Football Fast Forward: Washington

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By Anthony Cassino, UW Dawg Pound

When last we saw the Washington Huskies on the gridiron, they were giving up score after score to the Baylor Bears. The Bears had the Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, but, truthfully, they didn't need his many talents to dismantle the Husky defense. Baylor's runners went over, around and through Nick Holt's defenders, and Washington's prolific offense could not keep up even with the aid of quarterback Keith Price's record-setting seven-touchdown day. Combining that performance with multiple showings during the regular season that were less than lackluster, coach Steve Sarkisian hit the reset button on the defense by firing nearly the entire defensive coaching staff and reassigning the lone holdover to special teams coordinator. New faces Justin Wilcox, Tosh Lupoi, Keith Heyward and Peter Sirmon were brought in to revamp that side of the ball and snap Washington out of the defensive funk that it has been in for a decade.

Given all the turnover and turmoil on the defensive side of the ball, all eyes will be there in the season opener against San Diego State. The Aztecs were a pretty average offensive team last season by many metrics and lost several key contributors; however they're replacing them with a couple players that are familiar to the Pac-12. Incoming Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz will likely be San Diego State's starting quarterback (coincidentally the only Beaver QB to lose a game to UW in the last eight seasons), while USC transfer Brice Butler will play a prominent role as a receiver.

The Washington defense returns several players to be excited about. Corner Desmond Trufant has NFL aspirations and safety Sean Parker has all-conference potential. Defensive end Josh Shirley finished last season on a tear with 6.5 sacks in his last four games. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton is being tabbed by many as a breakout star. If the gaps can be filled by new faces and through the development of less-heralded returners, the defensive production should be greatly improved. Combining that with what should be improved coaching and scheme, the Dawgs should be able to hold the Aztecs' offense in check and give Sarkisian's offense enough chances to win the game.

On offense the Huskies bring back fewer question marks. The ship will be captained by Keith Price, who is coming off of perhaps the best season any Washington quarterback has ever had. Surrounding Price will be two young and talented runners in Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey, some very productive receivers in Kasen Williams and James Johnson, and perhaps the best tight end in the country in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The offensive line has to find a couple of new faces on it, but should return three starters and may ultimately end up improved from last season's squad. With an elite signal caller and so many weapons flanking him, Price and the UW offense should overwhelm San Diego State's defense, which was only average last year, and coast to a comfortable victory.

Of course these offensive and defensive predictions are based on conjecture about things that are mostly unknown at this point. The reality is that San Diego State has been a very solid program of late (winners of 17 games over the past two seasons) and has beaten teams that underestimate them or come into the game unprepared. The Huskies will have to be focused, as they'll be playing this game off campus in the Seahawks' CenturyLink Field as Husky Stadium is renovated, and they have a date with national runner up LSU the following weekend. Focus and not looking past SDSU will be of utmost importance for the Huskies to avoid the upset and start their season on the right foot.

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