. Jermaine Kearse ended up witih what looks like a decent night — five catches for 108 yards. But he had a couple crucial drops, something he admitted later. Devin Aguilar also had five catches, and Cody Bruns had something of a breakout game with three (matching his career total) filling in for James Johnson, whose ankle apparently wasn’t good enough to go. But overall, the passing game didn’t seem completely in sync. GRADE: C-plus.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Sarkisian was frank afterward that one of his biggest concerns from the game was the inability of the Huskies to knock BYU off the ball, especially in critical situations. And that obviously falls back on the line, which essentially consisted of the starting five all night long. That said, UW did gain 394 yards (and actually had 433 if you take out the minus-39 credited to the offense for the bad punt snap). That’s not a horrible number against this defense. And worth remembering that this was the first game for the new alignment of the line, with Senio Kelemete at left tackle, Drew Schaefer at center, etc. There will inevitably be some growing pains. But, as Sarkisian himself said, BYU won too many of the really critical mano a mano challenges. GRADE: C.
DEFENSIVE LINE: One of the big questions about UW entering this game was whether the Huskies could get much of a pass rush. Answer? Not really. UW didn’t record a sack, though it could have had one before letting Riley Nelson slip away. Worth noting that BYU got rid of the ball quickly — the only pass longer than 25 yards was the 48-yard TD that traveled maybe 15 in the air. And BYU has a veteran O-line that figures to be among the top half UW plays this year. Really, holding BYU to 23 points in this setting is pretty good overall, and the line obviously had a hand in that. But nothing happened in the game to alleviate the concerns over a pass rush. GRADE: C-plus.
LINEBACKERS: Mason Foster had a solid game with a game-high 14 tackles, nine of them solo (and benefitting already from his position shift, which should help his numbers go up this year). Victor Aiyewa had 10 and forced a fumble, and Cort Dennison played game in the middle, battling through that sprained knee. BYU didn’t have a run of longer than 19 yards, indicating that the backers usually did their job in not letting stuff get by them. But the defense as a whole needs to make more plays — as coordinator Nick Holt said later, one of the biggest failures was the lack of forcing any turnovers. GRADE: B.
SECONDARY: Start with the good — Nate Williams had 12 tackles and seemed to be everywhere, and Nate Fellner, while he got picked on a couple of times, had nine and the team’s only pass breakup of the night. But didn’t seem like a great night everywhere else. BYU’s two-headed QB combined for 24-40 passing, and it seemed like there were 5-6 other passes that were off-target to wide-open receivers. BYU has pretty good receivers, but so will many teams in the Pac-10. Obviously, the lack of a pass rush doesn’t help, but still just seemed like they were more open more often than they should have been. And Quinton Richardson had one of the worst penalties of the night for UW with the pass interference on an incomplete pass on second-and-14 to keep alive a BYU drive in the fourth quarter. BYU didn’t score, but the penalty meant more bad field position for UW once the Huskies did get the ball back. GRADE: C-plus.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Okay, here’s the area that really caused problems. Maybe I should give two different grades here as kickers Erik Folk (a 54-yard field goal) and Will Mahan (45.2 average) were solid, though Mahan wasn’t as effective as his BYU counterpart at downing punts inside the 20. But the rest of it was pretty much a disaster. A bad snap led to a safety, a roughing the kicker penalty led to a BYU first down in the first quarter at a time when UW seemed to have all the momentum, and the kick returning was a nightmare — Polk had four yards on two returns and was replaced by Jesse Callier, who went 16 yards on his one attempt. You can probably argue that if the special teams were better, UW would have won. As Sarkisian noted later, the most frustrating thing is that none of the mistakes were things that BYU forced in any way, just all self-inflicted. The good news, then, should be that it’s stuff that can be fixed. GRADE: D.
COACHING: Aside from the special teams, the big question in this area is the decision Sarkisian made to go for it on fourth down with UW needing two yards to get a first down at BYU’s 23, down 23-17 with 12:24 left in the game. I printed Sarkisian’s explanation in the post-game quotes entry, but essentially, he said the way the game was going, he worried UW might not have many more opportunities and thought it worth the risk to get two yards to try to get a touchdown to go ahead. Obviously, the way it worked later, it would have been nice to have had three points there, as Sarkisian himself admitted. But to look at it from Sarkisian’s standpoint, he’s figuring he should be able to get two yards by putting the ball in the hands of Locker — the play was designed to roll Locker out and let him run if it was there, throw short to Polk, or long to Kearse. BYU covered the first two options, so Locker threw deep incomplete. Certainly a call to debate, but you figure that Sarkisian probably doesn’t make it if he doesn’t have Locker. I don’t think there’s as much question about the last fourth-down try given UW’s only other option was to kick an FG and try to get the on-side kick. Otherwise, the other obvious issue here is the special teams, though two can be written off as mistakes by guys playing in the first college games of their careers. The kickoff return is a less excusable issue. But when considering coaching, you also have to look at the overall picture — this wasn’t a 2008-style disaster, instead a disappointing lament over what could have been. GRADE: C-minus.