Yesterday we speculated about everything that could go horribly wrong with UW's 2011 season, giving a nightmarish breakdown of the worst-case scenario for every game on the schedule. Today it's time for the flipside: 11 ways the Huskies can come up Roses in the coming year. The final result will likely fall somewhere between utter disaster and glorious triumph, but Dawg fans can always dream, right?
2. Give Keith Price Enough Time to Pass Price had flashes of brilliance last year in when forced to fill-in for injured Jake Locker, but this will be his first full season under center. He is a gifted athlete, but he's still inexperienced. If the Husky offensive line can keep pass-rushers at bay long enough for Price to survey the field and distribute the ball to his talented crew of receivers (Devin Aguilar, James Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, and freshmen Kasen Williams), UW will have a dynamic offense that will keep their opponents guessing. And that's exactly what they'll need against tough defenses like the one they'll face in Nebraska in week three.
3. Sack the Quarterback Finally, after years of being overmatched in the trenches, the UW defensive line seems likely to be one of the team's strong suits. Senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'Amu (a load at 6-3, 337 pounds) figures to be a top-flight NFL prospect, and Hau'oli Jamora, Everette Thompson, and Danny Shelton should be collectively be capable of controlling the line of scrimmage. But the real key to success defensively will be be pressuring the opposing passer. To that end, redshirt freshman Josh Shirley will be the guy to watch. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt created a new position -- "rush end" -- specifically so that Shirley can go after the QB. Shirley needs to be as good as advertised if the Huskies are to have any chance against the likes of Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley.
4. Make Special Teams Special As reported earlier this week by the incomparable
Bob Condotta in The Seattle Times, the Huskies were last in the Pac-10 last year in both punt returns (4.9 per attempt, 102nd in the nation) and kickoff returns (20.9, 83rd). They haven't blocked a kick since Tyrone Willingham was coach. Special teams are reportedly a point of emphasis for head coach Steve Sarkisian this year, and for good reason: field position and big plays (blocks and returns) are essential to beating teams with better personnel, which UW will encounter when they play Nebraska, Stanford, and Oregon. A pair of very good punters will help with the former, and hopefully electric freshman Kasen Williams will take care of the latter.
5. Get the Ball to Kasen Williams Speaking of Williams, the true freshman from Skyline will be UW's not-so-secret weapon this year. He was, by far, the best high school player in the state last year and among the best in the nation, setting records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns en route to a third-consecutive state championship. Also a track star (five-time state champ, and record-holder in the triple-jump), Williams has the potential to be the best UW playmaker named Williams since Reggie was running wild at Montlake.
Kasen Williams, ball in-hand
6. Win the Turnover Battle Obvious but still important: the Huskies won't even beat Eastern Washington tomorrow if they give the ball away without taking it back. And it goes without saying that preventing fumbles and interceptions on offense while forcing them on defense will be tantamount to upsetting the toughest teams on UW's schedule.
7. Beat the Cupcakes UW has one of the easiest schedules in the Pac-12, with five home games and no match-up against Arizona State. Non-conference, they play Eastern (from the second-tier FCS) and Hawaii (historically all offense, no defense.) The Huskies can amass at least five wins just by taking care of business against their lowlier foes (sorry Coug fans, that means your team too), putting them in good shape for a bowl bid.
8. Start a Youth Movement In addition to Williams, there are several other promising freshmen on the roster. Of particular interest is true freshman running back Bishop Sankey. The Gonzaga Prep product will not redshirt as was rumored, instead lightening the load for Polk, along with sophomore Jesse Callier. In addition to Sankey, fullback Nick Holt (son of the defensive coordinator), and stud tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (who chose UW over Texas last year) both stand to make immediate contributions. If they play beyond their years, UW will be in great shape for an eight or nine win season.
9. Don't Be Afraid to Give Nick Montana a Shot If Price flops in the first three games (Eastern, Hawaii, and Nebraska -- three progressively more difficult opponents), the son of the legendary Joe Montana ought to get a shot. He's even less experienced than Price and there are concerns about his ability to take a hit (he's 6-3 but barely 200 pounds) but you can't doubt the passing pedigree.
10. Create A Loud Home-Field Advantage As reported in this morning's Seattle Times, the Huskies are expecting a crowd of just 55,000 for tomorrow's game, which would be the lowest attendance since the dark days of 2006. UW has also sold 2,000 fewer season tickets than they did last year. It's the last year in Husky Stadium before the big remodel (during which the Huskies will share CenturyLink Field with the Seahawks) and having a rowdy crowd could sway a few big games in the Dawgs' favor. It will also be interesting to see whether the Husky fans can outnumber Cougs in the final game of the year, a "home game" that's being moved to CenturyLink so the remodel can start a few weeks early.
11. Catch a Few Lucky Breaks Remember the Arizona game in 2009, when the Wildcats' QB bounced a pass of the heel of his receiver and into the hands of UW linebacker Mason Foster for a touchdown return delightfully dubbed "the Immaculate Interception"? Something like that needs to happen for UW to get 9 or 10 wins and a berth in a big-time bowl game.