Monday, September 3, 2012

Huskies defense comes up big in 21-12 win over Aztecs!

By Kshell

The Washington Huskies(1-0,0-0) for the second straight season begin their year with a victory. They defeated San Diego State(0-1,0-0) 21-12 in a defensive battle something the Huskies haven't seen since the 2010 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska 19-7. There was still some offense as Keith Price was 25-35 passing for 222 yards with a touchdown while also rushing for 17 yards. His main targets were the super sophomores of Kasen Williams who had six receptions for 75 yards with a touchdown and Austin Seferian-Jenkins who had nine receptions for 82 yards. The Huskies won this game despite not scoring a single offensive point after the first quarter. For Steve Sarkisian he is now 2-2 all-time in season openers as his program is hoping to take that next step that he promised all offseason.

After a bad kickoff coverage by the Huskies special teams the Aztecs began the ball on the Huskies 40 yard line. After three plays the Aztecs had the ball on the Huskies 28 yard line. Then everything fell apart after a poor snap behind Ryan Katz for a loss of 12 it got worse for the Aztecs. Facing a second and 22 Katz threw an interception to Tre Watson playing in his first game for the Huskies who returned it 34 yards to the Aztecs 35 yard line. So the Huskies took over with great field position. After an incomplete pass that is when Keith Price would get in a groove. Price would throw a quick screen to Kasen Williams who made the defender miss for a gain of 13 yards to the Aztecs 22 yard line. Price would then hit Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a screen for a gain of eight yards to the 14 yard line. After a one yard loss the Huskies were facing a key third and three which Price found true freshman Jaydon Mickens on a roll out for a gain of four yards to the Aztecs 11 yard line. The following play Price would connect with Seferian-Jenkins for a gain of nine yards to the Aztecs two yard line setting up a second and one from the two. The following play Bishop Sankey would rush it in for the touchdown from two yards out to give the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.

The Huskies defense kept the momentum with a three and out which was capped by a Desmond Trufant corner blitz for the sack. Taking over from their own 38 the Huskies went to work. After a Price completion to Jesse Callier that went nowhere and a Sankey run of five yards the Huskies were facing a third and six. That is when Price hit Williams over the middle, as Williams bobbled the ball he hauled the pass in for 11 yards to the San Diego State 47 yard line. On the following play Price would hit Williams again for 12 yards to the Aztecs 35 yard line. Price was red hot would hit his backup tight end Michael Hartvigson for a gain of five yards, Sankey would rush for three yards setting up a third and two from the Aztecs 27 yard line. On a play action pass Price would hit his fullback Jonathan Amosa for a gain of 10 yards to the Aztecs 17 yard line. Following play Price would hit Callier for a gain of nine yards to the Aztecs eight yard line. Callier could have scored a touchdown but on the play hurt his knee and fell down as no Aztecs defender was around him. On second and one from the eight yard line Sarkisian called another wide receiver screen similar to the Utah game last year where Price would hit Williams. Williams made the first defender miss as he scored a touchdown for the second straight season opener. For Price he was 11-12 passing for 88 yards with a touchdown. For Williams he had four receptions for 44 yards with a touchdown on the first two drives as those two were in midseason form already. Little did anyone know at the time that was the last time the Huskies offense would score for the rest of the game.

With the Huskies leading 14-0 the Aztecs would take over on their own 25 yard line. Josh Shirley would sack Ryan Katz for a loss of one setting up a 2nd and 11 from the 24 yard line. Walter Kazee would bust an 18 yard run to their own 42 yard line. After a five yard penalty Kazee would again rush for eight yards to their own 45 yard line setting up a second and seven. The Aztecs once again would feature Kazee as he would rush for eight yards to the Huskies 47 yard line as the quarter expired with the Huskies leading 14-0. To begin the second quarter the Aztecs used a little trickery.

When the Aztecs broke the huddle Tim Vizzi was already standing on the sidelines. No Huskies were over there so Ryan Katz quickly threw it deep to Vizzi who scored from 47 yards out. There was many problems with that play as you can't intentionally have a play with the act to deceive your opponent. Another problem was Sarkisian noticed what was going on and was signaling timeout to the ref which wasn't called. As it stood the Aztecs cut the lead to 14-6. Then head coach Rocky Long made his first of many head scratching calls as the Aztecs decided to go for two. Katz was sacked by Shirley in the backfield as the Aztecs failed on the two point play as the Huskies 14-6 led in the second.

