Washington tailback has unfinished business with Boise State

Bishop Sankey compiled huge stats during a losing effort in last year's bowl game.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comAugust 28, 2013 

Washington junior running back Bishop Sankey is tough to bring down, as the Boise State defense learned when he went off for 279 yards from scrimmage during the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas in December. “He’s a low-center-of-gravity guy,” BSU coach Chris Petersen said. “If you just run into him, he’s not going down. You’re going to have to tackle him and hang on for dear life.”

IDAHO STATESMAN FILE

  • Washington scouting report

    FACTS AND FIGURES

    • Where: Seattle (population: 620,778)

    • Founded: 1861

    • Enrollment: 43,307

    • Colors: Purple and gold

    • Nickname: Huskies

    • Record (2012): 7-6 overall, 5-4 Pac-12 (fourth in Pac-12 North)

    • Last game: Lost to Boise State 28-26 in the 2012 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

    COACH

    Steve Sarkisian, 39, is 26-25 in four seasons since taking over the winless Huskies after the 2008 season. His team upset Stanford and Oregon State last year, but his seat started warming after losses to Washington State and Boise State to end the season. Another loss to the Broncos, on a day of celebration for the fan base with the re-opening of Husky Stadium, could make things uncomfortable.

    Sarkisian is a former BYU quarterback (1995-96) and 1996 WAC Offensive Player of the Year. He spent seven years on staff at USC, where he was the offensive coordinator in 2007-08.

    OFFENSE

    The Huskies retained their structure, but plan to operate at an Oregon-like pace this season. The goal is to increase the number of snaps per game from 69.5 to 82. They snapped the ball in as little as 15 seconds during fall camp.

    The offense is loaded with talent — assuming junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (69 catches, 850 yards, seven touchdowns) and junior wide receiver Kasen Williams (77 catches, 878 yards, six touchdowns) play in the opener after alcohol-related incidents in the offseason. Seferian-Jenkins, who pleaded guilty to DUI, also has a broken pinkie and hasn’t been medically cleared.

    Even without them, the Huskies would be dangerous with senior quarterback Keith Price (19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions) expected to bounce back from a down year and tailback Bishop Sankey coming off a monster sophomore campaign.

    DEFENSE

    Former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (2006-09) enters his second season at Washington with a veteran core after a major turnaround in 2012. The Huskies, who were 31st in total defense, return eight defensive starters. Among them: linebacker John Timu (team-high 91 tackles), safety Sean Parker (77), outside linebacker Shaq Thompson (74 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions), defensive lineman Andrew Hudson (6.5 sacks) and defensive end Josh Shirley (6.5 sacks).

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Huskies hope to clean up some kicking issues by spreading the workload. Senior Travis Coons was 3-for-6 on field goals late last season, which proved costly against Washington State and Boise State. He also punted — the Huskies were 101st in net average — and kicked off. He still will kick field goals this year, but freshman Cameron Van Winkle will kick off, and sophomore Korey Durkee will share the punting load. True freshman wide receiver John Ross is expected to figure heavily in the return game.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Washington hasn’t played the same team in back-to-back games since 1927. That opponent: USS Idaho.

    — Chadd Cripe

Washington tailback Bishop Sankey left Las Vegas in December with some hollow hardware.

He was MVP of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, but his performance wasn’t enough to lead the Huskies past Boise State.

On Saturday night at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Sankey gets another shot.

“A big focus has been our ability to finish down the stretch,” Sankey, a junior, said. “We had some trouble with that. All offseason, it’s been a point of emphasis.”

Sankey rushed 30 times for 205 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 74 yards in the two-point loss. His 279 yards from scrimmage accounted for 62.4 percent of the Huskies’ offense.

So while he has unfinished business in the 2013 opener, so do the Broncos. The program that is proud of its consistently gritty defense couldn’t contain Sankey.

“He’s got that killer spin move that when he starts to get wrapped up, he tends to go to,” Boise State junior linebacker Corey Bell said. “He’s just a good back. He’s a smart guy, it seems. We’re just going to have to do our best to try to slow him down.”

Boise State coach Chris Petersen said after the bowl game he was worried about Sankey because of his talent and the layoff before the bowl, which often leads to sloppy tackling.

Season openers also tend to feature a lot of missed tackles.

“He’s a physical runner — hard to tackle,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “He broke a lot of tackles against us last year, made guys miss. He’s going to do that, so we’ve got to do a good job of getting off blocks and getting more than one guy to the ballcarrier. Relentless pursuit, running to the ball, is the key.”

Even that wasn’t enough in Las Vegas, senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe said.

“He’s fast,” he said. “I had a couple plays that I was trying to chase him down the line of scrimmage … and he was gone because he was way too fast. I’ve got to take better angles than that.”

Sankey was the offensive feel-good story of 2012 for the Huskies, who finished 97th in the nation in total offense and 88th in scoring.

Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards as a freshman out of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, topped 100 yards in seven of the last 11 games as a sophomore. He accumulated 185 touches (carries and catches) in the final six games — a massive workload.

He finished with 1,439 rushing yards (No. 3 in school history) and 16 rushing touchdowns (No. 2).

“It’s a testament to how well we prepared as a unit and to the offensive line,” Sankey said. “We got off to a bit of a slow start, but we kept at it. That’s a credit to the guys who pushed me and helped me along.”

Sankey (5-foot-10, 203 pounds) should benefit from an offensive line that coach Steve Sarkisian expects to be the best in his five-year tenure and a passing game that includes two of the Pac-12’s top receivers.

Sankey also has improved.

“As many plays as he made,” Washington safety Sean Parker said, “there’s a lot of room for improvement. He’s taken that to heart.”

Said Sankey: “I’m not bigger. I just feel like I’ve been stronger, quicker and faster.”

That’s a bad combination for anyone hoping to tackle him.

The Broncos will send a mostly new wave of defenders at Sankey. Only three bowl starters return in the front seven.

“He’s a low-center-of-gravity guy,” Petersen said. “If you just run into him, he’s not going down. You’re going to have to tackle him and hang on for dear life.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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