The Washington Huskies are 3-0 after wrapping up their non-conference schedule last weekend and have been impressive in several areas. Keith Price looks like his Heisman Trophy darkhorse circa 2011 self, Bishop Sankey is a beast in the running game and the defense is playing physical and shutting opposing offenses down. But as UW prepares to kick off their Pac 12 schedule this Saturday, Steve Sarkisian needs to get his team’s penalty problem in order.
Through three games, Washington is the most heavily penalized team in college football. Averaging a NCAA-high 12 penalties per game for 98.33 yards per game, the Huskies could be setting themselves up to self-sabotage down the stretch. They haven’t been affected much in their non-conference schedule, but the Dawgs have much bigger challenges on their schedule, including a trip to The Farm to play the Stanford Cardinal October 5.
In a big game like that, or later in the season when they play the Oregon Ducks, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will likely be the team that walks away with the victory. If UW continues to get penalized at a staggering rate like they have been, they stand little chance of coming out ahead in the mistakes category. By giving away nearly 100 yards every game, they are handicapping themselves against teams that don’t need the help.
Part of the problem might be that the Huskies have been too dominant in their home wins. In blowout wins over the Boise State Broncos and Idaho State Bengals, UW put the game out of reach and emptied their bench to get their starters out of the game. That put some less experienced players into the game that might not be quite up to the speed they need to be to avoid mental mistakes like penalties. That could explain the 16-penalty for 130 yards performance of the Huskies last week against Idaho State.
But it doesn’t explain the 12 penalties for 104 yards in their road win over the Illinois Fighting Illini. Washington had a chance to really put the game away in Soldier Field, scoring with 3:32 to go in the third quarter to lead 31-10. But Illinois was able to mount a rally, scoring 14-unanswered points to pull with seven with 9:10 to go in the game. Washington penalties kept the Illini in the game and made it a much closer game than it should have been, considering Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed just nine of 25 pass attempts.
There is a lot to like about this Washington team right now and there’s reason to believe they can make a serious run at a Pac 12 title this season. But if they continue to give yards away then UW cannot hope to hang with the Pac 12 elite and will find a way to fall back into the middle of the pack in the conference title race.