 The Huskies would drive to the Aztecs 23 yard line highlighted by a Sankey 20 yard run but a costly sack would move them out of field goal range. The Aztecs would drive to the Huskies 37 yard line before Katz had a pooch punt pinning the Huskies on their own eight yard line. Sankey began the drive with an eight yard run to the 16 yard line. After a Sankey run that went for a loss Price was facing another third down which he completed a 13 yard pass to Kevin Smith to the 26 yard line. On second down Price would hit Kendyl Taylor for a gain of six yards setting up a third down and four. Price still accurate as ever would hit Mickens across the middle for a gain of 12 yards to the 44 yard line. Next play Erich Wilson spelling Sankey and filling in for Callier would bust a 17 yard run to the Aztecs 39 yard line. This is when the controversy began as Price rolled out to his right threw up a bomb as Williams made an incredible 39 yard touchdown catch as he went up to get the ball. Only the play was called back due to a suspect offensive pass interference call. Huskies facing a 1st and 25 from their own 46 would see Price hit Seferian-Jenkins as he would break a tackle for 20 yards down the Atecs 34 yard line. Price would then scramble for a gain of 14 only for that play to be called back due to holding putting the ball back on the 50 as the Huskies faced second and 21.  Price would scramble once again for 13 yards  but finally threw an incomplete pass. Facing a fourth and eight from the 37 yard line with 47 seconds left Sarkisian elected to punt. The Huskies would go into the locker room up 14-6 but felt like they left some points on the board.

At halftime the Huskies led only 14-6 despite dominating the first half. The Huskies had out gained the Aztecs 220 yards to 121. The Huskies had 13 first downs to the Aztecs six. The Huskies were also efficient converting five of their seven third downs. They were led by Price who was 17-21(81.0%) passing for 146(7.0 YPA) yards with a touchdown. His main targets were Williams who had four receptions for 44 yards with the touchdown. Also found his tight end Seferian-Jenkins five times for 44 yards. Found true freshman Mickens on two third downs for two receptions for 16 yards. The Huskies running game was doing well as Sankey had 49 yards on nine carries with a touchdown while E. Wilson had 22 yards rushing on two carries. The Aztecs saw Katz go five for eight passing for 62 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Huskies stalled on their first possession. That is when the defense tried to take over the game. After a first down rushing the Aztecs were on their own 36 when Katz hit Colin Lockett for a gain of eight. On that play Huskies outside linebacker Prince Fuimaono made the play of the game. He stripped Lockett of the ball as many figured he was down so there was a hesitation at first but Will Shamburger scooped it up and rumbled down the sideline for the 44 yard touchdown. The play was challenged but there wasn't conclusive evidence and the Huskies led 21-6. On the following series from their own 31 the Aztecs were facing a third and 10 when Travis Feeney sacked Katz while forcing the fumble as the Huskies had recovered the ball on the Aztecs 19 yard line looking for the kill. Price immediately would hit Seferian-Jenkins for a gain of 15 yards down to the four yard line. In a failed play action attempt Price would get sacked at the seven yard line. It would only get worse for the Huskies as Sankey fighting for extra yardage would fumble on the seven yard line which the Aztecs recovered as the Huskies wasted a great opportunity.

The Huskies defense would record a stop on the Aztecs but due to a 50 yard punt the Huskies had the ball on their own 22 yard line. Facing a third and nine from the 23 yard line Price would hit Williams over the middle for a gain of 20 yards and would tack on 15 more yards as the Aztecs had a personal foul for ripping Williams helmet off. On the 42 yard line Price would hit Seferian-Jenkins for a gain of 11 yards to the 31 yard line. Sankey would rush for three yards to the Aztecs 28 yard line but Price would throw back to back incomplete passes. New kicker Travis Coons who is replacing graduated kicker Erik Folk would miss the 47 yard field goal badly that would have put the Huskies up 24-6. The Aztecs with a little over a quarter left wouldn't waste this golden opportunity to come back and make this a game.

