For all the holes the Huskies’ offensive line created for All-American running back Bishop Sankey last season — there were many, and they were big — there was still one big hole in the line’s development: pass protection.
The Huskies gave up 30 sacks in 13 games last season and 102 combined over the past three years.
“Too many,” UW’s new offensive-line coach, Chris Strausser, said. “And from what I see right now (in fall camp), there’s too many.”
Strausser’s solution: Get bigger.
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Although the Huskies return all five starters on the offensive line, there could be two sizable changes when UW opens the season at Hawaii on Aug. 30. Senior Colin Tanigawa, a two-year starter at guard, has been working exclusively at center this month, and Strausser said the 6-foot-3, 292-pound Tanigawa has been the most consistent of any lineman in fall camp.
Senior Mike Criste, the starting center last year, has been splitting snaps with Tanigawa with the first-string offense, and Strausser said the competition for that job is ongoing.
Tanigawa, known as “Panda” to his teammates and coaches, has played only guard in his UW career, and the naturally quiet senior said he has adjusted well to taking on the demands of being more vocal as a center.
“It’s pretty different,” Tanigawa said. “You’re making the calls right off the bat for everyone, and they’re listening to you. The techniques are different (and) you’ve got different things to focus on with snapping the ball.”
Junior left guard Dexter Charles, who missed spring ball while recovering from shoulder surgery, has gained 22 pounds since last season, up to 311. At right guard, 6-7, 381-pound senior James Atoe has been anchored with the No. 1 offense all camp.
“He’s a frickin’ huge guy,” Tanigawa said. “I like playing next to him, definitely. A guy like that, you like having on your side.”
According to UW’s roster, Atoe has gained about 32 pounds since the Fight Hunger Bowl.
“He’s moving his feet and he’s moving well,” Strausser said, “so I haven’t thought one time about his weight. It hasn’t been an issue.”
Sacks, however, have been.
In comparison, Strausser’s lines at Boise State ranked among the top 10 in the nation in fewest sacks allowed from 2010-12 — giving up just 26 total in those three seasons. (Last season, Boise State allowed 26 sacks, the most ever during the Chris Petersen era there; perhaps not coincidentally, the Broncos finished with their worst record of the Petersen era, at 8-5.)
“It’s a combination of things,” Strausser said. “Certainly, the quarterback’s involved and we had a guy at Boise (Kellen Moore) who was unbelievable at seeing stuff and getting rid of the ball. So there’s no question that helped us.
“Now, that said, I still think our guys were really, really good protection-wise. They took a lot of pride. So we had that first year where we gave up less than 10 sacks, and all of a sudden that lit a fire under those guys that, ‘Hey, if we can lead the country in fewest sacks allowed, that’s eliminating a lot of negative plays.’ ”
The Huskies seem settled at the tackle spots with seniors Micah Hatchie on the left and Ben Riva on the right. Unlike seasons past — when many of these veterans were forced into action as freshmen or redshirt freshmen as coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff built up the program’s talent level — there’s quality depth behind the first line. Jake Eldrenkamp, Siosifa Tufunga, Shane Brostek and Coleman Shelton are all pushing for playing time.
“For the five seniors, we all came in with Sark and we had to battle through the injuries and the substitutions,” Hatchie said. “Now that we have a solid line, with solid backups, too, we feel pretty confident.”
And that should make the quarterbacks feel a little better, too.
UW to play Michigan, BYU
The Huskies announced Wednesday they have added home-and-home series with Michigan and BYU to future nonconference schedules.
The Huskies will play host to BYU on Sept. 29, 2018, and will travel to Provo on Sept. 21, 2019. The Huskies and Cougars have met nine times, including most recently in December’s Fight Hunger Bowl (won by UW, 31-16).
Michigan will come to Seattle for a Sept. 5 game in 2020. The Huskies travel to Ann Arbor for a game on Sept. 18, 2021. The Huskies and Wolverines have met 12 times in a history that dates to 1953 and includes four Rose Bowl matchups.
Washington also announced that Wisconsin had canceled its previously scheduled series with the Huskies (for 2018 and 2021) because of conflicts with its Big Ten Conference schedule.
• For $25, fans can attend a game at Husky Stadium and stand on the northwest deck between the Don James Center and the coaches’ offices. It’s a new ticket option announced Wednesday that also includes beer, wine and snacks for purchase for fans on that deck. Tickets can be used for admission to the game or in addition to an existing ticket. For details, call 206-543-2200.