The Las Vegas Bowl is now just 11 days away, which means it’s time to get a little more serious about looking ahead to the matchup with Boise State (that’s the cover of the media guide for the game to the right).
So, with that in mind, here are five questions about the game. Admittedly, these aren’t the only five questions, just five that came to mind as I spent the morning doing some research for a few different stories.
1: How will Keith Price play?
How Price plays, and how that then sets up the quarterback competition for 2013, figures to be among the most-discussed aspects of this game among UW fans. As has been detailed often, all of Price’s numbers decreased this year from 2011, though as has also been oft-detailed, the reasons for that extend far beyond Price — massive changes in the skill positions and a rebuilt and still-developing offensive line to name the two most significant.
But after the way the regular season ended in the Apple Cup, with Price’s interception on a pass he admits he shouldn’t have been thrown, all eyes will be on Price to see how he responds and what that will then mean moving forward.
Many have asked if the quarterback competition will be more open next year than it was this season. It undoubtedly will be, no matter how UW coach Steve Sarkisian phrases it publicly (fans probably shouldn’t expect some loud proclamation that the QB job is now wide open). But that’s not just because of Price but because of how the position is now stocked. This year, there really wasn’t anybody to mount a legitimate threat to Price with Derrick Brown the only scholarship quarterback that wasn’t a redshirting true freshmen.
But in the spring, UW will have not only Brown now being a sophomore, but also have Cyler Miles, who spent the year as the No. 3 QB working with the UW offense; and Jeff Lindquist, who generally worked with the scout team, off redshirt status and with a year of experience in the system. Troy Williams also plans to enroll early and will be on the roster for spring practice, giving him a better chance of being legitimately ready in the fall depending on how things shake out.
All of this assumes no changes in the roster, of course. But assuming everyone stays and Williams enrolls, that would give UW five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster next year and a much more realistic scenario for there to be actual competition.
A big game by Price, though, could go a long way toward quieting the talk about the QB spot for a while. That, however, leads us to question No. 2. ….
2: Will UW be able to throw a touchdown pass against Boise State?
In the most eye-popping stat associated with this game, Boise State allowed just three touchdown passes this season, the fewest in the nation. And one was tossed by a running back on a trick play.
I know the first thing everyone will do is question Boise State’s schedule and the offenses it played, and certainly the Broncos’ schedule wasn’t nearly as meaty as UW’s — though I also think at this point Boise State has earned some benefit of the doubt in that regard given its success the last few years against BCS opponents and in bowl games. That said, BSU shut down some pretty good offenses this year, such as Fresno State’s, and each of its starting cornerbacks — Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins — are regarded as potential NFL draft picks, especially Taylor, who is considered as possibly a second- or third-rounder.
Given UW’s obvious offensive struggles throughout much of the season, this matchup looms as one of the more critical and intriguing.
3: Can UW get pressure on BSU quarterback Joe Southwick?
In another eye-grabbing Boise State stat, the Broncos allowed just nine sacks this year, tied for sixth-fewest in the country. Again, we can all agree on the caveat of the strength of schedule, etc. Regardless, that number still speaks to fundamental soundness in protection and scheme to avoid sacks. And getting sacks was not one of UW’s defensive strengths this year as Huskies have 25, which ranks 53rd in the country heading into the bowl (not horrible, but at the moment basically similar to a year ago when the Huskies had 28 in 13 games in one of the few defensive stats that hasn’t show significant improvement).
4: Can the Huskies avoid another slow start?
In a trend fans found especially frustrating as the year wore on, the Huskies often had trouble getting quickly out of the gate. UW was outscored 69-54 in the first quarter this year, the most they were outscored by in any quarter this season and their second-fewest points in any quarter — the Huskies scored 52 points in the fourth quarter this year (you can find all the numbers here).
That’s a trend UW will need to break against a Boise State team that was exactly the opposite this year. The Broncos outscored their foes 91-24 in the first quarter this season and a whopping 144-16 in the second (UW outscored foes 87-78 in the second quarter).
5: Can the Huskies win the field goal battle?
In yet another Boise State stat that readily catches attention, the Broncos had just four field goals kicked against them this season, tied with Hawaii for the fewest in the nation. That came out of 12 attempts, and I don’t know if they were all just missed, or blocked, or what. Boise State, in fact, didn’t allow a field goal in the last six games of the season, teams going 0-4 against them in that time, all from 47 yards or closer.
Maybe that just means UW is due to get a few against Boise State. Field goal kicking, though, ended up not being a huge strength for UW this year as the Huskies (with Travis Coons getting all of the attempts) were 7-11, a percentage of 63.6 that was ninth in the Pac-12, while the makes were just 10th. At the moment, that’s the fewest field goals made by a UW team since 1975.