NCAA Football Preview - Washington Huskies
By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Huskies came into the 2009 season with a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in Jake Locker, so the hope in Seattle was the Huskies would finally post a winning record.
However, the season began with a loss, as the Huskies fell at home to LSU, 31-23. Washington rebounded quickly though with a 42-23 win over Idaho, followed by an impressive 16-13 decision over USC. The win over the Trojans must have drained the Huskies however, as they went into a terrible funk, losing six of their next seven games, with the lone victory coming against Arizona (36-33). Despite the long skid, the team fought hard in some of those matchups, taking Notre Dame to overtime before losing by seven, and also falling to UCLA on the road by just one point. At 2-5 in Pac-10 action, the Huskies remained focused and closed out their regular season with back-to-back victories over Washington State and California, winning those contests by a combined 72-10 margin. A 5-7 finish may not have been what Sarkisian wanted, but had to be viewed as a step in the right direction for a Washington program that had been stagnant for years.
OFFENSE: The Huskies finished seventh in scoring, rushing and total offense in the Pac-10 last season, but nine starters from that offense return, including Jake Locker, possibly the best quarterback in the country. Locker has only won eight games while under center for Washington, but he has the leadership and the skill set to make this offense very dangerous.
"Historically in this Conference, the teams that have won Pac-10 Championships or have been in that race at the end have had veteran leadership at that position," said coach Sarkisian. "Ultimately, if you really want to win a Pac-10 Championship, you have to find a way to win on the road. We will take the advantage of having that senior quarterback who has been in those environments."
Locker is clearly the main attraction to this offense, and if Washington is going to score, the senior signal caller will have to remain under center and avoid injuries. What will make Locker even more dangerous is the trio of receivers he has at his disposal, including junior Jermaine Kearse. Kearse, who grabbed 50 receptions and eight touchdowns last season, has proven to be a dangerous receiving threat and should build great chemistry with Locker this year, creating one of the best QB/WR combinations in the conference.
What will keep opposing teams honest is sophomore tailback Chris Polk. Polk, who is the first freshman to run for a 1,000 yards at Washington, gives the Huskies a true running game, and with his game-breaking speed he is a sure bet to break a few long runs this year.
DEFENSE: Last season Washington suffered defensively, finishing near the bottom in the Pac-10 in points allowed, rushing, passing yards allowed and total defense. Unfortunately with only six starters returning, including two in the front seven, there could be similar struggles this year for Washington.
Alameda Ta'amu is the best returning player up front for Washington, but other than him the team is riddled with inexperience and question marks. The hope is sophomore Talia Crichton and senior De'Shon Matthews can create something off the ends, eventually giving Ta'amu more space to work with in the middle.
The best player on this defense is without question linebacker Mason Foster, but other than him, there is not much experience at this position. Fortunately Foster is one of the best in the conference and the senior does a little of everything on the field, including being one of the best tacklers in the Pac-10. Foster, who finished with 85 tackles, three interceptions and a Pac-10 record six forced fumbles, feels that defensive coordinator Nick Holt is the perfect person to fix the holes on the defense.
"He brings intensity and enthusiasm to our defense," said Foster. "As a defense, we embody his personality. We understand what he's trying to do with the defenses in his blitzes. I am looking for great things out of our defense."
The most experience is in the secondary, which was filled with freshmen last year. However, those players now have a year under their belts and should be in store for a much better season. The best of the group is sophomore corner Desmond Trufant, who might develop into a shut down corner very soon.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Finally healthy last season, kicker Erik Folk proved his worth by nailing 18-of-21 field goals, including a game-winning kick against the USC Trojans, showing he can make the big kick when it counts most. Punter Will Mahan is also back and he will try to improve on his 40.6 yards per punt average. The return game will be handled by Quinton Richardson and Devin Aguilar, who both spent time in that role last year, while doing an admirable job.
OUTLOOK: The fans at Washington are excited to see this offense take the field when the season kicks off, but at the same time those fans will be holding their breath in hopes the defense can do its job.
There is no question that if healthy Locker is going to put up some great numbers and lead the Huskies to some victories, but the defense will have to gel quickly under Holt's gameplan. Washington, which has suffered seven straight losing seasons (the longest streak in school history) was not given an easy road to post a winning ledger this year, with early clashes with BYU and Nebraska. The road slate is daunting, as coach Sarkisian's squad will have to battle USC at the Coliseum, while closing out the year with three road contests in four matchups. Those three games will come against Oregon, California and Washington State. If Washington is able to play well away from home, than there is a chance for this team to finish above .500 and earn a bowl berth. A shot at the league title is a little far fetched though, even with Locker at the helm.
08/20 11:50:42 ET