1. If Cal beats Washington (please, contain your laughter), does Sark have any hope of retaining his job?
Anthony Cassino: The answer should be no, but it doesn't seem like AD Scott Woodward is going to fire him after this season so long as he gets the team to a bowl game.
Chris Landon: No .. for two reasons. First, there is a good chance our RS Freshman, Cyler Miles, will be making his first start and I don't see it as impossible that Cal could take a game based on first-time starter mistakes alone. Second, no matter how the common fans feel about how slowly the results have come, the fact of the matter is that the foundation is being laid and that is what those who are close to the program are looking for. Those foundational elements are a restoration of recruiting pipelines, renewed financial support from boosters, implementation of high character and educational standards, and the delivery of a competitive team. Losing to Cal alone does not negate any of that.
Brad Johnson UW: Yeah, he probably does, and it's because the Huskies will likely be playing a backup QB on Saturday. A loss to a severely depleted Bears team, at home, would lead to the Meltdown on Montlake with the fans, and it'd be easy to question the direction and actual improvement of the team under Sarkisian. He might be able to do enough over the rest of the season to save his job, but it sure would put him in an almost untenable position heading into 2014.
Kirk DeGrasse: It's hard to know exactly where the UW administration stands on this. The sense is that they would strongly prefer to not to go through the disruption of another coaching change, and it seems probable that 7 wins this year, while disappointing, would probably secure another year for him. A loss to Cal certainly would put a big dent in Sark's chances of getting to 7 wins, and there's no question that a lot of fans would turn on Sark with a loss in this game (some have already turned in the wake of the ASU blowout).
Ben Knibbe: Yeah, Sark can retain his job. He can do enough throughout the rest of the season to prove he is capable of holding down the fort. If it happens, Sark will need to start updating his portfolio, because the pitchforks have already been sharpened following the meltdown against Arizona State.
2. Keith Price seems pretty banged up. How effective do you think he'll be on Saturday?
Anthony Cassino: It's still up in the air whether he'll be the starter or not, and we probably won't find out of he's ready to go until Saturday. If he does play, his accuracy was pretty bad last week and it was obvious that his thumb was bothering him. It doesn't seem like he'll be anywhere near as effective as he was early in the year.
Chris Landon: KP is effective in the short passing game and in eluding pressure to make plays. If his thumb affects his short range accuracy, then I think he won't be that effective. He's never been one to hit reliably on the deep ball, so it is unlikely his thumb makes much difference in that regard. Still, even banged up, he may give UW a better chance to win then a talented by green RS Freshman.
Brad Johnson UW: I think he can hold a clip board very effectively. I don't think he'll be able to play very effectively. His thumb is definitely affecting his ability to throw the ball, and his inability to throw the ball is killing his confidence. Another "bad" game could make it tough to regain any trust in his teammates for the rest of the season. If sitting a week, or maybe even two (with Colorado up next, followed by a bye) can get him healthy and refocused, it might be worth the risk in the long run of letting the chips fall where they may Saturday night.
Kirk DeGrasse: Sark is tight-lipped when it comes to injuries, so I'm not even sure if KP will play on Saturday. With a bye week following this game, it would seem like a good opportunity for Sark to rest him and let the thumb try to heal. On the other hand, Sark has not appeared eager to take him out - he stayed in the ASU game far longer than I would have preferred. Whether this is stubbornness, loyalty to his starter, or - more ominously - lack of confidence in Cyler Miles, I don't know. If it were me, I'd have Miles start the game.
Ben Knibbe: Completely and wholly ineffective in the game. He shouldn't see the field unless there is an emergency with both Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist sustaining injuries. Price should really be taking time to heal up, while Miles should be gaining valuable experience for when he starts next season.
