On Tuesday afternoon, I went on the Ian Furness Show on KJR-AM for a Pac 12 roundtable featuring Furness, co-host Jason Puckett – both WSU alums, UW sideline reporter and night show Elise Woodward and Scout.com’s Brandon Huffman. We discussed the Pac 12 season, including surprise teams, gave out some midseason awards and just general football discussion. It was fun. I figured I would post them on the blog. (podcast above)
Before we get to my midseason Pac 12 awards – which I have adjusted a little, having had time to think about them - let’s get to the UW awards. There are really no surprises with the Huskies selections. Most people who have watched the season with even the slightest impartiality would agree with the choices
Washington Midseason Awards
Offensive MVP: Keith Price
It’s a pretty easy choice to make. No one could have expected this from the sophomore quarterback. Sure we thought Price would be solid, but to be completing 69.4 percent (118-for-174) of his passes for 1,466 yards and a Pac 12 leading 21 touchdowns with just four interceptions is unexpected. And anyone who tells you they knew this would happen is lying or is related to Price. This is a pleasant surprise. But beyond the numbers, Price has filled the leadership void left by Jake Locker. In a way, he’s already exceeded it. There was anxiety surrounding Locker the last few seasons. It was almost as if every incomplete pass or hard hit or mistake would somehow jeopardize Jake’s future in the NFL.
With Price there is none of that. There’s just an easy feeling about him. Maybe it’s the way he exudes confidence, or the joy with which he plays. But the players have responded to it. And his willingness to play hurt and flourish only makes his role as a leader stronger.
Defensive MVP: Cort Dennison
Regardless of numbers, and he leads the team and is tied for the league lead in tackles with 50, and also has 4.5 tackles for loss, it’s the leadership he’s brought to the field that is all the difference. The Husky defense that would be signifincantly worse without him – like worst in the conference bad. With freshman linebackers usually on both sides of him and some inexperience up front, Dennison not only has to do his job, but make sure his teammates are in position to do their jobs.
Top Newcomer: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
It’s another easy choice. Of the many talented freshmen that have seen snaps for the Huskies, the big tight end has made the most impact. He has caught 15 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns. They are solid numbers to be sure. But his mere presence on the field makes a huge difference for a team that hasn’t had a playmaking tight end since Kavario Middleton cared about football. Seferian-Jenkins is threat in the red zone, has shown the ability to catch passes over the middle and will only get better and more involved as the season goes on.
Biggest surprise: The return of Justin Glenn and the consistency of Sean Parker.
Of all the problems that have beleaguered the UW defense this season, the safety play – at least with Parker and Glenn – has been the least of their troubles. Glenn, a one-time starter, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, worked his way into consistent playing time as the nickel back and then assumed the starting role when Nate Fellner went down with a hamstring injury. He’s been better than solid bringing a maturity and a physical presence to the secondary. He doesn’t gamble unnecessarily and still makes strong hits and plays well in coverage. Parker has been quietly effective. He’s second on the team in tackles with 41 and has an interception. He hasn’t made a ton of exceptional plays, but he has also hasn’t made a myriad of egregious mistakes.
Biggest disappointment: The defense as a whole hasn’t been as good as expected. Injuries haven’t helped. The loss of Hau’oli Jamora to knee surgery and Quinton Richardson’s high ankle sprain were issues. But some of the mistakes were not physical, they were mental. Blown coverages and missed assignments on quarterback pressures are problems that need to be corrected. Washington’s inability to get off the field on third down, particularly third and long has also been problematic. Has the defense turned the corner of late? Maybe. It also helps that the Huskies have played Utah, California and Colorado – three inconsistent offenses in the last three games.
PAC 12 MIDSEASON AWARDS
Offensive MVP: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford/Keith Price, QB, Washington
Today on the radio, I said it was Luck and my justification was that if you take Luck off of Stanford, it would be a very average team. But along those same lines, if you take Price off of Washington, the Huskies would be worse. You might have a 2-4 team instead of a 5-1 team. In terms of value, both have meant plenty to their teams. In some ways, Price might be even more valuable. But really with Stanford’s schedule, we’ve only seen about three quarters of each game of Luck. In Pac 12 play, it’s been different. His completion percentage is 71.4 percent and his quarterback rating at 183.68.
