In their last non-conference game of the 2013 campaign, the 17th-ranked Washington Huskies will host the Idaho State Bengals in a matchup of 2-0 squads at Husky Stadium.
Even though Idaho State is 2-0, its record is deceiving. The Bengals, who are an FCS team, have not had to face an FBS-level program this season with their wins coming against Dixie State (40-14) and Western State (29-3). Idaho State had just three wins combined in the previous two seasons.
Washington's 2-0 start has been strong. The Huskies routed a nationally-ranked Boise State squad in the season opener. Then this past week they traveled to Chicago for a showdown with a feisty Illinois unit and took home a 34-24 victory. The Huskies now have a chance to get off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2002.
There is no previous history between these teams as Saturday will mark the first-ever meeting.
The Bengals have looked surprisingly dominant on both sides of the ball thus far. In the first two games, the Bengals are averaging 34.5 points and totaling 552.5 yards per game. A year ago the Bengals scored just 20.7 points per game and averaged 398 yards of total offense each week.
Quarterback Justin Arias, in his first season as the starter, has led an impressive passing attack, completing 66.3 percent of his pass attempts, with almost 100 on the season already. Those completions have led to 868 yards and four touchdowns for Arias, who has also been intercepted once.
"Justin (Arias) played pretty well. He was under duress, some of it was self- imposed," Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer said after the win over Western State. "He will play much better in the weeks to come."
Though he has been throwing early and often, Arias has not been particularly generous with his spreading of the ball. Cameron Richmond has been the go-to- receiver in the offense with 21 receptions for 301 yards, though he has just one touchdown. Tyler Wright (10 receptions, 141 yards, TD) and Luke Austin (seven receptions, 119 yards) are the second and third options, respectively.
Running the ball is not as high a priority for the Bengals. Xavier Finney is averaging 5.2 yards per carry as the starting running back, but he has just 25 attempts on the season. As a team the Bengal have just 237 rushing yards while averaging fewer than four yards per attempt.
Scoring has been aided by the strong play of kicker Brendon Garcia, who is 7- of-7 in field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder.
In the first two games the Bengals have also shown quite a large turnaround on defense, though maintaining the level of play will be quite a challenge. After allowing opponents to record more than 50 points and 570 total yards per game last season, the Bengals have really tightened up. Through two games they have allowed a total of just 17 points and 523 yards.
The Bengals have been especially strong in creating negative plays with 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks already. Mitch Beckstead (18.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and Austin Graves (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks) are the top performers.
More than likely the Bengals will be in for quite a wake-up call against the Washington offense. Other than No. 2 Oregon, no team in the Pac-12 is producing more yards per game than the Huskies (603.5). In fact, Washington is among the five best teams in the country in total offense.
Though his name might not be as recognizable as Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas or Georgia's Todd Gurley, Washington's Bishop Sankey has quietly been putting together arguably the best season by a running back in the country. Through two games, Sankey leads the nation in rushing yards per game (184.5). The bulk of that production came against Illinois when Sankey ran for a career-high 208 yards.
"This team, the running back corps, myself, we all just focus on moving forward," Sankey said. "It was opening up. Holes just continued to open up, and I was able to take advantage of them."
Sankey also gets plenty of help in the backfield from backup Jesse Callier, who is averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
While Sankey has taken control of the running game, Keith Price has looked much more comfortable under center than he did a year ago. In fact, Price looks much more like the he did in 2011 when he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. Price has completed 77.3 percent of his pass attempts for 666 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games and has only been intercepted once.
Even though the Huskies' top receivers from a year ago (Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins) are both back, neither has been as reliable in the passing game as Jaydon Mickens. In just two games Mickens has 17 receptions, which is eight more than the next highest receiver. Williams (seven receptions, 126 yards, TD) will no doubt continue to be an important part of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. Seferian-Jenkins had just three catches for eight yards against Illinois after missing the season opener.
There is good news and bad news on the defensive side of things for the Huskies. The good news is that Josh Shirley is turning into one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the Pac-12. Shirley already has three sacks and has been a nightmare for opponents.
The bad news is that leading tackler John Timu (18 tackles) injured his shoulder against Illinois. He is listed as questionable for Saturday's contest. If Timu cannot play, Shaq Thompson (13 tackles) and safety Sean Parker (12 tackles) will need to pick up the slack.
Overall Washington has put forth a strong defensive front in its first two games. The Huskies are surrendering just 15 points and 336.5 yards per game while allowing only two touchdowns in six red zone trips.