1. UW has generally been strong under Chris Petersen, but this year's team is on another level. What has launched UW into contention for the national title?
John Sayler: It was quite a drastic change in coaching philosophies when Petersen took over for Steve Sarkisian three years ago. While Sark was restocking the program with talented players, he didn't seem too concerned about what types of personalities were attached to that talent. Petersen recruits what he calls OKGs (our kinda guys). The changeover in coaches meant some players were not going to fit in with the new regime, most notably cornerback Marcus Peters who was first suspended and later dismissed from the team despite being one of the best players on the roster. Peters was the eighth player dismissed or suspended during Petersen's first year.
The team is now Petersen's with even the Sarkisian leftovers buying in to his team-first coaching philosophy. That --combined with some very good recruiting classes made up of Petersen's "kinda guys" -- has led to a breakthrough season for the Huskies.
Other than that, Jake Browning has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Thoughts were that he would improve from year one to year two, but his play has been exceptional. WR John Ross returning from injury was supposed to help the receiving corps a bit. Instead, his resurgence has turned one of the questionable position groups entering the season into a team strength.
2. It looks like the Huskies' biggest weakness is run defense. What's going on there? Does the team have any other weaknesses?
John Sayler: I have to be honest, I was surprised by this question as I have not once this season thought of the run defense as a weakness. But looking at the numbers, you are absolutely correct. UW ranks 6th in the Pac12 in rushing defense. For a bit of context, WSU ranks #1 but the Cougars are actually allowing 0.1 yards per carry more than the Huskies (UW is second in the Pac12 in yards per rush allowed at 3.8 YPC). Many opponents who were never in the game ended up with rushing totals over 100 yards as they were working against the second and third string UW defense. Oregon and Oregon State ran for 230 and 177 yards respectively as they stayed committed to the run even after the game was well out of reach.
That said, Arizona and Utah almost beat Washington and each team racked up a lot of rushing yards, especially in the first half. UW's defensive line was not playing gap-sound football and allowed some long runs to Arizona and many successful running plays to Utah's Joe Williams. The defensive line sometimes pushes too far into the backfield and creates running lanes.
As far as other weaknesses, the pass rush has not been the same in the last two games since pass-rushing end Joe Mathis went down with a knee injury. Mathis is week to week with his injury.
3. Aside from a monumental butt-kicking in Eugene, UW's road games (Arizona, Utah) have been fairly close. Do you expect this weekend's game to be close or are you anticipating a blowout?
John Sayler: I am always weary of any team that has a good quarterback. Davis Webb can sling the ball and has a nice receiving corps. Cal also runs the ball very well, so slowing down the Bears offense will be a challenge. I have been to Memorial Stadium, and while it may not be a hostile environment compared to a few other Pac12 venues, it's a place where Washington has played a few ugly contests, even in victory. I expect Cal to give the Huskies their best effort and present a tough game for UW.
4. What kind of discernable influence (if any) has Jeff Tedford had on the offense?
John Sayler: There is a running joke about Tedford playing sort of a Cyrano de Bergerac to offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith's Christian de Neuvillette, whispering play calling ideas into his ear and Smith taking credit for it. This idea is born mostly out of Smith being criticized heavily last season by Husky fans. As you know, people would rather come up with ridiculous excuses than admit they were wrong, so Tedford is being given a lot of credit (or all of the credit) for UW leading the Pac12 in scoring offense.
5. Be honest (tongue in cheek): Can you estimate the % of your fanbase that is: a) holdouts who made it through the dark years, b) fairweather fans who always cared but REALLY care now, c) Seahawks fans who have adopted UW, d) former Oregon fans, or e) other?
John Sayler: 67.4% Fans like myself who were there for the great years, the OK years, the lousy years, the other OK years, and current team
22.1% Fairweather fans who have changed their Facebook profile photo to Jake Browning cuddling puppies
5.6% Seahawk fans who are now Husky fans (and claim they always were)
0% No Oregon fan would ever root for UW or would even be allowed to
4.9% Other (including Boise St. fans who love Chris Petersen cuz he's such a neat guy
6. Someone somewhere MUST be punched in the face. You are given supreme power to determine who receives that punch. Who gets punched? And why?
John Sayler: Easy. Aaron Rogers because he stole my girlfriend.
For more on the game, be sure to check out our answers to UW Dawg Pound's questions!