That 3-3 record the Huskies carry into the midpoint of the season couldn’t possibly be more appropriate.
Sometimes this team can be very good — like during the first 20 minutes of Saturday night’s 35-34 win in double overtime against OSU. Sometimes it can be bad — like during the back-to-back home losses that preceded it.
The only thing that’s consistent about this year’s Huskies is that they’ve played like a .500 team.
Sometimes the Huskies have been a hard team to watch, a difficult team to prognosticate and, in The Herald’s midseason report card, a tough team to grade.
And so we’ll look at this team for what it is: at times good, at times bad and eternally searching for an identity.
Passing offense: B-
Good Huskies: When Jake Locker and Co. are rolling, they’re a train that’s difficult to untrack. Locker and go-to receiver Jermaine Kearse were nearly unstoppable in the Syracuse game and Saturday night’s win over Oregon State, and yet Locker has spread the ball around to the other receivers as well.
Bad Dawgs: Locker can still be inconsistent with his accuracy — even at times in Saturday’s game. And his receivers, particularly Kearse, haven’t always been able to catch those passes that are right on target. Pass protection has been a problem at times as well, while the tight ends have been virtually invisible.
Going forward: The re-emergence of senior wide receiver D’Andre Goodwin adds another weapon to the passing game, so UW will be loaded when junior Devin Aguilar returns from his hip injury. It’s hard to make an argument that Locker will suddenly find accuracy and consistency down the stretch, especially after the way he’s played for most of his UW career. But if he does, no one will be able to stop this unit.
Running Offense: B+
Good Huskies: There has been no sophomore slump for running back Chris Polk, who ranks 28th in the nation in rushing yards per game (95.2) to put him ahead of bigger names like South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore (89.7), USC’s Allen Bradford (80.0) and Alabama’s Trent Richardson (69.6). He’s still getting most of his yardage on his own, but the shuffling-and-reshuffling offensive line showed signs of progress Saturday night. And backup Jesse Callier has been a nice complementary player, particularly on fly sweeps.
Bad Dawgs: There are times when Polk has to do too much on his own. Fans also expected quarterback Locker to get out and run more than he has this season. And Oregon State seemed to discover a secret to slowing down the fly sweep Saturday night.
Going forward: If Polk can keep taking the pounding, he’s on the right track to another 1,000-yard season. It will also be interesting to see how a reshuffled offensive line responds when freshman guard Erik Kohler returns from mononucleosis, which could happen in the next week or two.
Pass Defense: C-
Good Huskies: Saturday night provided some hope in terms of the anemic pass rush, although a knee injury to starting defensive end Talia Crichton could hobble that part of UW’s game. The Huskies’ corners have NFL size and can stay with opposing receivers, for the most part.
Bad Dawgs: UW’s corners have been prone to mistakes, particularly on third downs. And too many big plays have left leaders like safety Nate Williams and linebacker Cort Dennison yelling at teammates for being out of position.
Going forward: One of the most exciting things for UW fans to come out of Saturday night’s game was the emergence of a pass rush. Now the Huskies have to figure out how to tighten the grips on third downs — opponents have converted 41.2 of third downs and are maddeningly consistent on third and long this season.
Run Defense: D+
Good Huskies: In stretches, this can be one of the more pleasant surprises on the UW defense. When the unit stays in its lanes and swarms upon contact, it can be pretty formidable.
Bad Dawgs: Opposing quarterbacks have run for far too many yards on the Huskies, and missed tackles have plagued the unit for most of the last month. USC’s Bradford and Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez padded their season stats against the Huskies.
Going forward: With back-to-back games against Arizona’s Nic Grisby, a Stanford offense that gouged UW last season and Oregon’s LaMichael James, the Huskies had better find some consistency in their run defense if they’re going to stay in the hunt for a bowl game.
Special Teams: B-
Good Huskies: Until recently, Erik Folk was among the most consistent kickers in the country. Walk-on punter Kiel Rasp has filled in admirably for injured teammate Will Mahan. And long snapper Brendan Lopez has rebounded well from a horrible start to his season.
Bad Dawgs: Coverage has been a concern, particularly on kickoffs. Folk has missed a field goal in each of the past two games. And UW’s return game has lacked electricity after injuries to Aguilar and Johri Fogerson.
Going forward: UW’s coverage teams have shown steady improvement, and the punt return unit will get a boost when Aguilar returns. Folk should be as reliable as any kicker around, while the Huskies have to cross their fingers that Rasp can keep it up.
Good Huskies: Head coach Steve Sarkisian has done a nice job of motivating the team, particularly after a blowout loss to Nebraska that could have derailed the season for good. He’s also been proactive in finding better game plans and shaking up the personnel on UW’s inconsistent offensive line. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt is putting in the hours trying to fix an undermanned defense, and the second half of Saturday night’s game provided plenty of hope.
Bad Dawgs: Sarkisian’s play-calling and in-game decision-making has been questionable. Holt’s defense is improving more slowly than people expected.
Going forward: Sarkisian’s play-calling is often overanalyzed, and he sometimes gets less credit than he deserves. (Fans sometimes forget that he’s also the guy calling plays in some of those high-scoring games like the one Saturday night.) He’s kept a struggling team afloat in the Pac-10, and now the challenge will be to see if the Huskies can play with the big boys over the next three weeks.
If Sarkisian can bottle the good in the Huskies and bring out more consistency, this will be the bowl team many expected it to be. If UW continues to play Jekyll and Hyde, a 6-6 record is about the best the Husky faithful can shoot for.
After all, this has been a .500 team for half the season, so what’s to say it will be more than that down the stretch?
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