2011 Washington Preview
Washiington RB Chris Polk
Washiington RB Chris Polk
Posted Jul 7, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Washington Huskies

Washington Huskies

Preview 2011

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- By Richard Cirminiello & Jacob Benjamin Thorpe

Head coach: Steve Sarkisian
3rd year: 12-13
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Washington Players
1. RB Chris Polk, Jr.
2. WR Jermaine Kearse, Sr.
3. DT Alameda Ta'amu, Sr.
4. CB Desmond Trufant, Jr.
5. LT Senio Kelemete, Sr.
6. LB Cort Dennison, Sr.
7. CB Quinton Richardson, Sr.
8. DE Hau'oli Jamora, Soph.
9. PK Erik Folk, Sr.
10. FS Nate Fellner, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sep. 3 Eastern Washington
Sep. 10 Hawaii
Sep. 17 at Nebraska
Sep. 24 California
Oct. 1 at Utah
Oct. 15 Colorado
Oct. 22 at Stanford
Oct. 29 Arizona
Nov. 5 Oregon
Nov. 12 at USC
Nov. 19 at Oregon State
Nov. 26 Washington State

Steve Sarkisian and his staff have put down a solid foundation in two years at Washington. Now, they've got to show that they can build on it without the program's franchise player.

Jake Locker is now in the NFL, robbing the Huskies of their most important player in years. While hardly perfect in his senior season, he gave the squad an identity and boundless leadership in 2010. With the franchise gone, the staff is determined to prove it can seize the momentum that existed at the tail end of last year. Not only did U-Dub spin its first winning season since 2002, but it finished with four consecutive wins and a Holiday Bowl stunner over Nebraska.

Getting back to the postseason was just the first step for Sarkisian, who has also earned some much-needed recruiting wins for local high school standouts. What the Huskies do over the next two seasons is actually more important than what happened over the last two. A severe drop-off from 2010 might dampen the enthusiasm of the program and the fan base, which the staff can ill-afford. If Sark is going to keep the program moving forward, he'll need to develop a capable replacement behind center.

When spring camp closed, sophomore Keith Price had emerged as the likely successor to Locker at quarterback. A good athlete, with a strong arm, his lack of experience will be his tallest hurdle to immediate success. The encouraging news for the heir apparent is that he inherits all of Locker's best weapons, including all-star RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse. There's plenty of depth and a blend of youth and experience to help ease the transition.

Coordinator Nick Holt's defense was a microcosm for Washington's late-season surge, allowing an average of just 14 points over the final four games. Can the Huskies sustain that level of play without a handful of last year's key stoppers? The line should be better than advertised, but the back seven has question marks at linebacker and with the pass defense.

Sarkisian has come a long way in a short period of time. The talent is improving, the facilities are about to get a facelift, and the last game was that bowl upset of the heavily-favored Huskers. The coach knows, though, that his work has only begun. Improving a year ago was vital, but 2011 is pretty important as well. The Huskies must capitalize on their recent success, and take another step closer to being a perennial Pac-12 contender.

What to watch for on offense: More use of the tight ends. The Huskies didn't land one of the nation's most coveted prep tight ends, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, to use him like a glorified lineman. After his first spring since leaving Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, he already looks capable of taking advantage of all of the attention the outside receivers are going to get. Long and athletic, he has the necessary skill set to help Washington get more production from the position than in recent years. Behind the rookie is redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson, another young Husky pass-catcher with a bright future.

What to watch for on defense: More linemen on the field (and fewer linebackers). For good reason, Nick Holt plans to mix in some 5-2 looks in the fall, getting an extra rush end on the field at the expense of a linebacker. It all makes sense. The Huskies are deep up front, but will be painfully thin on the second level. Plus, the staff is looking for opportunities to get former UCLA recruit Josh Shirley on the field as much as possible. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he's essentially an outside linebacker, with the get-off to be an effective situational pass rusher versus lumbering tackles.

The team will be far better if… the offense becomes far more efficient on third downs. No team was more feeble than the Huskies a year ago, converting just 32% of their third-down attempts to rank 112th nationally. And that was with Jake Locker barking out signals. With a young quarterback moving into the huddle, the challenge grows even larger. If Washington, which averaged only 22 points a game, is going to score with more frequency, it has to start doing a better job of extending drives.

The Schedule: It's rough, and mostly because it closes with an interesting finishing kick. The only positive is that the Oregon game is at home, and while getting Cal in Seattle is a nice break, it's offset by rough road games at Utah and Stanford in the first half of the season. While most North teams have a midseason run of three road games in four weeks, U-Dub has the opposite with three home games in a four week span following a week off. However, the four best teams in the league might be Stanford, Arizona, Oregon and USC, and Washington gets all four teams in a row. The Apple Cup against Washington State is at home to close out the regular season, but that comes after road games at USC and Oregon State. The non-conference schedule builds up nicely starting out with a tune-up against Eastern Washington, dealing with the Hawaii passing game, and then trying to weather the storm at Nebraska in a revenge date from the Holiday Bowl.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Chris Polk. Polk has quietly been one of the nation's top backs over the last two seasons, cranking out more than 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in 2010. Down the stretch, he was particularly tough to stop, averaging over 170 yards in his final four games. A physical, north-south runner, he'll bounce off tacklers and drag those that hang on for more real estate. This season shapes up as a 12-game audition for a back with enough ability to be playing in the NFL in 2012.

Best defensive player: Senior NT Alameda Ta'amu. At 6-3 and 330 pounds, Ta'amu looks the part of a next-level space-eater on the interior of the defensive line. He's quick off the snap and flashes light feet, attributes aided by improved conditioning during the offseason. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 2010, he chipped in 39 tackles and five stops for loss, impressive numbers for a nose tackle. He was at his best in the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, a harbinger, Husky fans hope, of things to come this fall.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Keith Price. No, no one is asking him to be a Jake Locker reincarnation, but he will have to be an effective conductor of the offense for Washington to achieve its 2011 goals. Two of the program's best players—on either side of the ball—are RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse. It'll be up to Price to maximize their talents and make sure that neither gets overlooked on a given Saturday. While the D has upside potential, it still isn't stout enough to carry the team when the offense is sputtering.

The season will be a success if ... the Huskies return to the postseason for a second straight year. For Steve Sarkisian, another bowl invitation sends a couple of important messages. First, that Washington has turned the corner and is ready to make 13 games an annual thing. And second, that the 2010 Holiday Bowl was more than just the inspirational return of Jake Locker for his senior year. The coach recognizes that his squad isn't quite ready to compete for a Rose Bowl berth, but consecutive bowl appearances put the dreary days of Ty Willingham and Keith Gilbertson deeper into the rear-view mirror.

Key game: Nov. 5 vs. Oregon. In the final home game of the year, U-Dub would love to thank the locals with a stirring upset before Husky Stadium undergoes its $250 million renovation. The Huskies hung around for a while last fall before being lapped by the Ducks, 53-16. The current regime has had a few signature conference wins, but no one in the program has defeated rival Oregon since 2003. Heck, the school hasn't come within two touchdowns since that time, a trend Washington is eager to snap.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Washington 15 – Opponents 32
- Third-down conversions: Washington 32% – Opponents 41%
- Fourth-quarter scoring: Washington 66 - Opponents 64

- 2011 Washington Preview | 2011 Washington Offense
- 2011 Washington Defense | 2011 Washington Depth Chart