Huskies OL faces challenge in Cardinal

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SEATTLE — Last spring, when Washington coach Steve Sarkisian envisioned the team he would put on the field for the 2012 football season, he figured it would have a veteran, proven offensive line.

But one of the few givens in football is the unpredictability of injuries. And in a season when Washington has suffered its fair share, nowhere has UW been hit harder than on its offensive line. The losses are important this week, when the Huskies take on Stanford, which has perhaps the Pac-12’s best defensive line. The Huskies host the Cardinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at CenturyLink Field.

The latest blow came Monday when Sarkisian announced during his weekly news conference that sophomore guard Colin Tanigawa will be out for the season (apparently with a knee injury). Tanigawa did not play in UW’s win over Portland State on Sept. 15 but his status was not clarified until Monday.

Tanigawa was a starter a year ago, one of four regulars on the 2011 line that projected to return this season.

But three are out, two for the season.

Joining Tanigawa on the sidelines is junior guard/tackle Erik Kohler, out indefinitely with a knee injury that dates to fall camp and was aggravated against LSU.

And lost for good in the spring was junior guard Colin Porter, who was forced to give up football due to chronic shoulder issues.

That leaves only senior center Drew Schaefer of the four returners who started last season. The other starter was left tackle Senio Kelemete, now with the Arizona Cardinals.

Adding to the pain, also on the injured list is first-year starting right tackle Ben Riva, a sophomore who broke his forearm against San Diego State, an injury stated at the time to require four to six weeks of recovery (UW has since adopted a policy of not talking about the specifics of injuries).

That means that Thursday, Schaefer — in his third year as a full-time starter — will be surrounded by freshmen and sophomores.

Washington’s line is likely to feature sophomore Micah Hatchie at left tackle, redshirt freshman Dexter Charles at left guard, either sophomore James Atoe or true freshman Shane Brostek at right guard and sophomore Mike Criste at right tackle. None had played significantly before this season.

Hatchie, Charles, Schaefer, Atoe and Criste also started against Portland State, and Sarkisian was encouraged that they allowed the Huskies to rush for a season-high 209 yards.

It hardly needs stating, however, how much more difficult the challenge will be Thursday. Stanford leads the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed, at 41.3 per game. That includes limiting USC to 26 yards in a 21-14 win over the Trojans on Sept. 15.

Asked Monday if he thinks the young linemen are more prepared for the task now after a bye week of practice, Sarkisian said: “I’m hopeful of that. We’ve really challenged them not only mentally but physically and I think the bye week was good for them to assess their performance in the Portland State game and what they needed to work on.”

Sarkisian noted that the Cardinal has more players 6 feet 4 or taller than any team in the Pac-12 — and seven of those players are on the two-deep for Stanford’s defensive front seven.

“They have made it a real point to recruit taller players, longer players,” Sarkisian said. “They are a 3-4 defense and outside of their nose tackle up front, just about every other guy is a long, tall defender and that helps them in the run game.”

Eventually, the Huskies’ injured offensive linemen will return, other than Porter, with Riva possibly back soon. Someday, the Huskies are confident, they will be the team with the experienced front.

Notes

• Washington’s game at Oregon on Oct. 6 will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN, it was announced Monday.

• Travis Coons and Korey Durkee are listed as co-starters at punter as that spot remains in competition. Durkee, a true freshman, handled punts the first three games but has been inconsistent, averaging 36.9 yards per kick.

• UW’s depth chart listed several players who missed the Portland State game with injuries back to their usual starting spots, including defensive end Talia Crichton, linebacker Travis Feeney and receiver Kevin Smith.

• Sarkisian said on his weekly radio show Monday night that linebackers Nate Fellner and Jamaal Kearse are expected back for the Stanford game. Neither has played this season. Fellner has been out with a broken bone in his foot suffered early in camp and Kearse has been out with a stress fracture suffered during camp.

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