After opening the season with four straight victories, the Washington Huskies finally suffered their first loss of the season against the Stanford Cardinal two weeks ago. Believe it or not, the Huskies' defeat may actually be their most telling performance of the year.
Steve Sarkisian's squad traveled down to Palo Alto to take on the then-undefeated Cardinal in a clash of two Pac-12 heavyweights. While Stanford entered the contest as undoubted favorites, the Huskies proved they belong in the discussion of the top Pac-12 programs by giving the Cardinal everything they could handle.
The Huskies fell just short of pulling off an upset in the 31-28 loss, but their game plan provided the blueprint for how to expose the Cardinal. On Saturday, the Huskies played host to the Oregon Ducks and hung with one of the nation's most explosive teams before finally running out of gas in the fourth quarter.
For seven of the eight quarters in their past two games, the Huskies played like a top 10 team. Bishop Sankey has long been one of the Pac-12's best backs, but his efforts are beginning to receive national recognition. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has quietly molded Washington into one of the most formidable defenses in the conference, and he gets the most out of his players on a week to week basis.
So coming into Tempe, the Huskies have lost two straight games. But this team is talented and hungry, and that's always a dangerous combination.
The First Look
Season to Date
Washington opened the season with one of the most impressive week one victories of any team on the FBS level. The Huskies dismantled an overmatched Boise State squad in a 38-6 final that proved the Huskies belonged in the top 25 and the Broncos didn't.
The following week, Washington faced a tough road matchup with Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. After a slow first half, the Huskies broke out for 21 third quarter points and enjoyed a 34-24 victory over a Big Ten opponent.
After moving their record to 2-0 in higher-profile games, the Huskies cruised to an easy 56-0 win against FCS foe Idaho State. Though the win may not appear earth-shattering, holding an opponent scoreless is the sign of a defense that doesn't take any plays off.
To improve to 4-0, Washington needed to pull off a home victory over Arizona and the Huskies took care of business with another strong second half. Wilcox's defense allowed just 119 passing yards in a 31-13 win that pushed the Huskies into the top 15 of the AP poll.
Washington had a chance to complete an incredible rise through the polls the following week against Stanford. However, a gutsy effort from Keith Price and another impressive defense showing fell just short in the 31-28 loss.
On Saturday, the Huskies returned to Seattle and ESPN's College Game Day visited for the landmark home game against the Oregon Ducks. Washington hung with the Ducks competitively through the better part of three quarters before being outscored 14-0 in the final frame. Marcus Mariota proved too much to handle for the Huskies defense and the Oregon quarterback needed a Heisman-worthy outing to push the Ducks to a 45-24 win.
Even after losing their past two games, the Huskies have maintained national respect. Washington dropped from 15th to 20th in the AP poll and that's where it stands heading into this week.
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Record (At Washington and overall): (30-27, 20-19 in Pac-12)
Senior Keith Price leads one of the most exciting and balanced offenses in the Pac-12. The Washington signal-caller was a highly touted recruit coming out of Compton, Calif. Though he has endured an up and down ride through the program, he's piecing together a great season and has thrown 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Price is a dynamic athlete, but the Huskies have an even better big-play threat standing behind Price in the backfield. Junior Bishop Sankey has already amassed 899 yards and nine rushing touchdowns this season. Sankey possesses breakaway speed and his ability to maneuver between the tackles is underrated. All things considered, Sankey might be considered the best running back in a conference that features Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.
Coming into the season, Kasen Williams was expected to be Price's top option at receiver. Williams has not disappointed in averaging 15.6 yards per catch, but sophomore Jayden Mickens has emerged as the go-to man with a team-high 34 catches on the season. Mickens' job is to move the chains while Williams and fellow wideout Kevin Smith are better vertical options.
The Huskies have one of the best tight ends in the country in future NFL draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins was involved in off the field issues this offseason and like Sun Devil Chris Coyle, his production from this season has yet to come close to matching last year's output.
Washington's biggest offensive question mark coming into the season was the makeup of the offensive line. The Huskies lost a few starters and needed to switch personnel around, and so far the Huskies have made things work.
Left tackle Micah Hatchie is a third-year starter and anchor of the line and Ben Riva lines up opposite him on the right side. Center Mike Criste started more than half of the season at right guard last season and he moved to the middle at the request of the coaching staff. Sophomore left guard Dexter Charles is the youngest starter of the front five and right guard Colin Tanigawa returned from a season-ending injury last season to assume the starting right guard spot.
The Huskies offense can have its way with any team in the conference and quarterback Keith Price can give defenses nightmares. The Sun Devils will need to be on top of their game and force turnovers and third and long situations to take advantage of a talented group.
The Washington Huskies have quietly become one of the Pac-12's best defensive teams. Under the leadership of coordinator Justin Wilcox, Washington has devised strategies to make outstanding offenses look pedestrian and average offenses look terrible.
Washington's success starts with its linebacking corps where standouts John Timu, Princeton Fuimaono and Shaq Thompson patrol the field. Timu is a two-year captain with a nose for the football. His 41 tackles are second on the team and his 2.5 tackles for loss puts him in the Huskies' top five. Fuimaono is an effective run-stopper who leads the team in tackles with 44 while Thompson is a converted safety who might be the Pac-12's most athletic linebacker.
The Huskies are solid on the back end of the defense as well as safeties Will Shamburger and Sean Parker form a formidable duo in the secondary. Parker is an exceptional ball hawk who hasn't missed a start over the last three seasons. Shamburger is another Southern California native playing up North and his transition from high school wide receiver to college safety is a move that really paid off.
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Gregory Ducre have been effective in pass defense and senior Tre Watson has provided depth in the secondary as well. The Huskies have surrendered just 183.0 yards through the air per game which leads the conference and have already snatched seven interceptions as a team.
The Huskies' only defensive troubles have come in stopping the run this year as they rank eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense. Washington rotates a bevy of defensive linemen regularly including Hau'oli Kikaha, Evan Hudson, Danny Shelton, Cory Littleton, Josh Shirley and Jamaal Kearse.
Kikaha leads the Huskies with 3.5 sacks, but that total is inflated by his three-sack outing against Idaho State. Shirley has three sacks on the season too, yet all of those came against Illinois. Hudson, Shelton, Littleton and Kearse have all notched at least one sack this season.
All in all, the Huskies defensive line is a better pass rush front and their ability to do that against Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils will be critical to earning a victory in Tempe. The Sun Devils have asserted their home field advantage this season, so it's up to Wilcox and the Huskies to devise a plan to keep up their stellar pass defense.