With the ball on their own 28 yard line Katz once again was facing pressure would rush for four yards. After a short run the Aztecs were facing a third and three from their own 36 yard line. Katz on the third down would go up the sidelines for 32 yards to the Huskies 32 yard line as the third quarter had ended with the Huskies leading 21-6. Katz would throw an incomplete pass, followed up by Dominique Sandifier getting stuffed for no gain. On third down Katz would attempt to go to the end zone as Tre Watson appeared to have been burned. Instead Watson made up for it with the key deflection. The Aztecs would pick on him again on 4th down would hit Sandifier for 28 yards on a wheel route down to the Huskies four yard line. Back to back rushes would net only one yard as the Aztecs faced a third and goal from the three yard line. Katz again facing the blitz got out of it with a run of two yards down to the Aztecs one yard line. Facing a fourth and goal there was a huge pile as the Aztecs handed the ball to Adam Muema. It was iffy if he had crossed but it was ruled a touchdown cutting the lead to 21-12. The second strange call by Long was when he decided to go for two here. Katz would find his tight end Gavin Escobar open in the back of the end zone but senior Justin Glenn just barely deflected it as the Huskies stopped the two point play still leading 21-12.

Huskies offense would once again stall at midfield punting the ball back to the Aztecs with under 10 minutes to go. Starting from their own 16 yard line Katz would be sacked by Andrew Hudson for a loss of two yards. On the following play though Kazee would rush for 26 yards to the Aztecs 40 yard line. Next play Katz would hit Lockett for a gain of 32 yards to the Huskies 28 yard line. Facing a third and three from the 21 yard line the Aztecs would run the ball for nine yards down the Huskies 12 yard line with 6:13 left in the game. Katz would throw an incomplete pass, then rush for four yards facing a third and six from the eight yard line. On third down Feeney forced some pressure on Katz as Gregory Ducre filling in for Trufant who had to leave late in the game made a nice defensive play. Now with 4:50 left in the game and having two timeouts the Aztecs trailed by a touchdown and a field goal to win the game. The third and final mind boggling move that head coach Rocky Long made was he went for it on fourth and goal from the eight yard line. Katz would go to the end zone and again senior Glenn made a nice play defensively as the Huskies defense held serve.

Now the Huskies offense would take over from their own eight yard line hoping to grind out the clock. After Sankey ran for no gain and Price had an incomplete pass the Huskies were facing a huge third down from their own nine yard line with still 4:05 left in the game. This is when having a healthy Keith Price unlike last year came into play. Price would rush up the middle on a broken play for a gain of 17 yards to the 26 yard line. That was a huge first down as the Huskies continued to run some clock. After two Sankey runs for a combined seven yards the Huskies faced another third down from their own 33 yard line with 2:41 left in the game. Trusting his quarterback the Huskies called a pass play as Price hit Kevin Smith for a gain of seven yards to pick up the crucial third and three. The Huskies would then run the clock down to 51 seconds before punting it. With no timeouts Katz ran three times for 33 yards as time ran out on the Aztecs as the Huskies won 21-12.

For the Huskies who earned the victory to start their year off 1-0 it was done mostly by the defense. The defense had four quarterback sacks, three turnovers, one touchdown, stopped both two point conversions and made the key defensive stand at the end of the game. The offense was led by Keith Price who finished 25-35(71.4%) for 222 yards(6.3 YPA) with one touchdown. He also ran for a net of 17 yards(actually 37 but minus 20 for sack yardage) which was a huge plus. His main targets were the super sophomores Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams. Seferian-Jenkins had a career high nine receptions for 82 yards while Williams had six receptions for 75 yards with a touchdown. Kevin Smith had two receptions for 20 yards while Jaydon Mickens had two receptions for 16 yards. Overall Price completed passes to nine different receivers. The Huskies struggled running the ball as Bishop Sankey was held to 66 yards on a career high 22 carries(3.0 YPC) with a touchdown. Erich Wilson had 22 yards rushing on two carries.

For the Aztecs they were led by Ryan Katz who was 10-19 passing for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Where he hurt the Huskies was with his legs as he ran for a net of 77 yards(lost 23 from sacks so in reality 100 yards) including that big 32 yarder. Walter Kazee ran for 86 yards on only nine carries. Adam Muema had only 32 yards rushing on 11 carries but had a touchdown. Aztecs leading receiver was Colin Locket who had four receptions for 48 yards but had a costly fumble which cost the Aztecs a touchdown. The Aztecs defense held the Huskies to only 108 yards offense in the second half including Price going 8-14 passing while Sankey carried the ball 13 times for 17 yards in the second half.

