With the Washington Huskies‘ first game in T-minus three days, anticipation has built to a fever pitch among Husky Nation.
A stiff opponent in Boise State will test the Dawgs, and we’ll see if the much-vaunted offseason improvements are for real. The Huskies will need to scheme for three players in particular.
The first of the Broncos’ three biggest playmakers is Texas-bred punishing ballcarrier Jay Ajayi. Even though he was behind stud running back DJ Harper last season, Ajayi still managed to accumulate 548 yards and rack up four touchdowns on 82 carries.
This year, no one is in his way. An All-American in high school who overcame a torn ACL freshman year, Ajayi is a lethal blend of size and speed at 6’0” and 215. Fleet-footed and possessing great vision, Ajayi will hurt the Huskies if he isn’t contained.
Last year, Washington’s defensive line was a mercurial unit. A bright spot was junior tackle Danny Shelton, who will lead the unit this year. Hopefully the addition of converted tight end Evan Hudson to tackle will take some pressure off Shelton and add some to the quarterback.
If Ajayi makes it past the line, Washington’s strong linebacking corps of Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Travis Feeney, and Princeton Fuimaona should be able to limit the damage he can cause.
Although generically named, Matt Miller is distinctively dangerous. Boise State’s best wide receiver by a long shot, Miller caught 66 balls for 769 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2012. He is a complete receiver and can make plays in any situation.
At 6’3” and 222 pounds, Miller runs crisp routes, has great hands and has reportedly improved his footspeed, which was the one hole in his game.
Husky starting cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre, at 5’11” and 5’10” respectively, are giving up some size to Miller. The ultra-athletic 6’2″ Shaq Thompson could lock Miller down, but as mentioned above, he might be more needed at linebacker.
Ducre and Peters will look to guard Miller carefully, avoid isolation jump balls and recruit as much help from 6’0” free safety Will Shamburger as possible.
The last key player for Washington to silence is hell-raising defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. In his first season last year after transferring, Lawrence tallied 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, along with four forced fumbles.
Off-the-field issues landed him multiple suspensions, including in the MAACO Bowl, so this game will be Washington’s first encounter with him.
Coming off an appearance on the All Mountain-West Conference First Team, the 6’3” 245 pound Lawrence is a legitimate mid-round NFL draft prospect.
Washington’s offensive line caused me to go through the five stages of grief every other snap. The already skittish Keith Price wasn’t helped by the lack of protection last season. Injuries and inexperience combined for a porous offensive line in 2012, something simply unacceptable for this game and the 2013 season.
The good news is things are looking brighter. Left tackle Ben Riva, moving over from the right side after a strong showing in 2012, is Washington’s most experienced, and biggest lineman.
The rest of the unit gained valuable experience last season and should have something to show for it, hopefully limiting the disruption Lawrence will cause. Fullback Psalm Wooching might also be deployed to help.
Ranked 19th in the country by the AP Poll, Boise State is no pushover, least of all these three players. But with proper planning and proper execution, Washington has the personnel to shut them down.