Friday, August 31, 2012

Huskies takes on Aztecs for the first time since 1997

By Kshell

The Washington Huskies(7-6,5-4 last year, 4th in Pac-12 last year) kick off the fourth season under Steve Sarkisian against the San Diego State Aztecs(8-5, 4-3, 4th in Mountain West last year) at home. This year home for the Huskies will be at Century Link Field home of the Seattle Seahawks. Last season the Huskies won their first season opener since 2007 when they narrowly defeated D-1AA Eastern Washington Eagles 30-27. Sarkisian is 1-2 in season openers at Washington but has won his last two home openers. There will be plenty to be excited about in this game. The Aztecs like the Huskies are a bowl team who lost some key pieces but also return some key pieces. The Huskies will also have some anticipated debuts from some super freshman as these teams square off for the first time since 1997.

In the previous meeting between these two teams back in 1997 the #3 ranked Washington Huskies were coming off a big win at #19 BYU Cougars and were set to take on eventual national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers the following week. This was their home opener against San Diego State which they won 36-3 led by Brock Huard who was 16-26 passing for 313 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. While Rashaan Shehee ran for 72 yards on 16 carries and Maurice Shaw ran for 79 yards on 14 carries. Huard started the game off with a 12 yard touchdown pass to Jerome Pathon in the first first quarter as the Huskies led 7-0. In the second quarter after a  Huskies field goal it was Huard again who connected with Fred Coleman for a nine yard touchdown as the Huskies led 17-3 at halftime.

In the second half the Huskies kept the scoring up as Huard hit Pathon on a slant which he took for a touchdown 53 yards. Then in the fourth quarter Huard hit backup tight end Reggie Davis for a 12 yard touchdown as the Huskies won 36-3. Pathon finished with eight receptions for 182 yards with two touchdowns while Coleman had three for 70 yards with a touchdown. The Huskies held the Aztecs to negative seven yards rushing on that day something these Huskies are hoping they can duplicate.

The Aztecs return six starters on offense and five on defense. They lost quarterback Ryan Lindley who threw for 3,153 yards last year with 23 touchdowns and 8 int's. They also lost running back Ronnie Hillman who ran for 1,711 yards with 19 touchdowns. They do return both starting wide receivers. They return junior wide receiver Colin Lockett who had 56 receptions last season for 970 yards(16.8 YPC) with eight touchdowns. They also return Dylan Denso who caught 49 passes for 634 yards(12.9 YPC) with three touchdowns.

The Aztecs tight end Gavin Escobar who had 51 receptions for 780 yards(15.3 YPC) with seven touchdowns. The running game will see Adam Muema start who played in six games last year. Muema in those six games rushed for 253 yards(6.0 YPC) with three touchdowns. Backing him up is Walter Kazee who in nine games ran for 339 yards(4.6 YPC) with four touchdowns. The Aztecs have ready guys to replace Hillman and they feel like they have a ready guy to replace Lindley as he is a familiar face.

The starting quarterback will be former Oregon State Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz. Katz as a sophomore in 2010 had a solid first year as a starter. Katz threw for 2,401 yards(6.8 YPA) while completing 213 of 355 passes(60.0%) for 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Katz struggled in the famous loss to Sacramento State and after hardly playing against Wisconsin the following week his Oregon State career was over.

 Katz has faced the Washington Huskies before playing in a game back in 2010 which the Huskies won 35-34 in double overtime led by Jake Locker throwing five touchdown passes. In that game Katz struggled he was 17-31(54.8%) passing for 206 yards(6.6 YPA) with one touchdown but three costly interceptions. He also added a rushing touchdown in that game. The Huskies are a much different team than two years as only Desmond Trufant and Talia Crichton started that game who will start this Saturday. That game was also at Husky Stadium while this game will be played at Century Link. The Aztecs are a bowl team with some key offensive pieces back plus a Pac-12 caliber quarterback facing a defense who is starting a former walk-on at corner. The Aztecs offense will look to put up some points but will it be enough against this potent Huskies attack led by Keith Price?