The Huskies did something they couldn't do last year which was play a poor offensive game and still win. The good news is the defense appears to be a lot stronger than last season while the bad news is the offensive line play. Thankfully Price was on his "A" game in the first half or the Huskies would have had trouble scoring points which they didn't do in the second half cause Price wasn't perfect. The Huskies offense didn't play up to their abilities but still walked away with a win. This was a different feeling than last year where the Huskies escaped barely with a victory over Eastern Washington. This year the Huskies led the entire game and led the entire second half by two scores. Despite the head scratching moves by the Aztecs coaching staff the Huskies earned this victory. For the first time since 2007 the Huskies have won back to back season openers. For the first time since 2003 the Huskies have won three straight home openers. At least the Huskies are back to winning games with their defense which has to feel good for anyone who witnessed the Alamo Bowl last year.


- I thought the player of the game was Travis Feeney who was a complete unknown before this game. He redshirted in 2011 as a two star recruit who was brought in to play safety. Now with injuries at the linebacker position Feeney found himself not only playing in his first career Huskies game but starting at outside linebacker. Feeney made plays as he had five tackles, two tackles for loss, a huge quarterback sack while also forcing a fumble on that play. Feeney like the rest of his Husky defenders just appeared quick out there something we haven't seen in a while from this defense. Feeney in his first career game as a Husky made quite the impression. A guy who was barely mentioned in my blog write up heading into the season is now a household name after the game he had against the Aztecs.

- No more Chris Polk anymore so who is going to replace him? Well after this game that question is still left to be answered. Jesse Callier was hurt right off the bat after catching two passes for eight yards while receiving no carries. Bishop Sankey was the work horse in this game and early on he was having a great game. At halftime he had 49 yards rushing on nine carries which is good for 5.4 yards per carry while having a touchdown run. Then in the second half it was a complete disaster for the sophomore who was a highly recruited running back. Sankey was held to just 17 yards rushing on 13 carries which is a terrible 1.3 yards per carry. Not only that but he had a costly fumble in the red zone. If the Huskies kick the field goal there they lead 24-6 and the ball game is over. If he doesn't fumble that still leaves Price with a chance to throw a touchdown pass to put the game at 28-6 then the game is really over. He didn't get the tough yards and you can't be fumbling in the red zone. I'd say the first game in the post Polk era was a complete disaster and Sankey better improve before fans start comparing him to Rich Alexis.

- One sophomore who continues to impress everyone is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins last year as a true freshman had one of the best seasons in Husky tight end history. He is off to a good start to eclipse that with a career high nine receptions for 82 yards. Whenever Price needed to complete a key pass it was either going to Seferian-Jenkins or Kasen Williams.

Seferian-Jenkins could be the best tight end in the nation and is guaranteed to be with the Huskies for this season and next. He'll be a first round pick after the 2013 season he's that good. He's so physically strong on those quick passes he carries defenders while also having the speed to get some YAC yardage. Seferian-Jenkins will be a major weapon for the Huskies to use and if Sankey continues to struggle look for Seferian-Jenkins to be used even more especially down in the red zone as Sarkisian won't tolerate leaving points on the scoreboard. Seferian-Jenkins is off to a great start this year and is on his way to being an all-american someday if not this year.

- Another super sophomore who had a big game to start this season was Kasen Williams who finished with six receptions for 75 yards with a touchdown. Williams was going early too in the first quarter he had four receptions for 44 yards with a touchdown. Then Sarkisian went away from him for some reason as he only had two receptions for 31 yards the rest of the game. Williams had an unbelievable 37 yard touchdown reception wiped away from the stat sheet and also denied him his first career 100 yard receiving game. Williams like Seferian-Jenkins is a physical receiver who on the wide receiver screens tends to carry his defender for some extra yardage. Williams will also play in the NFL someday and hopefully be an all-american probably in 2013 though. Williams now has seven career touchdowns in 13 career games so he is a touchdown machine much like the guy he is taking over for Jermaine Kearse. Williams needed to have a good game as the Huskies started two freshman beside him and you can tell Price just trust Williams more than the freshman for now.

- Josh Shirley began this season where he left off last season which is putting pressure on the quarterback. He officially only had one sack along with sophomore defensive end Andrew Hudson but both were creating pressure all game on Ryan Katz. Shirley also stopped the first two point attempt on San Diego State which caused all the head scratching moves in the fourth quarter. Look for Shirley to have a big season this upcoming year as the full-time starter as the Huskies know what they have in him.

