Las Vegas Bowl: A Washington Q&A with Lauren Kirschman
We get to know Boise State’s Las Vegas Bowl opponent, the Washington Huskies, with Lauren Kirschman of the Tacoma News Tribune.
The Broncos won’t have it easy in their 2019 finale.
The kickoff to college football’s bowl season is mere days away and the Mountain West’s seven-game slate kicks off, in part, this weekend when the Boise State Broncos and Washington Huskies face off in the Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, December 21.
Three seasons removed from their lone appearance in the College Football Playoff, Chris Petersen’s Huskies fell off a bit in 2019 while replacing eight NFL Draft selections. Don’t let the win-loss record or the overwhelming narrative arc of this game fool you, though: Washington has been a tough draw for just about every opponent this season.
Mountain West Wire: It seems like there has been some consternation in certain parts of the UW fan base about just how well quarterback Jacob Eason has played this fall. From your perspective, how much of the criticism is justified and what, if anything, may not be?
Lauren Kirschman: I don’t know how much criticism has gone directly at Eason. The bigger frustrations from the fan base have been directed at offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan and the offense as a whole, which has been inconsistent and often unproductive. Eason has struggled at times — he had a stretch of three games where he threw five interceptions and lost a fumble — and his biggest issues come when he’s forced out of the pocket. But while Eason has to take some of the blame, UW’s receivers have also struggled to create separation and have dropped more than their fair share of passes. The Huskies’ issues on third down and in the red zone carried over from last season. Eason was able to create some explosive plays, and his arm strength is as impressive as advertised, but he has overthrown receivers on several occasions.
MWwire: The Huskies have typically made their bones (no pun intended) with a tough defense in recent years, but losing so many stars from last year’s unit had to have been tough itself. Who is one player you believe has been a pleasant surprise and is worth watching closely in the bowl game?
Kirschman: I think it has to be freshman cornerback Trent McDuffie. He was a highly-rated, four-star recruit coming out of high school, but he was also facing an uphill climb when it came to getting on the field. The Huskies had several talented redshirt freshmen ahead of him, but he became a starter just a few games into the season. He’s earned high praise from both Chris Petersen and Jimmy Lake and has certainly looked the part of UW’s next great cornerback. McDuffie was given honorable mention for Pac-12 freshman defensive player of the year and will be a key piece of the Huskies’ defense for years to come.
MWwire: How will the Washington offensive line account for a pass rushing talent like Curtis Weaver? Who do you think will be primarily responsible for slowing him down?
Kirschman: Weaver will definitely be a challenge for UW’s offensive line, especially since the Huskies will be missing a few key pieces. Starting left tackle Trey Adams, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his college career, decided to sit out the Las Vegas Bowl as he starts preparing for the NFL Draft. Starting right guard Jaxson Kirkland left the loss to Colorado with an injury in late November. He didn’t make the trip to Las Vegas and won’t be playing on Saturday. UW has capable backups, but the experience of Adams and Kirkland will surely be missed. While the Huskies’ offensive line has been strong most of the season, they did allow five sacks in the loss to Colorado and four in the loss to Cal. As I mentioned before, Eason doesn’t handle pressure well so this will be an key factor to keep an eye on.
MWwire: It’s been a little while since the Broncos have had to scheme against a tight end like Hunter Bryant. How would you describe his overall skill set, or what he does best?
Kirschman: Boise State won’t have to contend with Hunter Bryant, who decided to sit out the bowl game after declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. With Bryant out, Cade Otton will be the tight end to watch. While he’s primarily known for his blocking abilities, he has caught 29 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns this season. He’s averaging 11.4 yards per catch.
MWwire: It seems like many Boise State fans see the “Chris Petersen’s one last ride” narrative as somewhat blase, but how are people inside the Washington program and Huskies fans viewing this Las Vegas Bowl? Will motivation be a concern after an 0-4 record in one-score games left a strong impression of what might have been?
Kirschman: I don’t think a Las Vegas Bowl win will change how UW fans look at this season. There were high expectations for this group coming into the year, but turnover and inexperience seemed to catch up with them. The players have stressed the importance of treating this like any other game, but many of them have also admitted there is a little extra motivation to send Petersen out with a win. I think there is also some pride on the line for them considering how the season turned out. That’s especially true for seniors, who haven’t lost this many games in a season before.