Mostly on the offensive side of the ball. Primarily with the quarterback position.
Thanks to playing in Hawaii to kick off the season, the Huskies were blessed with four non-conference games. Thanks to those four teams being terrible, the Huskies were blessed with four victories. It had appeared, going into last Saturday’s Stanford game, that the Huskies were finally starting to gel. The running game was pretty solid. The defense was rounding into shape after a shaky first couple of games. And while the passing game had yet to really flourish, if we just played our game and limited turnovers, we had as good a chance as any to beat Stanford on our home field.
So, what did we learn from our first defeat of the season? Well, we learned that the Huskies have joined the likes of Oregon State, Utah, and Colorado among the winless in conference games. That’s … less than ideal, even if it’s only the one game. We learned that Stanford is EXACTLY who we thought they were. A great defense, a pretty good offensive line, and a quarterback who doesn’t do much more than manage the game with his legs. Kevin Hogan tied for the team lead in rushing attempts, going 14 for 53 yards and a TD; but he only threw 17/26 for 178 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
Normally, that’s a pretty pedestrian day from a quarterback playing for an upper echelon program. But, on Saturday, he out-played Cyler Miles like nobody’s business.
Cyler Miles just isn’t very good. If Kevin Hogan is a Game Manager, Cyler Miles is a Game Towel Boy. Yeah, he limits turnovers, but big fucking deal if we can’t move the ball down the field!
The offensive line is getting a lot of flak in this whole thing – and I’m not going to be the one to vociferously defend them – but look at it this way: if the quarterback is no threat to either challenge the defense deep or make good on his long passing attempts, how would you arrange your players if you’re the defensive coordinator going up against the Huskies? Wouldn’t you load the box and play man coverage on the receivers to take away the run and the little bubble screens we like to throw? Wouldn’t you put wave after wave of blitzing pressure on Cyler Miles until he’s able to prove that he can handle it and make you pay?
With Keith Price and some of our receivers who have moved on, the Huskies had a deep threat to keep defenses honest. That’s why our run game was so effective, with essentially the same exact sub-par offensive line performance. Yes, Bishop Sankey and Chris Polk were both elite college runners, but there’s no saying that Lavon Coleman can’t also be an elite runner. He just needs a chance. And, he won’t get that chance if defenses are overloading the box.
But, here’s the thing: what do we do? Quite frankly, this BYE week couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Huskies. They can use this extra week of practice time one of two ways: either groom Lindquist or Williams as your starter the rest of the way, or take advantage of the extra practice by refining Miles’ awareness and handling of the offense. Figure out which areas he can improve upon and work on helping him improve, while at the same time tweak the offense to fit his skillset. And, for the love of God, encourage him to pull the ball back on some of these zone reads and take advantage of the defense’s over-pursuit!
And, so help me, if you don’t figure out how to get John Ross a minimum of 10 touches on offense per game, I don’t know what else to do with you. You’ve got an elite-level NFL talent at your fingertips, USE HIM! Don’t try to force the ball to Mickens. It’s absolutely unconscionable that Mickens has 29 offensive touches while Ross only has 12 (I don’t care if Ross missed an entire game with injury). There’s no excuse for this offense to be this bad, regardless of who is at quarterback.
On the flipside, the defense is pretty great and it’s only getting better. Granted, we’ve yet to play an elite offense at the FBS level, but I’ve been REALLY impressed with how suffocating we can be at times. Timing can sure be a bitch when it comes to college football. We’ve got all this amazing defensive talent that’s going to leave after this season, and we can’t take advantage of it because we don’t have a quarterback who knows what he’s doing. It’s one thing to look good against the dregs of the conference, but if we’re going to stink against Stanford and Oregon and the like, then we’re no better than we’ve been the last four years.
I’m going to hold off on criticizing the coaching staff too much in this early going. After all, we don’t really have a full allotment of Coach Pete’s personnel. For instance, I wonder if he would’ve gone after ANY of the quarterbacks we have on our roster right now (at least the ones that aren’t redshirting). But, I will say that fake punt was an unmitigated disaster. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to fake punt by direct-snapping to Shaq Thompson, then make Shaq Thompson a member of your regular punting unit. So, you know, his presence doesn’t IMMEDIATELY tip off that it’s going to be a fake. That’s pretty much bluffing 101 right there: don’t tip your hand.
If I’m revising my outlook on this team, I’ll tell you this much: the game on October 11th against Cal is a Must Win. For starters, the Bears are not very good. But, it’s a road game, so you can never be too confident. Following that, we go to Oregon, then come back home for Arizona State (both pretty good teams). Losing at Cal could see us embark on a 4-game losing streak to fall to 4-4 and desperately needing to scrape together two more wins just to be bowl eligible.
When you start the season 4-0, bowl eligibility should NEVER be a concern. From head to toe, the Huskies are the better team when compared to the Cal Bears. If we don’t beat them, then there’s a legit chance that we could theoretically lose any and all the rest of the games on our schedule (okay, probably not Colorado, but now that I said that, just watch what happens on November 1st).