3. The UW defense gave up 56 points to ASU. Was this an aberration or does the defense have some legitimate concerns?
Anthony Cassino: There are legitimate concerns, as the two above average passing teams UW have faced have both torched the secondary. I don't think the defense is as bad as ASU made it look though; the offense put it in a no-win situation by stacking up 11 punts on 10 three-and-outs over the course of the game, which kept the defense on the field forever.
Chris Landon: Aberration. The D was on the field for nearly the entire 2nd quarter playing on short fields thanks to an offensive breakdown - exactly what you don't want to see versus an opponent that will run 90 plays on you for the day. They actually played pretty tough considering how gassed they were by the end of the game.
Brad Johnson UW: A little of both. ASU is good at stepping on an opponent's throat when they're down and turning a small lead into a big one in a hurry. But UW's defense is definitely flawed - it's decidedly average against the run, and it has next to no ability to generate a consistent pass rush. The ability to cover in the back end (especially with the corners) looked like a big strength early in the season. The last two games have cast serious doubts on that.
Kirk DeGrasse: I'm willing to chalk that up to a variety of factors snowballing together. The secondary has generally been a strength when playing man coverage; Oregon exposed their zone coverage as below-par. The run defense has been a weakness this year; while they aren't terrible, they generally have to expose their secondary to more risks in order to keep opposing run games in check. That worked earlier in the season, but fell apart vs. Oregon & ASU. Pass rush has been an issue too. All that said, against a pass-heavy team like Cal, I expect that to play into the strengths of this defense.
Ben Knibbe: Some of both. I don't put too much blame on the defense. They were already relatively tired to start the game coming off of the brutal stretch against Oregon and Stanford. The heat also had a large effect on the players, sapping what energy they had. But when your offense is a HUNH and goes for seven (or around there) three-and-outs, the defense will just get worn down. That is what happened.
That being said, it showed that the run defense isn't spectacular, and that they are prone to read-option keepers with how heavily they commit to hand-offs.
4. I noticed in some post game writing at UW Dawg Pound that there are concerns about the play of Shaq Thompson. How has he progressed (or regressed?) as a sophomore?
Anthony Cassino: He's progressing as you'd expect. He's still really good and getting better, but he occasionally has a play that he doesn't get his run fit right or misses a tackle. It's more a result of people noticing his mistakes because he's under a microscope than it is him regressing any.
Chris Landon: There were? If so, it is only because he is probably the best player on the D right now and isn't dominating enough for the video game crowd to be satisfied.
Brad Johnson UW: I'd say it'd be a miracle if he manages to keep his scholarship after this season, much less his starting job. I can't wait to matriculate that bum.
Husky fans bagging on Thompson aren't exactly paying attention to what's going on. He didn't have a great game on Saturday. No one did.
Kirk DeGrasse: I don't think he's regressed. He's about what I'd expect from a 2nd year player with a lot of natural talent - he makes some really impressive plays, but also has some whiffs and brain farts at times. Shaq hasn't been immune from the tackling problems this defense has had, and sometimes I wonder if he's being used to his full potential - I don't recall seeing many blitzes with him, something I would think would be a strength of his.
Ben Knibbe: That was me. I think you misunderstood what I was saying, or I didn't lay it out clearly. Probably the latter, I kinda suck. Shaq has been fine all season, he just had one poor game, and it can probably be chalked up to what was discussed above: being worn out. I am not worried about him, and I doubt that anybody else is.
#2 Oregon vs #16 Washington 2013 (via thornsx2)
5. This will (obviously) be Cal's first game in new Husky Stadium. How does it compare to old Husky Stadium in terms of ambience, amenities, crowd noise, etc.?
Anthony Cassino: It's better in every way. Fans are in tighter, so the noise is coming from closer, and with the track gone the interior of the stadium finally looks good enough to compliment the view around it.
Chris Landon: The new stadium is more high-tech, more intimate and more comprehensive in the amenities offered (unless you are in a few of the non-remodeled areas). They did a stellar job in retaining all of the old charm but equipping it with all the modern luxuries. It is truly a masterpiece.
