Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Washington's offensive line is hardly alone in suddenly having a little more to prove heading into the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Saturday against Boise State.
Just about every position on the Washington Huskies took a step back in the season-finale loss to Washington State in the Apple Cup.
The line, though, had been emerging as one of the better stories of the season for UW, having overcome a variety of injuries and subsequent personnel shifting to help pave the way for four straight wins before the faceplant in Pullman.
Among many disappointing numbers, one that stood out was UW managing just 75 yards rushing against the Cougars, the second-fewest of the season for the Huskies.
Had UW performed better in that game, coach Steve Sarkisian might have picked a different adjective than the one he settled on Saturday when asked about the progress of the offensive line this season.
"I thought we've progressed adequately," Sarkisian said. "We faced some very good defenses early in the year and some teams faced those really good teams later in the year and had some similar struggles that we had against those teams. I thought we went through a stretch there late in the season where we played pretty well up front. It was a bit disappointing that we didn't play our best game against Washington State. So I know our guys are hungry for the challenge to come out and redeem themselves here in the bowl game."
Many of the linemen also will be leaving a lasting impression for the long offseason to follow. Among the reasons for optimism in 2013 is that UW loses just one starter off its offensive line in center Drew Schaefer.
The four other starters are sophomore left tackle Micah Hatchie, redshirt freshman left guard Dexter Charles, sophomore right guard Mike Criste and sophomore tackle Ben Riva. Also back will be two players who were starters early in the season before being lost to injury — guard Colin Tanigawa and tackle Erik Kohler.
That will give the Huskies the kind of depth up front they haven't had at any other time during the Sarkisian era. It will also mean a pretty competitive spring and fall camp in 2013. While roles have been clearly defined of late — the line has been the same for the last five games — jobs are hardly secure for next season as the Huskies will continue to look for ways to jump-start the offense.
"That's the intrigue of it all, is who can respond and who can maintain and get better, and who might take a step back for a variety of reasons," Sarkisian said.
Tanigawa and Kohler were each lost for the season due to knee injuries. While Sarkisian said each is on track to return for the 2013 season, he said it's unclear if they will return for spring football.
"Probably it will be close," he said. "I know this — we won't rush them into spring just to get them to practice in spring ball. They both have a good amount of experience of playing football in our system, so we will see what we get out of them. What I do want is for when fall camp rolls around they are healthy and strong and in great shape, and that's what's going to be vitally important to me."
What Sarkisian said will be more of a priority in the spring is continuing the development of the younger linemen, including players who redshirted this season such as Jake Eldrenkamp of Bellevue (who has been working at left tackle), Cory Fuivai of Auburn (primarily at guard) and Nathan Dean of Juanita.
"I like our depth," Sarkisian said. "When you look at where we are at, we lose one senior (Schaefer), we get Tanigawa back, we get Kohler back coming off of injuries. We also get the development of a lot of young redshirt freshmen-type kids that can add to the depth of this offensive line. So it will be a very competitive spring practice for us and these guys to see who is going to earn these jobs and also who is going to be a really adequate backup when we do get nicked up."'
• Asked which younger players have stood out during the prebowl practices, Sarkisian mentioned cornerback Cleveland Wallace, safety Brandon Beaver, running back Dwayne Washington and quarterback Cyler Miles.
• The Huskies are practicing in Seattle through Sunday and then will leave for Las Vegas on Monday.
Las Vegas Bowl
UW vs. Boise St., 12:30 p.m., ESPN