Our weekly opponent scouting report is brought to you this week by Ruth Robbins of RealDawg.com.
Will Sarkisian Finally Bring a Victory in South Bend?
Washington (2-2, 4th place in the Pac-10) has been through the ringer and then some in the past few years. A once proud football program hit rock bottom, finishing 0-12 in 2008 for the first time in school history. Former Stanford and Notre Dame coach, Tyrone Willingham was dismissed at the end of the 2008 and season and replaced by rising star, Steve Sarkisian, who had been working under Pete Carroll and the USC system for the past 7 years (with one brief NFL stint).
Sarkisian immediately set out to change the culture of UW football, restore the winning attitude of the past, and hired one of the best defensive coordinators in college football – Nick Holt, also of USC. Washington has now begun to show serious signs of returning to a competitive and formidable program, beginning their season with a squeaker against LSU, then defeating the USC Trojans in a win that restored the Huskies to the AP Top 25 during week three.
The Huskies are coming off a tough road loss against Pac-10 leader, Stanford, and are hoping to put a W in the win-loss column for this lopsided series (ND leads 7-0).
Washington’s offense (2nd in the country in third-down conversions) is led by nationally recognized quarterback, Jake Locker, who’s been re-learning under the Sarkisian offensive system. Locker is known for his Tebow-like mobility but is also developing into a very astute pro-style quarterback, currently leading the conference for the four weeks straight in yardage (1002). Locker, who’s a junior, has an arsenal of capable receivers to go to – including true freshman James Johnson (3th in the conference in receiving yards), who has had stellar games right out of the gate. Locker also will look to Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar (back after missing the Stanford game from injury), DeAndre Goodwin, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki.
The Husky running game is also showing signs of life this fall, with the coming-out of redshirt freshman, Chris Polk (7th in the conference in rushing), who originally verballed to USC before switching to and signing with Washington. Polk, nicknamed “Baby Bush” out of high school missed most of last season due to injury, but is back in full force this season both carrying the rock and also receiving. He is a downhill runner that, if he gets some real estate, he’s off to the races. Johri Fogerson is a very fluid runner and can also catch the ball. Fullback Paul Homer is in his second year starting for the Huskies and can move the changes.
The Husky offensive line is still, by most accounts, a work in progress. Anchored by center, Ryan Tolar, the line is thin in terms of depth, but experienced both at right and left tackle.
The Husky defense sent a message after the LSU and USC games – but delivered a terrible performance against Stanford last weekend. Sarkisian said it was due to poor tackling in all areas, and reminded pundits that there is still work to be done to strengthen a Husky team that is still suffering a lack of depth in the trenches.
The good news is that the Huskies have one of the most formidable linebacking corps in the conference. Senior Donald Butler (ILB)was Pac-10 player of the week after the Huskies held the USC Trojans to a 0-11 third down ratio. Butler is joined by Mason Foster (OLB), a junior, and Sarkisian said it will be a “game time decision” on whether or not junior EJ Savannah (OLB), who’s suffering from a foot problem, will be ready to play in South Bend. If Savannah doesn’t play, look for sophomore Cort Dennison to get involved in the rotation.
The Husky defensive secondary is young but has had some good moments in the first four games. Corner Quinton Richardson will be one to watch out for, in addition to true freshman Desmond Trufant, who ‘s also the younger brother of NFL standout, Marques Trufant, and corner Justin Glenn. At safety, keep your eye on Nate Williams and Victor Aiweya. The secondary is young – but they’ve had some picks in the first four games and are playing at a higher level than under Tyrone Willingham.
On special teams, the Huskies’ kicker, Eric Folk (9th in the conference in scoring, 29 points) has had a terrific season so far – especially after hitting the winning field goal against USC. Folk was Pac-10 player of the week during week three and has shown no signs of letting up.
On punts, JC transfer Will Mahan has also been very consistent in keeping teams out of good field position. KO and punt returners to keep an eye on are Jordan Polk, Johri Fogerson and Quinton Richardson.
The Huskies have prided themselves on being run-stoppers but allowed Stanford to run riot on them last weekend in Palo Alto. Nick Holt and Steve Sarkisian immediately addressed the issue and attributed the poor performance to a “glaring deficiency in tackling”.
Against the pass, the Huskies are young in the secondary – but their linebackers are tough, athletic and fast.
In the trenches, the Huskies can either have a stellar game or a poor one, but the games against USC and LSU were no fluke. The Huskies controlled the line of scrimmage in both games and are quite capable of getting it done.
The Huskies are a work in progress, a team that’s always had talent but bad coaching and dysfunction. Sarkisian has instilled an “expect to win” mantra that has already made a difference in the overall mindset during games, bouncing back from adversity, and handling the pressure of expectations. The Pac-10 is a wide-open conference this year and it is still too early to predict who will walk away with the title and a Rose Bowl bid.
The Huskies could play the best game of their lives on Saturday and still lose to the Irish. Notre Dame has this power over Washington and holds a commanding series lead. It’s hard to win at Touchdown Jesus, and it’s hard for young players to get past the awe-struck factor of just being there. This will be a terrific test for the young Huskies and, because it’s an OOC game, a loss would not upset the balance of a young team competing for a conference championship.
Notre Dame 24 Washington 21
About the author: Ruth Robbins is the original founder and publisher of Realdawg.com. Getting her start as a Pac-10 Advisor, writing Northwest and Regional Profiles for PrepStar Magazine. During her tenure with Rivals.com, Robbins was also a beat writer for Fox Sports Internet.