We’ll accompany the second set of questions with a look, pictured right, at the upcoming cover for the Northwest edition of the 2012 Phil Steele college football preview, especially since it seems to fit well with the first question. …
Q: How much did Keith Price’s success surprise you last year?
A: I guess I had a surprise-o-meter so I could give an accurate ratio — 50 percent, maybe, 65 percent? Certainly, I don’t know of anyone, anywhere that was predicting that Price would shatter the UW record book in his first year as a starter— notably, with 33 touchdown passes, a 66.9 completion percentage rate and the best passing efficiency mark in school history. So to the degree that I never could have envisioned that — and I can’t think of anyone, anywhere outside of maybe Price himself who thought that — I was definitely surprised by the final stats he put up.
I also had envisioned that he’d be a little different player — I thought he’d be more of a runner, possibly gaining 300-400 yards or so. That went by the wayside with his injuries, and now that he’s shown his value as more of a “traditional” QB, I’m not sure we’ll ever really see him run in that manner (though as Steve Sarkisian said, they hope he can do more controlled running with his legs this year, such as designed rollouts and bootlegs, and maybe some runs in the red zone).
That Price was successful, however, I can’t say that was a complete surprise. It was telling — especially in retrospect — that Sarkisian gave him such a strong vote of confidence following the spring of 2011 when he released a statement naming Price as the starter. Up to that point they had taken great pains to always portray the battle for the starting QB job as basically a dead heat between Price and Nick Montana. The release of that statement made it evident Sarkisian was beginning to realize what he had in Price — which would soon become evident to everyone else.
Q: In your opinion, which performance was the biggest disappointment last year? (I.e., USC, OSU, Stanford, bowl game, etc.)
A: And now I guess I need a disappoint-o-meter to accurately ansewr this one. All, I’m sure, left UW fans with varying degrees of angst. I would submit that the two that maybe stung the most were Stanford and Oregon State. Stanford, because it showed that the Huskies maybe had a little more work to do to get back to elite status — especially on defense — than was hoped during the 5-1 start to the season; Oregon State, because I think going into it there was a thought that even with Price injured that the Huskies had enough of a foundation to go down there and beat a struggling team on the road, something that became evident wasn’t yet the case.
Q: Why do you (and others) really feel the secondary will be so good this year? I understand they will have more experience, but I think you and others noted that even the most pedestrian teams had open receivers all over the field last year. Nebraska could have thrown for 300 yards if it wanted to. Oregon State did throw for 300 yards. Utah would have if their QB didn’t get injured at halftime. Thoughts?
A: I’m not sure I’ve stated that I think the secondary is at an elite status yet, or anything like that. I have said I think the secondary will be better — the degree is still to be determined, and that will go a long way toward determining how good the Huskies are this year. If the secondary can really pull off playing more aggressively in the back end, thereby allowing UW to play more aggressively in the front end, then the defense could take a huge leap forward.
One thing I always caution is using passing stats to fully judge a secondary. The fact that UW had issues getting a pass rush, and didn’t cover well underneath with the linebackers at times, also contributed.
But the reason for optimism that the secondary can be better this year is rooted, as you note, largely in returning experience — UW’s two starting safeties are likely to be Justin Glenn, now a fifth-year senior, and Sean Parker, now a junior with one full season of starting; and the cornerbacks are likely to be senior Desmond Trufant, a starter since midway through his freshman season, and junior Greg Ducre, also now with a lot of playing time. Experience generally — not always, but often — is the the biggest factor in a college football team improving from one year to the next. UW has that now in the secondary.
It also is adding some highly-touted younger players such as safety Shaquille Thompson, who at this moment I’d imagine possibly having a third safety type role pretty quickly, and redshirt freshman cornerback Marcus Peters, not to mention the likes of safeties James Sample and Travis Feeney — all of whom simply look the part. In fact, if there’s an area of the team where the Huskies just simply “look” better now — and maybe that doesn’t mean much, maybe it does, always hard to tell that stuff in the spring — it’s the secondary (not saying there aren’t others, but I think the secondary would be the leader in that category following the spring).
Also, the change in coaches and schemes seems to have gone over well and been embraced by the players — and seems to make sense with the talent the team has. No doubt, every coaching change is usually embraced at this point in the process, so you are more than excused for taking that optimism with a grain of salt.
And given the disaster of the defense that was 2011, you’re right to be skeptical of the whole thing. I don’t think anyone is saying this will transform overnight into the 1991 team. But I think there are some legitimate reasons to think the secondary will be better in 2012. The games, obviously, will be the ultimate decider.
Q: Who breaks out at receiver with Kasen Williams and James Johnson this year?
A: A good question, one that — if you read his comments from the Pac-12 teleconference on Tuesday — Sarkisian is asking himself. The most obvious candidate might be Cody Bruns, a fifth-year senior who redshirted last year and had a few good practices early on in the spring before suffering an ankle injury. Then there’s the flurry of young guys led by sophomore DiAndre Campbell and redshirt frosh Josh Perkins, who — judging by what they did in the spring — are probably next in line. I think someone of those three is the most likely to emerge, though some of the true frosh such as highly-touted Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor will also get their chance.
No doubt, it’s a question that UW needs answered to have the same type of passing attack it had a year ago. Williams and Johnson will be expected to take over the lead playmaker roles held last year by Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. But one of UW’s real strengths last year was its depth in the receiving corps, especially before Johnson got hurt. It’s yet to be determined if UW will have that same sort of overall production this season.