John McGrath

John McGrath: Huskies could use a Bishop Sankey

The Washington Huskies threw for fewer than 100 yards Saturday, their least effective passing performance since the 2010 Holiday Bowl.

Fans watching redshirt sophomore Cyler Miles release the ball as if he were wearing some sort of snow-caked mitten on his right hand likely clamored for Keith Price, whose graduation has the UW program — long touted as a quarterback factory — without somebody capable of generating the offense.

But as much as Price was missed Saturday against a Stanford defense that teed off on Miles and smothered big-play receiver John Ross, it was another graduation that’s created a void.

Where have you gone, Bishop Sankey? Husky Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Washington’s ground game not only never was a factor in the 20-13 defeat, it never posed a potential concern for Stanford. Sure, the Huskies ran the ball 38 times, but 14 of those carries were Miles’ scrambles that almost always were the result of broken plays.

On the 23 occasions someone other than a quarterback carried, they picked up 79 yards — or what Sankey typically gained in a half last season.

Miles may never develop the arm strength required for vertical strikes, or the touch to connect with an intermediate-range target. But absent the threat of any kind of running game besides a flushed-from-the-pocket quarterback in sack-avoidance mode, the Huskies will continue to waste defensive efforts that put them in a position to win.

“We need to run the ball better to help our passing game,” said Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith. “Because that’s when we really have ownership of our passing game: when we’re running it.”

But who’s running it? Sophomore Dwayne Washington started at tailback Saturday, gaining 7 cards on 4 carries. More effective — and the term is relative — was backup Lavon Coleman, a redshirt freshman who gained 58 yards, but only 11 in the second half.

And, of course, there was the obligatory offensive series for linebacker Shaq Thompson, who scored a 32-yard touchdown … by picking up a fumble on defense. But as a running back, Thompson, who may be the most freakishly talented athlete in college football, looked as stymied as his teammates.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” said head coach Chris Petersen, “and try to get our quarterback some answers. It usually starts in the running game, being able to run the ball better.

“We knew it would be be tough sledding,” added Petersen, referring to a Stanford defense that has not allowed an opponent to score 30 points in its past 26 games. “But, certainly, we thought we’d be able to do a little bit better than we did today. In the first half, we did a few things running the ball, but we did nothing in the second half running the ball. That’s playing into those guys’ hands — that’s playing into anybody’s hands, when you make an offense one-dimensional like that.”

While Petersen returns to the drawing board, it can’t hurt to recall that in 2011, Sankey was an obscure third-string freshman running back whose participation essentially was confined to special teams.

Through one month, Sankey had three carries for 17 yards. In fact, it wasn’t until his third game as a sophomore, against Portland State, that he took the ball and ran with it.

By the time Sankey completed his junior season, after setting several Huskies’ rushing records, he was regarded as the top running back in the NFL Draft.

In other words, it’s possible the successor to Sankey is somebody on Petersen’s depth chart with an unfamiliar name.

Then again, Sankey is a tough, nearly impossible act to follow. Petersen will settle for a running back whose ability to move the first-down chains once in a while will take the heat off a quarterback no one is calling the next Keith Price.

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