The San Diego State football team kicks off its 2012 season at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday at CenturyLink Field against the University of Washington Huskies. The Aztecs are fresh off two consecutive bowl game appearances and look to start off their final season as a member of the Mountain West Conference on the right foot. Sports editor Ryan Schuler caught up with The Daily’s Kevin Dowd, sports editor of UW’s student newspaper.
Ryan Schuler: What was the Huskies’ reaction to the 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor following last season?
Kevin Dowd: The immediate re- action was swift and necessary: The firing of most of the defensive staff responsible for guiding the unit that gave up 777 yards to the Bears. Within the team itself, the loss certainly didn’t do any lasting damage. Quarterback Keith Price accounted for seven touchdowns at the Alamo Bowl, and there were enough bright spots elsewhere — such as defensive end Josh Shirley’s three sacks — to leave at least a decent taste in the team’s mouth.
RS: What kind of defense can SDSU expect against Washington?
KD: That’s a question most Husky fans are still asking themselves. The best answer might be a varied one, a defense that tries to put some of its uniquely skilled players, such as Shirley and freshman safety Shaq Thompson, in positions they can succeed. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has promised to show more 3-4 than the UW has had in the past and that has been apparent through the fall, but Wilcox is known for the multiplicity of his defenses. All signs point to the Huskies show- ing a variety of looks and personnel on Saturday.
RS: How have the defensive players taken to Wilcox?
KD: It seems like they love him. It’d be difficult to find a coach more dif- ferent from the departed Nick Holt than Wilcox. While Holt got most ofhis coaching across with pure volume, Wilcox is more likely to hug a player who made a mistake than scream at him. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Wilcox’s tendency toward the 3-4 is a much better fit than the 4-3 for a lot of the Huskies’ personnel, including Shirley and sophomore nose tackle Danny Shelton.
RS: Are there any signifi- cant injuries on Washington’s roster that could affect the game?
KD: The position groups that have been hit the hardest this fall are line- backer and wide receiver, although depth concerns out wide are prob- ably the biggest issue going into Sat- urday. There haven’t been many seri- ous injuries, but junior wide receiver Kevin Smith is still recovering from a torn ACL at the end of last season, while senior wide receiver James Johnson will be out with a dislocated wrist suffered Aug. 15. That has left a pair of true freshmen — Kendyl Taylor and Jaydon Mickens — listed as starters going into Saturday.
RS: What can SDSU expect from the Huskies’ running game now that 1500-yard rusher Chris Polk is gone?
KD: For the first game or two of the season, at least, UW opponents can expect a pretty even mix of sopho- more speedster Bishop Sankey and 210-pound junior Jesse Callier on the ground, with a dash of a healthy Price thrown in. The two really are pretty similar backs, but neither has the experience of carrying a running game by himself.
RS: Do you think there is a chance that Washington over- looks SDSU because of its matchup with top-ranked Lou- isiana State University the following week?
KD: I would be very surprised if that were the case, for a couple of reasons. One, San Diego State isn’t some pushover. This is a good foot- ball team with a veteran coach that has won more than eight games each of the past two seasons — which is more than the Huskies can say about themselves. Two, the Huskies came perilously close to overlooking East- ern Washington in their season open- er a year ago before a late intercep- tion sealed the 30-27 win. I see the UW coming out on Saturday with its hair on fire.
RS: Are the Huskies excited to play at CenturyLink Field as opposed to Husky Stadium? How do you think the change of venue will affect the game? KD: It does sound like the players are excited to play in CenturyLink Field, but I don’t see it being too big of a deal. Although it will be interest- ing to see if the venue, notorious for drawing false starts from visitors of the Seattle Seahawks, has a similar effect on the UW’s opponents.