Brad Johnson UW: My seats are in the one part of the stadium that didn't get touched, so it mostly looks the same to me. It looks like a "real" football stadium now, though, without the track. The ribbon boards that constantly run adds are annoying as hell. Crowd noise is mostly a function of winning.
Kirk DeGrasse: Aside from the North Upper Deck, everything else is brand new, so it's a big step up in that regard. It feels much better having the track gone and the stands right up to the sidelines and end zone. It should be even louder than before as the South Upper Deck roof sticks out farther than the old one, trapping even more sound. Beware of choke points in the main concourse around the NW and SW corners though.
Ben Knibbe: I have to refer to Kirk on this one. I never attended a game at the old Husky Stadium and have attended one game at the new one. I can just say that I did a lap around the stadium in awe of it. The energy is amazing, the crowd is loud, and it is just an amazing experience. Comparing it to the old one, I have no idea.
6. How has the defensive-line performance changed over the past two years with your new D-line coach, whose name I forget?
Anthony Cassino: It has gone from terrible before him, to merely below average under him. They don't impose their will on anybody, don't create any consistent pass rush, and regularly got knocked backward on runs. But he's not Nick Holt, so there's that.
Chris Landon: Cal fans will puke on this, but the DLine has gone from abomination to something that is serviceable. The recruiting on the lines, in particular the DE spot, has delivered young talent. There is still work to do - recruiting bigs in the middle and getting those young DEs to fulfill their promise - but the DLine is by and large doing its job.
Brad Johnson UW: Insignificantly, unfortunately. It's mostly an issue of talent, especially at tackle (outside of Danny Shelton).
Kirk DeGrasse: Tosh something or other, right? It's hard to know how much to assign to him and how much to assign to new players. Danny Shelton has the size & ability of Alameda Ta'amu, but shows more consistency. Having Hau'oli Kikaha back and healthy again is a big plus. Pass rushing remains a problem though, and at this point I'm not sure I'm seeing a significant step up in coaching, but it's probably still a bit early to truly judge.
Ben Knibbe: I can't remember either, I think his name rhymes with "boat" or something like that. It will take more than a season to see whether or not his coaching is as big of an asset as his recruiting, but I do know that the line has looked alright this year. Connor Cree has made some strides, Danny Shelton has been a man in the middle, and Kikaha has looked great since returning from injury. Overall, I think the D-line is progressing. How much of that can be contributed to boat-man, I don't know.
7. Are you as annoyed as we are about having an 8pm start time in the Pacific Northwest during the second half of the season? Stay warm!
Anthony Cassino: Yeah. I'm annoyed by anything later than a start later than about 3 at any point in the season as a fan. It seems like it takes forever for it to gametime. 8 is ridiculous.
Chris Landon: Very annoyed. By my math, that's 10pm in Memphis. Instead of drinking beer, I'll be spiking on 5 Hour Energy.
Brad Johnson UW: Ridiculous. Makes me wonder how much it would cost for the Pac 12 to buy its soul back.
Kirk DeGrasse: Ugh. The TV money is great and all, but these start times are not helping the problem of fans wanting to just stay home and watch on their HDTV in the comforts of their own home. I walk to the games from my house nearby, and I'm looking at walking back in the door around midnight after this one. And for what? Only the late owls on the West Coast will be watching...
Ben Knibbe: Eh, I'm in college, I'm used to being up way too late on the computer. But for most of you: heh, suckers.
Stanford-Washington Controversial Finish (via ESPN)
8. Whom do you want to punch in the face?
Anthony Cassino: I want to punch Todd Graham-Spears in his televangelist headset.
Chris Landon: If I could find him, I'd punch William Gerberding in the face. He's the former President of UW who notoriously sold out Don James and forced him into resignation thus sending UW down a path of 20 years of futility.
Brad Johnson UW: It's a really long list. More people are on it than not.
