LAS VEGAS — The Washington Huskies would love it if what happened in Vegas could stay in Vegas.
Instead, the 28-26 loss to Boise State on Saturday in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas will follow the Huskies home, and then into a long offseason.
Washington won’t play again until Aug. 31, when the opponent will be ... the Boise State Broncos.
Actually, the Broncos will be drastically different. They had 12 senior starters Saturday. The Huskies, though, will be much the same. UW had five senior starters Saturday, and just 10 seniors overall.
And therein lies the great promise of the 2013 season — hope that another year of experience will smooth out the rough edges that resulted in a third straight 7-6 record.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has largely avoided criticism during his four-year tenure, taking over after an 0-12 season in 2008.
But with a 26-25 career record and now with a roster that includes only players he has recruited, he knows the expectations in the future are greater.
And afterward, he said he’s confident a true breakthrough is near.
“We have a good group of men on this team and a good, young football team,” he said. “As we mature and grow together, I believe we are going to win these close ones late in the ballgame and we will be that 9-, 10-, 11-win team here sooner rather than later.”
Sarkisian lamented how close he thought UW was to accomplishing that this season, notably the two last-second defeats to end the year.
“I can easily be sitting here being a 9-4 football team and, unfortunately, we found a way not to win those games,” Sarkisian said.
Washington, though, also won close games against Stanford and Oregon State, and until the final two defeats had won 11 in a row dating to 2010 in games decided by nine or fewer points. Winning every game that comes down to the last play isn’t easy to do. But the hope will be that a more veteran roster in 2013 will avoid some of the inconsistencies of this season.
Washington loses just two regular starters on offense, center Drew Schaefer and fullback Jonathan Amosa. On defense, just three regular starters depart, end Talia Crichton, cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn.
The losses of Trufant and Glenn, who were keys in what was a vastly improved secondary, figure to be the most critical.
But even with every other starter returning, the lineup is hardly stable.
Most attention will be placed on the quarterback spot, where Keith Price will need to re-prove himself in the spring and fall with the Huskies now having more legitimate options behind him, including redshirt freshmen Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist and true freshman Troy Williams, who is expected to enroll next month. It’s hard to tell yet just how “open” the quarterback spot will be. Suffice to say, Sarkisian will expect more out of Price next season and will probably be more willing to consider other options if he doesn’t get it.
The offensive line also will feature plenty of competition as injured starters Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa return, along with four players who started this year. The line improved at run blocking as the season went on, but pass blocking remained a huge issue.
Running back Bishop Sankey returns, as will Jesse Callier, who entered the season as the starter before being injured in the first game. Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will also be back to lead the receiving corps. Sarkisian, though, said more options need to emerge in the passing game and that the entire offense needs to get better.
“Everybody has to do their part,” Sarkisian said. “We have to block better, catch better, throw better, call better plays so that we can be a more successful offensive football team.”
And while the defense showed great progress this season under first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies have to find a way to get more sacks. Washington had 27, same as a year ago and one of the only defensive stats that didn’t improve.
“Our pass rush is still a glaring issue for us right now, and consistently getting to the quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “Obviously, I love what our defense is able to do in creating turnovers. We have to cut the number of turnovers we had offensively this year in half.”
Washington also must figure out how to start faster. The Huskies were outscored 78-57 in the first quarter this season, their widest disparity in any quarter. They also need to cut down on penalties (though it’s worth noting that in a game called by Conference USA refs, UW was flagged for a season-low two against Boise State).
In his postgame radio interview, Sarkisian sounded confident the problems will get fixed.
“I can’t wait for 2013 because I think we are going to have an excellent football team in place,” he said. “I think that our future is very, very bright.”