Shirley last year had nine sacks and had 3.5 sacks in the bowl loss to Baylor. Look for Shirley to challenge the school record for sacks in a season and sacks in a career. He has the ability and with Justin Wilcox emphasizing more blitzes that just means more opportunities for Shirley to record some quarterback sacks. Shirley is a special talent and a guy many were high on when he finally made his way to Washington in July of 2010. It is nice to see another sophomore having a big impact for this program. The Huskies program had a ton of sophomore's making major contributions as I just pointed out with Shirley, Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and hopefully Sankey. Shirley was an animal this past Saturday and he'll have some monster games this upcoming season.

- Previous defensive coordinator Nick Holt was pure fire as you saw his emotion all the time. While new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox appears more calm and collected. When things weren't going right for the Huskies his demeanor stayed the same while he continued to dial up the blitzes. He has said his goal is have roughly 35% of the Huskies defensive plays be some sort of blitz. How rare was this defensive win? First time the Huskies won a game not scoring 30+ points since the 2010 Holiday Bowl win which saw the Huskies win 19-7. Last time the Huskies won a game not scoring any second half offensive touchdowns? Try 2009 when they upset USC 16-13. Last time the Huskies won a game scoring zero offensive points in the second half? Try 2007 when the Huskies defeated Boise State 24-10. That is why Wilcox deserves most of the credit for this win as defensive wins for the Huskies have been very rare lately.

- I felt early on Price looked the best he has ever looked when he began the game 11 for 12 passing including 11 straight completions as the Huskies scored on their first two drives. He would finish 25-35 passing for 222 yards with a touchdown while rushing for 17 yards. I noticed when right tackle Ben Riva went down so did the offense. The Huskies couldn't run the ball at all in the second half besides Price scrambles. Therefore all the play action pass attempts ended in sacks or incompletions. I did think Price struggles was due to an inexperienced receiving core, shaky offensive line play at best and lofty standards. Price still completed over 70% of his passes and didn't turn the ball over. A healthy Price this year unlike last year means more scrambles too which he showed plenty in this game. With the game on the line and the Huskies needing to run out the clock they couldn't pound it so they had to count on Price. Price had a huge third down scramble inside the Huskies own 10 yard line. Then Price hit a key third down pass to Kevin Smith which basically iced the game. Keep in mind on Price's stats he had a 37 yard passing touchdown wiped away then a 13 yard scramble wiped away two plays later. I thought overall Price played a good game and is on the path towards another all Pac-12 selection.

- The first two series of the game I thought were some of Steve Sarkisian's best play calling since he has been Huskies head coach. He didn't mess around and let his star quarterback dictate the pace by featuring Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins plus spreading the ball around. The Huskies led 14-0 as the offense was clicking. Then Sarkisian did what he always seems to do at Washington which is try to get too cute. Went away from the quick hitters to Seferian-Jenkins and Williams which was working so beautifully. Didn't use Mickens speed at all especially with the running game struggling. Didn't give Wilson any carries in the second half despite him busting a 17 yard run first half. In the second half Price was 8-14 passing while completing four passes to Seferian-Jenkins, two to Williams, one to Smith and a dump off to Sankey that went for no gain. While Sankey ran the ball 13 times for 17 yards at some point he needed to realize the line couldn't block worth a crap and ditch the play actions. I felt this game was a big setback for a head coach entering his fourth season. I'll say this for Sarkisian his program though appears to be light years ahead of where it was two years ago. The talent level on both sides of the ball appears to be better off than when he got here. So with that Sarkisian now improves to 20-19 as head coach for the Huskies as he has stated all offseason it's time to take the next step this year!

The Huskies won the game and improve to 1-0 which ultimately is what matters. If the Huskies are to take that "next step" as a program they must improve their defense from the last couple of seasons. The 2011 defense allowed the most points in Huskies history followed by 2008, 2007 and then 2010. So the four worst defenses in Huskies history have happened in the last five years. That is why I'm actually encouraged by this win due to the play of the defense. I think the offense will be fine as they left plenty of points on the board. The Huskies shouldn't have to apologize for beating a bowl team to begin their season as San Diego State is an average team who the Huskies defeated. The season is early and the injuries are piling up for this team. The Huskies must overcome them as the tough part of the schedule is about to begin as they play at #3 LSU, then after hosting Portland State the Huskies play #21 Stanford, at #5 Oregon then host #1 USC. The Huskies better get better in a hurry as the schedule is about to become unfriendly which is why winning this game was so important. The Huskies took care of business at home and hope to pull off the shocking upset next week down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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