SAN ANTONIO — The most common phrase used by coaches that are in the hole is “we’re in rebuilding mode”. For Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian the “re” is no longer attached to what has been a rebuilding program. Now, in his third year at Washington Sarkisian has built a strong young team capable of knocking of No.12 Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
After a strong .500 season in 2010 Washington came into the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against No.18 Nebraska as a 14 point underdog. Nebraska shattered Washington’s defense during their regular season matchup in route to a 56-21 at home. With the pressure on Nebraska Washington came out strong defensively and controlled the entire game winning 19-7.
Now fast forward one year and one day later Washington (7-5) faces Baylor (9-3) with a little bit more pressure on them than 2010. But with Heisman quarterback Robert Griffin III and virtually a home game for the Bears the expectation is a Baylor win.
For defensive coordinator Nick Holt it doesn’t bother him the focus isn’t on Washington “If we go unnoticed, that’s fine, hopefully we don’t go unnoticed on game day.” Last year it was Holt who created the perfect game plan to stop Taylor Martinez and Co. Now the task is even harder with Robert Griffin III.
While the numbers don’t support Holt the players are there for Washington to upset Baylor. The only question is can Nick Holt do it again? Well there are certainly some seniors on defense who need to perform if they want their draft stock to improve.
Defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu came into the season as a projected first round pick but hasn’t played up to that status consistently this season. When Ta’amu is at his best the Washington defense plays like their a top 25 defense but when he hasn’t the defense has gotten torn apart on the ground.
At 6-3 337-pounds Ta’amu has the physical tools to be an elite tackle and bowl games are the best times to prove it. Baylor ranks 70th in the nation in sacks allowed 25 and in two of their three losses this season they’ve been held to under 100 yards rushing.
Washington ranked 55th against the run and 116th against the pass in the nation. Both are going to have to change if Sarkisian and the Huskies want to win back-to-back bowls. Defensive end Everett Thompson, linebacker Cort Dennison, safety Sean Parker and the entire Huskies defense has shown that given the time to prepare they can beat anyone.
Where Washington and Baylor both hand their hats is on offense.
Keith Price was handed the improbable task of filling the hole left by Jake Locker who graduated last year. Since week one against Eastern Washington Price has been both hurt and efficient throughout this season. He injured both his knees and both his ankles this season and hasn’t been 100 percent healthy after the Eastern game.
With over a month between Washington’s last game and the Alamo Bowl it’s allowed Price a chance to heal. When fully healthy Price was in the top three in the nation for passing touchdowns, efficiency and quarterback rating. As the season progressed Price was limited in his mobility and wasn’t able to step into throws which hurt him and Washington.
With a fully healthy Price and one of if not the most underrated running back in the country in Chris Polk Washington has the weapons to contend with Baylor. Freshman play-makers Kasen Williams (wide receiver), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (tight end) and senior Jermaine Kearse highlight a talented deep receiving corps.
The only question for Washington will be can the offensive line protect Price and create holes for Polk? With a weak Baylor defense it could be the perfect opportunity to open up the playbook and throw everything they have to offer.
Ultimately it will come to one thing, which defense can take control and slow down the opposing offense. Both Baylor and Washington have great offenses and poor defenses. Unless Sarkisian is planning to outgun Robert Griin III he’s going to need his defense to come up strong again.
We’ve seen it before with Nebraska where Washington didn’t have the electric offensive performance but played a strong defensive game and controlled the clock with Chris Polk. Could that be the game plan again or does Sarkisian have something in his bag of tricks that will give Washington the edge.
One thing is for sure underdog or not Steve Sarkisian knows “We have to ultimately go out and play the game. ”
Washington has the players, the coaches and the experience to upset Baylor now the only thing left is to play.
Game notes: Baylor favored by 14. Over/under is 76.
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