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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 1st, 10:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: CenturyLink Field (67,000) -- Seattle, Washington. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: SDSU 0-0, Washington 0-0. Away Record: SDSU 0-0, Washington 0-0. Neutral Record: SDSU 0-0, Washington 0-0. Conference Record: SDSU 0-0, Washington 0-0. Series Record: Washington leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: Playing in CenturyLink Field while Husky Stadium is renovated, the Washington Huskies will open the 2012 season with a matchup with the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday evening.
In his first season as head coach Rocky Long kept San Diego State steady after Brady Hoke turned the team around in 2010. Long's squad went 8-5 and made its second straight bowl appearance in 2011 which ended in a 32-30 loss to Louisiana. Still another winning season was a welcome sight for a program that did not have a record above .500 in a season since 1998.
Three years removed from a disastrous 0-12 campaign in 2008, the Washington Huskies seem to have found the right man to lead them forward. In his second season, Steve Sarkisian led the squad to a second straight 7-6 finish and even pushed the Huskies into the national rankings. The campaign ended in entertaining, albeit disappointing fashion, as the Huskies fell 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl against Baylor.
There is not a ton of history in this matchup with only two previous meetings sprinkled over the program's histories. Washington has won both of those contests with the most recent a 36-3 win in 1997.
San Diego State lucked out in its search to replace star quarterback Ryan Lindley this season. Former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz transferred in January. Katz threw for 2,737 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his career with Oregon State, with only one year as the full-time starter.
Not only did the offense lose its star quarterback but also its workhouse running back. Set to fill the shoes left by Ronnie Hillman is sophomore Adam Muema, who rushed for 253 yards and a 6.0 yards-per-carry average as a backup last season.
Where the Aztecs do have consistency from last season is in the receiving corps. Junior wideouts Colin Lockett (58 receptions, 970 yards, eight TDs) and Dylan Denso (49 receptions, 634 yards) will each return, as will tight end Gavin Escobar who was one of the better receiving tight ends in the country last season, pulling in 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores.
The offensive line has a pair of returning starters but there is still concern there including how well converted tight end Bryce Quigley will adjust at left tackle.
On defense the Aztecs will need to retool at a number of spots. Only three starters return from last season's unit that ranked 68th nationally (391.2 ypg) in total defense.
The defensive line is an especially troubling area where there is no returning starter and a pair of sophomores set to take on major starting roles.
At linebacker, Jake Fely is the lone returning starter after a strong freshman season when he recorded 58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary may be the most experienced unit but that's only because it has two of the three returning starters. Safety Nate Berhe and cornerback Leon McFadden are the holdovers. McFadden recorded 46 total tackles and nabbed a pair of interceptions while Berhe was the better tackler (67).
The Huskies are a young team up and down the roster but with its youth, Washington also has a great deal of talent. That begins with sophomore quarterback Keith Price who played beyond his years last season as a freshmen. Price completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns and was one of the best quarterbacks in a conference that included Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.
Although star running back Chris Polk is gone, the skill positions have some strong replacements. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey are a nice tandem to replace Polk. Kasen Williams and James Johnson are both big receivers that can make plays down field. Williams caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores last season.
The best returning starter other than Price is tight end Austin Seferian- Jenkins who is a skilled receiver. The sophomore caught 40 passes for 544 yards and six touchdowns last season and will be one of Price's favorite targets in 2012.
The offensive line has three returning starters led by senior center Drew Schaefer. Whether or not sophomores Micah Hatchie and Ben Riva can fill in at the tackle spots will go a long way in determining how well the offense does.
Washington will have a new defensive coordinator this season. Justin Wilcox was hired from Tennessee and will be trying out a 3-4 system to slow the prolific offenses of the Pac-12.
The secondary will be the strength led by senior cornerback Desmond Trufant and junior strong safety Sean Parker. Trufant had 64 total tackles last season and also nabbed two picks. Parker was even better with 91 tackles and four interceptions. The Huskies also have high hopes for touted recruit Shaquille Thompson.
At linebacker, John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are the returning starters. Up front the Huskies are less solid in terms of starting experience. Defensive end Josh Shirley (12.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) is an effective pass rusher but will be flanked by others with less experience.
With talent up and down the roster, Washington is a dark horse in the Pac-12 and has its hopes set pretty high entering 2012. San Diego State will be the first test for the Huskies who have to avoid looking beyond to a date with LSU in week two. That shouldn't be too much of an issue for a Washington offense that is led by a top-tier quarterback and a defense that has enough playmakers to get a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington 38, San Diego State 20
08/29 10:37:53 ET
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