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August 16, 2013

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. At least, that is what the Washington Huskies are hoping for when they take on the Boise State Broncos on August 31st at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

The Broncos, 28-26 winners over Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl last December, are the archetype of success when it comes to mid-majors. Chris Peterson has only lost 8 games in his career at Boise St., going 84-8 since taking over the job in 2005, including two Fiesta Bowl wins. No matter who is on the field for the Broncos, Peterson will find ways to win games, and his track record should worry Husky fans that fear back-to-back losses to their Idaho rivals.

To prevent this, Washington will need to exploit some of the weaknesses Boise St. showed during the Las Vegas Bowl. One of these was the inability to stop the run. Washington RB Bishop Sankey ran all over the Broncos defense in Las Vegas, carrying the ball 30 times for 205 yards (6.8 yac).

While two of the four starters on the Broncos defensive line are returning, the loss of Freshman All-American DE Sam Ukwuachu (transferred to Baylor) and DT Michael Atkinson could prove to be huge. After Atkinson's injury against San Diego State last season, the Broncos defense only held one of four opponents to under 150 yards rushing, including giving up 227 yards on 46 carries (4.9 yac) against Nevada. With Atkinson gone due to graduation and Ukwuachu to Baylor, the Broncos defensive line could struggle against emerging star Bishop Sankey, who has a chance to be one of the premier running backs in the nation this season.

Washington's big advantage on August 31st will not be on the field, however, but rather in the stands. Husky Stadium, which is the loudest recorded college football stadium, (133.6 decibels in 1992 against Nebraska) underwent a $261 million renovation in the off-season, which included the removal of the track that previously surrounded the field and the movement of the stands closer to the field. The renovation, combined with possibly the best and most hyped Husky team in over a decade, will likely lead to an electric and raucous environment that most Broncos players have not experienced. The Huskies have consistently played outstanding football at home, going 11-2 in the last two seasons, and while relatively evenly matched on the field, Husky fans will provide Washington a significant advantage on August 31st.

Who and What to Watch
Keith Price. His struggles last year are well-documented. While the Huskies offensive line was one of the worst pass blocking offensive lines in the Pac-12, if not the country last year, Price was not sharp even when he had time, often seeming incapable of hitting open receivers down the field. While the talk of the off-season has been how Price looks better than ever and ready to rebound, that is all that it is: talk. Price will have a big challenge against the Broncos strong pass defense and if he can keep from turning the ball over, especially while running the ball, then that off-season talk might become more of a reality.

Crowd Noise
Let's face it: Crowd noise can have a huge impact on a game. It doesn't take the scientific knowledge of sound waves to understand that a lot of noise in a relatively confined space can cause a person to become easily aggravated and for emotions to boil. Aside from the emotional impact noise can have, the simple result of not being able to hear play-calls can lead to a lot of difficulty for an offense. Husky Stadium will be VERY loud on August 31st. Chris Peterson will no doubt have his team prepared for the noise, but preparation for noise in practice situations is nowhere near the real thing. Boise St. will be playing against 12 players while on offense and if the Huskies get off to a fast start, Boise St. will have a very hard time dealing with the Husky faithful on Montlake.

Taking a page from the Oregon playbook this off-season, the Huskies will look to test out their new no-huddle system. UW has the right personnel to succeed with the no-huddle, as a balance of power and speed is the perfect combination in getting a defense tired and confused. Price will likely use a lot of short screen passes in this offense and speedster Freshman John Ross will likely see a lot of action in these situations. This West Coast-esque offense, which emphasizes short, quick screens and passes, is a good way to deal with a questionable offensive line. Whether it is successful in the long-run remains to be seen, but in brief usage last year, the Huskies seemed more confident and productive on offense while using the no-huddle offense, and they hope to continue that success against the Broncos.


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