The Huskies team will go where Keith Price takes them. Price is a quarterback very few teams can stop especially a mountain west type team. Last year Price completed 242-362(66.9%) of his passes for 3,063 yards(8.5 YPA) with 33 touchdowns(school record) to only 11 interceptions while rushing for three touchdowns. He was at his best in the 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. Going up against heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III it was Price who stood out that day despite the loss. Price was 23-37(62.2%) passing for 438 yards(11.8 YPA) with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 39 yards with three touchdowns. Price is hoping to build on that game and that season this year.

Price may have lost some weapons but he does return some key guys as well. His main target will be Kasen Williams who caught 36 passes for 427 yards(11.9 YPC) with six touchdowns which put him in a three-way tie for second place. He was also only a true freshman last season as he was a five star recruit coming out of high school. Another target Price will have is Austin Seferian-Jenkins who likeWillliams didn't disappoint as he was all pac-12 honorable mention for tight end. Seferian-Jenkins this past season caught 41 passes for 544 yards(13.3 YPC) with six touchdowns. He was also a five-star recruit true freshman last season. Price will also have two guys making their first career starts in their first career games as Huskies. The Huskies will also be having the debut of another heralded five-star recruit in Shaq Thompson.

Shaq Thompson will be making his highly anticipated debut for the Huskies. He is a five-star #1 safety in the nation and #3 player overall in the nation coming out of Sacramento California. He'll also play some offense as he ran for 1,134 yards with 15 touchdowns on only 120 carries as a senior. As a junior he ran for 1,882 yards with 25 touchdowns on 164 carries. He'll be a much added addition to the defense as well as the offense.

The Huskies are also starting four-star wide receiver Jaydon Mickens. Mickens is the 45th ranked receiver in the nation on scout and 11th ranked receiver in the nation on rivals. During his senior year Mickens was an all around athlete as he caught 32 passes for 558 yards(17.4 YPC) with seven touchdowns, he also ran the ball 82 times for 378 yards(4.61 YPC) with 13 touchdowns. He even attempted 32 passes on the year for 238 yards passing. The other starter is true freshman Kendyl Taylor who is a three-star recruit out of Arizona. During his senior year he caught 87 passes for 1,132 yards with 16 touchdowns. He also ran for 558 yards on 68 carries as he led his team to the state championship game where they lost snapping a 53 game winning streak. This Huskies recruiting class was pretty good as they were ranked for the third straight year but these three guys will be making their debuts in the starting role this Saturday.

The big question mark on offense this Saturday could be who replaces Chris Polk? Well for now not even Steve Sarkisian knows he has listed Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey as co-starters. Callier as a freshman had 413 yards rushing (5.4 YPC) with 18 catches with 98 yards (5.4 YPC).  As a sophomore Callier battled injuries and thus his production fell off. Callier had just 260 yards rushing (5.5 YPC) with a touchdown. He had seven receptions for 65 yards and had 576 kickoff return yards.

While Sankey is a four star running back and 17th rated back in the 2011 class.  In his first season with the Huskies Sankey ran for 187 yards (6.7 YPC) with a touchdown. He also added six receptions and 134 yards in kickoff yards. With the Aztecs running a 3-3-5 nickel defense which is set up to stop the pass look for the Huskies to try and establish the run game. Many of their big passing plays came on play action passes which can only work if the run game is going. In short spurts both Callier and Sankey proved they can get the job done. Now there is no more Chris Polk to bail them out we'll see how these two can handle the work load. Those questions will be answered tomorrow in the first game in the post Chris Polk era. I think the Huskies are in good shape with these two plus others like Kevin Smith, Mickens and Thompson who will add to the running game.

The Washington Huskies look to win their second straight season opening game for the first time since the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Huskies also look to win their third straight home opener since winning four straight from 2000-03. The Huskies are favored by 14.5 points and should win this game without needing some sort of miracle like last season. I think Sarkisian has learned his lesson from the Eastern Washington game as he dialed back the offensive playbook quite a bit which almost cost him. I think the Huskies will treat this game like any other game so look for them to pull out all the stops. The Huskies are 1-1 all-time at Century Link Field will take the field against a hungry Aztecs team as both teams are coming off bowl seasons. If the Huskies hope to continue to grow as a program they will take care of business as they prepare for a tough match up the following week at LSU. For now the Huskies hope to start the season off 1-0 for the second straight year and give their fans a victory to open the season for a third straight year.

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