Defensive MVP: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
It was kind of a difficult choice because the league isn’t exactly filled with defensive juggernauts, and the most talented player – Vontaze Burfict – isn’t playing with nearly enough rage ... if you can believe that. Thomas has been outstanding, particularly once the Cardinal lost – the likely league defensive MVP Shayne Skov to season ending knee surgery. Thomas has 29 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He also sets the tone for a physical front seven.
Top offensive freshman: DeAnthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
In any other year, Seferian-Jenkins would likely be the top freshman. But Thomas has been absolutely ridiculous, scoring four touchdowns rushing and four receiving, while doing a little bit of everything in the Ducks system. He can play at receiver and line up outside or in the slot, and he also can play running back, particularly important with LaMichael James injury. On a team full of playmakers, Thomas looks like a star in the making.
Top defensive freshman: Dion Bailey, S, USC
The hard-hitting safety has shown range in the secondary and an understanding of the game. As Huffman put it, he’s Taylor Mays but can actually play in coverage. Bailey leads SC with 41 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and a few pass breakups.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford
You could vote Dennis Erickson for withstanding all the injuries, or even Steve Sarkisian for the fast start. Yes, Shaw was given the keys to the Cadillac, but he hasn’t wrecked it or even put a dent in it. If anything he’s got it running even better. The Cardinal offense is still playing physical and physically pounding on opponents, but its doing it in a variety of ways. Erickson has weathered the loss of seven starters and made Burfict play with some level of control.
Most surprising team: Washington
The loss of Jake Locker and Mason Foster certainly left some serious question marks. The Huskies were also revamping the offensive line and relying on players like Colin Tanigawa, Erik Kohler and Colin Porter – three players, who had about six games combined of playing time. Price has been a phenomenon. Have they won in games in spite of their defense? Yes. But many people wouldn’t have expected the offense to be good enough to do that before the season. But Price, the consistently hard running of Chris Polk, the cadre of talented receivers and the addition of Seferian-Jenkins have made it all work.
Most disappointing team: Arizona
Arizona edges out Utah because, well, the coach they had at the beginning of the season is hanging out with his brother in Oklahoma and not coaching the Wildcats anymore. Mike Stoops was fired leaving Arizona in search of a new coach and me in search of new jokes about the team. Utah, as I mentioned on the radio show, just didn’t impress me. Yes Jordan Wynn has been lost for the season. But I didn’t think they were particularly effective with him as the QB. They weren’t very physical and not very fast. Take away the BYU game where Jake Heaps seemed to be giving the ball away like it was part of his mission, and Utah has wins over Pitt and Montana State. Knowing what I know about those two teams, the win over Montana State – ranked 4th in the FCS – might be more impressive.
Most surprising player: Keith Price (see above).
Also have to mention quarterback Brock Osweiler. The 6-foot-8 QB from the greatest state in the US (hint: it rhymes with Fontana) has been better than expected. Sure he’s had some rough games, but for a guy that hasn’t had a ton of game experience, he’s shown a big arm, surprising athleticism and a knack for making plays.
Most disappointing player: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
Sure he has the picture of the year. He had a nice game against Illinois, but he’s been a non-factor at times. A player of his talent needs to be a force in every game. He hasn’t been. His defensive coordinator said it’s because he’s had to temper his rage too much and it’s slowed him down. Well, Vontaze, you better to listen to some Public Enemy and Drowning Pool to get your anger on.
Best quote in an interview: “Hey, will you shut up!”
Chip Kelly said it to some obnoxious, drunken Oregon fans who were yelling behind him while he was trying to be interviewed by Erin Andrews. Look Chipper can be condescending and cold and arrogant, but that was great.
Best quote to his players: “I can’t be the only one who cares.”
Rick Neuheisel said it to his players earlier this year. It pretty much sums up the perceived attitude of the Bruins players.
Man, I can't wait for the second half of the season.