Despite having arguably their best regular season under Steve Sarkisian to date, the Huskies find themselves in the lowest-level they have been invited to under Sarkisian. The curious mix of progression and regression might be perfect though for an inconsistent Husky team that have matched every one of their highs with a low in 2012.
Due to an epic Apple Cup collapse, the Huskies now face back-to-back games with Boise State are very much "Must-win" games. A loss in the Las Vegas Bowl will put the Huskies at 7-6 for the third-straight season and will risk making the fanbase and recruiting prospects believe that the Huskies may have peaked under Sarkisian. As much as many have pointed to 2013 as the breakout year for Sarkisian's Huskies, a third-straight 7-6 season would give fuel to the fire that many have started comparing Sarkisian to coaches like Mike Stoops, Karl Dorrell and Dirk Koetter who could recruit and win games, but couldn't get their teams over the top. On the flip side, an 8-5 season won't be a dream, but will show that the Huskies improved in a year where they lost a ton of talent and dealt with massive adversity due to injuries and an almost entirely new defensive staff.
What Husky fans should be confident about
Boise State's offense - The Huskies may have finally found an offense as difficult to watch as theirs. The Broncos are towards the middle of the nation in scoring offense, rushing offense and passing offense but those numbers are bumped greatly by games against lower-tier competition. The Broncos have failed to score more than 20 points against upper-tier teams (Michigan State, BYU, Fresno State, San Diego State) and their offense was actually completely kept out of the end zone by the Spartans and Cougars.
Joe Southwick - The junior quarterback is no Kellen Moore and the Huskies have won every game they have played this year against an ineffective quarterback. Southwick has failed to throw for more than 170 yards in those four games against quality opponents and threw only 2 touchdowns to 3 interceptions.
Pro style - LSU was the only standard or pro style offense team to beat the Huskies all year and the Broncos talent is nowhere in the same universe as the Tigers. While the Husky defense seems to meltdown against any kind of up-tempo and/or spread offense, they have been insanely stout against traditional offenses.
What Husky fans should be worried about
On the road - Okay, so it's not a true road game, but until the Huskies can prove that they can play anything but atrocious somewhere outside of Seattle, any game away from home is going to be scary.
Boise State's defense - The Broncos are near the top of the nation in almost every defensive category and have a particularly stingy pass defense that is in the Top 5 in the country in yards given up and among the best in the nation at picking off the ball too. The Broncos also are in the Top 15 in sacks which is horrible news with how poorly the Huskies have protected Keith Price and how poorly he has performed under pressure. The Broncos tough secondary will likely force the Huskies to be predictable and run the ball which won't be easy either as Boise State has a solid run defense to boot.
Chris Peterson - This may not be one of his elite teams in Boise, but the Broncos have simply been amazing in non-conference games against BCS-conference teams and bowl games. Some food for thought; under Peterson the Broncos are:
- 9-2 against BCS-conference teams, including wins over Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech
- 5-1 against Pac-12/10 teams, including the last four (Interestingly enough, their only loss was to a Tyrone Willingham coached Husky team in 2007. Now point and laugh)
- 4-2 in bowl games, including the last three
Players on the spot
Keith Price - There have been grumblings about an open competition for the starting quarterback position in the Spring and Price capped off his wildly disappointing regular season by throwing an interception to a defensive tackle that essentially cost the Huskies the Apple Cup. Price really needs to have a good game in the Las Vegas Bowl to stem the tide of the masses calling for his head.
Bishop Sankey - Sankey may have had 2 touchdowns in the Apple Cup, but it was essentially his worst game of the season other than the LSU game as he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry. With Boise State's pass defense being fearsome and the Husky pass offense really struggling, it is likely that the Huskies will count on Sankey to grind out yards on 30-plus carries as they try to control the ball and win the game on the ground and with defense.
Danny Shelton - Much like the Huskies, the Broncos also like to pound the ball with their big running backs repeatedly and let their defense win the game, so it will be imperative that the Huskies are strong up front. Shelton has quietly maintained the front for the Huskies all year and was especially tough in their wins over Stanford and Oregon State. They will need one more big performance from him in 2012.
Boy, these teams are really similar when you start to break it down and I think the main differences are that the Huskies have a little more talent, but the Broncos a little more coaching ability and experience. Both teams have very tough defenses, especially pass defenses and like to run the ball with tough running backs and limit the responsibility of their shaky quarterbacks, so expect this to be a low-scoring affair.
I think that the Huskies slightly superior talent will make the difference just enough to get the win, particularly guys like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams who the Broncos will have trouble matching up with physically. Expect another gut wrenching game though as the Huskies barely pull it out late.
Washington 14 Boise State 13