Kirk DeGrasse: William Gerberding
Ben Knibbe: In the wake of the passing of the Dawgfather, I would have to go with William Gerberding. His treatment of James (even though all I have is Google to learn about it) was, ugh.
9. Justin Wilcox, Year 2 midterm grade. Overrated or underrated? Does Wilcox deserve a shot as a Head Coach in the future?
Anthony Cassino: C+, overrated. He's a good defensive coordinator, but his defenses are still getting massacred by spread offense -- despite that being the point of emphasis coming into the year -- and there hasn't been enough improvement in the front seven.
He definitely deserves a shot at running his own show, it's just a matter of who is going to offer him a job, and if he wants to step into a tough spot. Right now his name probably isn't "hot" enough for him to be getting looked at for any jobs that are very desirable.
Chris Landon: I cannot imagine another DC in the country could have done what he did, both in assembling a brilliant young staff (Heyward, Sirmon, Lopoi) and implementing a credible defense where before there were none. Just wait until he gets the players he needs for his own system.
Brad Johnson UW: B-. Just like Sarkisian, he's good when he coaches what the team does well. He can get into trouble when he gets too cute. He'll get a shot in the near future. And yeah, he probably deserves it. It's more a question of, Does he get the keys to a sports car, or a Buick?
Kirk DeGrasse: I think he's rated about right - bright young DC, does well wherever he's been. Definitely possesses the demeanor that suggests he'd be a good head man, but of course there's so much more that goes into making a great head coach. The one area of concern still is his performance vs. spread option offenses (Oregon, Arizona, ASU), though I'm not sure any DC has really cracked the code on that one other than just having really good players that play really sound, fundamental defense.
Ben Knibbe: I would have to give him a B. The defense has improved steadily, but, however little I blame the D for ASU, some still has to fall on Wilcox's shoulders. Actually, let's move that down to a C+
10. No shame really for the Dawgs stumbling against some tough Pac-12 foes. What are some changes Sark must make immediately if UW still wants to earn a upper echelon bowl berth?
Anthony Cassino: He needs to ditch his efforts the past couple of weeks of becoming an offense that throws the ball down the field all the time. They killed teams early in the year with a Bishop Sankey/short passing game one two punch, and against Oregon the short passing game went away, then against ASU they also abandoned Sankey. Shorten the playsheet, quit trying to outsmart everybody, and dance with the girl that brung ya.
Chris Landon: There are two glaring things really holding UW back: an offensive line that can actually pass protect, and a QB that can create plays deep down the field. I don't even want to talk about the former. To the latter, I'd just say that there isn't a finer person that we've had in our program than Keith Price. He's a leader, he's a gamer, and he's tough as nails. But he has physical limitations that some of the guys behind him don't have. If they can meet his standards in smarts and in guts, UW could really blossom.
Brad Johnson UW: Get over the notion that the team needs to win a certain way. Take steps to mitigate the biggest offensive weakness (the line) instead of putting the entire fate of the offense on their ability to do the thing they've consistently shown they can't do. Somehow, figure out a way to take a step back in the heat of the moment instead of getting the tunnel vision he seems to get.
Kirk DeGrasse: Well, since he can't just go and sign a better OL right away, I'd say he needs to do some serious re-evaluation of his offensive strategies to make sure he's focusing on the things this team is good at. In addition to going full-time HUNH to start the season, he also showed a major emphasis on the horizontal passing game with bubbles and rocket motion swing passes which proved highly effective. Since then he's been trying a lot more downfield stuff, and while he's had receivers open, issues with the OL and issues with KP's willingness and ability to hit those routes has meant much more hit and miss with the offense. That was mitigated by Bishop Sankey & the run game, up until last week at least. The other thing is he needs to figure out a way to get Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to be a bigger part of this offense.
Ben Knibbe: Sark needs to somehow develop mental toughness into his team. Keith Price has all of the physical toughness for the entire team, but them being unready for what Sark called the most important game of the year just showed how lacking they were in that department.