Four-Down Territory: Final Hurrah For Washington Stars?
By Tom Rohrer
Washington beat BYU, 31-16, on Friday in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Let's take a look at some of the most important developments stemming from the game.
How appropriate that Washington’s 31-16 victory over BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger gave the Huskies their best record (9-4) since the 2000 season.
The leader of that 11-1 Washington team, which defeated Drew Brees and Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl, was quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. On Friday night, Tuiasosopo again led the Huskies to a bowl game victory, albeit as interim head coach.
Tuiasosopo filled in for Washington during the transition period between the departure of Steve Sarkisian and the arrival of Chris Petersen.
The former Oakland Raiders and New York Jets player came on as the team’s quarterback coach under Sarkisian this season and it remains to be seen if he will return to the coaching staff in 2013.
Washington displayed an intensity on both sides of the ball and attempted several fourth down conversions throughout the game, a testament to the player’s inspiration to win for a school legend.
On paper, the Huskies roster, featuring a handful of future NFL draft picks, appeared to have the edge over a well-tested Cougars team.
Thanks to the combination of Washington’s talent and the motivation to get to nine wins, the Huskies were able to post arguably their most impressive victory of the season.
In their previous game, a 27-17 victory over Washington State in late November, the Huskies received strong performances from their junior All-American duo of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Bishop Sankey and senior quarterback Keith Price.
Friday’s victory may have been the last game for the trio and it was a memorable performance, blighted only by a second quarter interception by Price, which should’ve been voided duo to a missed targeting call on BYU defensive lineman Bronson Kafus to the helmet of the Washington quarterback.
Sankey, an Associated Press second-team All-American, finished with two touchdowns and 95 yards spread over 21 carries. While Sankey has not yet made his official decision regarding April's NFL Draft, he would be among the top prospects at the position.
Seferian Jenkins made it clear that the bowl victory was his last game in a Huskies uniform. The John Mackey Award winner had three receptions for 37 yards including a 16-yard touchdown reception on a crucial third-and-8 on Washington’s first drive of the second half.
While he has faced his fair share of criticism during his career at Washington, Price leaves the school as its most prolific passer and leaves the program in better shape than when he arrived.
Despite leaving the game following the helmet to helmet shot, Price completed 17 of 23 passes, rushed for 30 yards and did not put the ball on the ground.
Hobbled by injuries this season, Price’s play at times seemed to fuel a hot/cold relationship with the Washington fan base. Regardless of his somewhat unjustified reputation, Price, who threw for 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions this season, will be missed in 2014. He led the Huskies to a bowl game and threw for more than 2,700 yards each of his three seasons as a starter.
Flag On The Play: Repeat Third Down
Even with the possible loss of their top passer, running back and receiver, the Huskies offense will have plenty of fire power in 2014.
The big-play ability of freshmen receiver John Ross was on display during his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Ross’s run came following an impressive BYU touchdown drive that tied the game, putting the momentum in Washington’s favor for the remainder of the game.
In the passing game, Damore'ea Stringfellow, a 6-foot-3 freshmen receiver, showed his potential across his four receptions for 36 yards. Though he had only 20 catches this season, Stringfellow could have a major impact and develop into the Huskies top pass-catching threat in the red zone for years to come.
There is a buzz that Sankey may end up returning to school for his senior season due to his projected draft position as a second-day pick.
While he certainly would be among the top running backs selected in April, Sankey could return and make a run at a Heisman trophy. Another year of Sankey in the backfield would take some of the pressure off of Cyler Miles, the projected starting quarterback for the Huskies next season.
BYU posted 493 total yards thanks to the dual-threat ability of BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and the 12 receptions from Chase Hoffman.
Washington held the rest of the Cougars offense in check and BYU only got into the end zone once.
The Huskies defense held BYU to a 5-for-15 performance on third downs and had six tackles for loss.
Defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha was the star thanks to his three sacks, while mammoth defensive tackle Danny Shelton disrupted Hill all game and had seven total tackles. Both are likely return in 2014.
Senior Tre Watson had six pass breakups and six tackles in his final game for Washington, making plays in key third-down situations.
BYU has traveled across the country to take on a wide variety of defenses and finished within the Top 40 in both rush and pass offense. Its inability to sustain drives into the red zone was the key in the game, and the Huskies defense should get credit.