2014 Pac-12 Preview: Washington Huskies

The start of a new era. After five years under Steve Sarkisian, the Washington Huskies have a new man at the helm with Sark off to USC. This new coach has a great track record too. Chris Petersen, most recently of Boise State, brings a sparkling 92-13 record and a couple of BCS bowl wins to Seattle. He takes over a team that went 9-4 last season, and though the Huskies have lost some key players, the cupboard is far from bare. The question is, can Petersen carry over his Bronco success to Washington, or will he need time to acclimate to the PAC 12 after years in the Mountain West and WAC.

Offense

The biggest concern on offense going into the season is definitely at quarterback. Keith Price was a decent three-year starter, and he’ll need to be replaced. His primary backup, Cyler Miles, was the primary reserve as a freshman. Miles completed 60.7% of his passes for 418 yards and four TDs, with two interceptions, and showed some wheels with 200 yards on 23 carries. He has talent, but until we see him in real action, we won’t know for sure how good he can be. Miles will also miss the first game due to suspension, and his backup, Jeff Lindquist, will fill the void.

The Huskies have had a good run at running back the last few seasons, with Louis Rankin, Chris Polk and most recently, Bishop Sankey, pacing the ground attack and at times the offense. Dwayne Washington was second on the team last season with 332 yards and four TDs on 47 carries last season as a freshman, and will get the bulk of the carries this season. Redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman, Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper will back him up. Even if the Huskies don’t have a feature back, there’s plenty here to keep the chains moving.

Receiver is a little thinner than last season, with four of the top six gone, including Kevin Smith and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Jaydon Mickens is the top leading receiver with 65 receptions for 688 yards and five TDs, and will be a primary target again. Joining him will be Marvin Hall, who caught eight passes for 140 yards, and DiAndre Campbell, who had three receptions for 34 yards. Many of the reserves saw significant action last season. Joshua Perkins (five catches, 57 yards, three TDs) and Michael Hartvigson are currently locked up for the starting tight end spot. Expect to see plenty of both.

The offensive line is in excellent shape with everyone back, but there has been some change. Micah Hatchie and Dexter Charles return at the left tackle and guard spots, while Ben Riva remains at right tackle. Colin Tanigawa moves to center to replace Mike Criste, while James Atoe takes over at right guard. Atoe has previous starting experience, and the Huskies offense has a nice starting point for the season.

Defense

The Husky defense struggled against the better teams on the schedule, but they were top-notch otherwise. The good news for this season is, six of the front seven return, despite losing last year’s leading tackler Princeton Fuimaono. Shaq Thompson was right behind him with 78, and showed some nice pass coverage skills, breaking up four passes and returning a pick 80 yards for a score. John Timu had 77 tackles (and two interceptions) and returns in the middle. The battle for the other outside spot hasn’t quite been decided (according to the depth chart), with redshirt freshman Keishawn Bierria and key reserve Travis Feeney (55 tackles, five for loss, six passes broken up) in contention. Whoever wins the spot will be a capable replacement for Fuimaono.

The secondary is the biggest worry, with only Marcus Peters returning. Peters made 55 tackles, broke up nine passes and intercepted another five last year, and is an exemplary building block for the rest of the group. Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly will replace Gregory Ducre at the other corner. Strong safety Sean Parker will be tough to replace, and sophomore Brandon Beaver, who made all of two tackles last season, will have big shoes to fill. At free safety, redshirt freshman Budda Baker will take over for departed Will Shamburger.

Like the offense, the strength of the defense should be up front, with all four (maybe) starters returning. Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha was the star of the show, making 70 tackles, with 15½ in the backfield, 13 of them sacks. Andrew Hudson, a little-used reserve last season, will start opposite him in Cory Littleton’s spot. Littleton was a good player last season, but has been left off the depth chart for reasons unknown. The tackles return, with Evan Hudson and big Danny Shelton stuffing the middle. Hudson is quick but lacks ideal size.

Special Teams

With Travis Coons gone, the Huskies will need to break in a new kicker and punter, as there doesn’t appear to be anyone capable of double-jobbing on the roster. New punter Korey Durkee is better known as the holder on placekicks, but he did have a couple of punts at the start of the 2012 season. The placekicker battle has yet to be settled, so expect to see both Cameron Van Winkle and Tristan Vizcaino make attempts. If the game is close, the more experienced Van Winkle will likely kick. John Ross will return kicks again after having some success last season, while Mickens will return punts. Punt coverage was great last season, but the kick coverage struggled, allowing two TDs.

Predictions

Want to know how good this team will be this season? The trip to Hawaii may be a good test. The Warriors are by no means a powerhouse, but Washington is playing with its backup quarterback, which will test the resolve of the rest of the squad. Of course, Lindquist could be a star too. The rest of their out of conference slate features Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State  – all at home, and all very winnable. In league play the Huskies dodge USC, but have to travel to Eugene to take on the conference favorite Ducks. Away trips to Arizona and Washington State could also be tricky. The Huskies get their toughest opponents save for Oregon at home, but who wants to play against Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State? This could be a tough year for Washington, but how Petersen translates to the big leagues is the x-factor. I think he’ll be great, but eight wins may be the best he can hope for in 2014.

*Section Photo credit to Lui Kit Wong, News Tribune; Featured Photo (above) credit to Cary Edmondson, USA Today Sports