The big news of the week is the four underclassmen who are declaring for the NFL draft.
- John Ross – WR
- Budda Baker – S
- Sidney Jones – CB
- Elijah Qualls – DT
We more or less all saw this coming a hundred miles away, so it’s not like it’s a shock or anything. And, really, it shouldn’t be a source of frustration; these kids balled out for the Huskies and have achieved all there is to achieve (for the most part). I don’t begrudge them taking their talents to The League. Nevertheless, can we take just a moment to fantasize about what next year’s team would’ve looked like with these guys returning as seniors?
Ahh, that’s the stuff. It could’ve been massive, but in a way it’s exciting to see the guys coming up behind them. Sure, they could be worse, but what if they’re better?
This is on top of the guys who were Seniors and have thus run out of eligibility:
- Kevin King – CB
- Joe Mathis – LB
- Psalm Wooching – DE
- Jake Eldrenkamp – OL
- Jeff Lindquist – TE (erstwhile QB)
- Brandon Beaver – DB
- Darrell Daniels – TE
- Cameron Van Winkle – K
- Shane Brostek – OL
Some pretty big names on this list, but in going down the roster, it’s heartening to see the large pile of Freshmen and Sophomores. The hope being that Coach Pete and Co. mold these guys into the next great Husky football teams in coming seasons.
And, quite frankly, the number of star players returning really dwarfts those leaving, and that’s not even counting all the red shirts and incoming Freshmen we’ll have this fall. Assuming there aren’t too many high-profile transfers, the Huskies will still be great next year and for years to come.
Tip of the cap to the guys leaving though. I know there was a bit of snark in my previous Husky post this week, but I’ll always have the fondest of memories for John Ross. I haven’t sat down and really put in the thought, but I have to think he goes down as one of my top 3 favorite Huskies of all time, up there with Tui and Reggie. I can’t wait to see Ross in the NFL and will be rooting hard for him to be great.
Same deal with the secondary guys. Budda? Are you kidding? My God is he going to be fantastic at the next level! I would give absolutely anything for him to fall to the Seahawks in the first round. Sidney Jones was always a comforting presence there, locking down one side of the field. He should have no problem proving his greatness at the next level. And Kevin King had, without question, the greatest interception I’ve ever seen in my life against ASU. Like I said before, it’s going to be TOUGH to replace these guys. The secondary will be the unit to watch in the early going, to see who steps up.
Qualls, Mathis, and Wooching round out the guys I’m prepared to talk about today. Big number 11 was a force on the interior, and was a big reason why the beef along the D-Line was able to be as effective as it was. Joe Mathis was definitely missed when he went down with injury and was lost for the season. We certainly could’ve used his leadership and athleticism against Bama. And Wooching, with increased playing time due to Azeem Victor going down, really stepped up and filled some of the pass rushing void, allowing this defense to really not lose a whole lot down the stretch.
The 2016 Huskies will always be something special in my book. Now, let’s hope 2017’s version blows them out of the water!
Just a few random thoughts about the Peach Bowl that I left out of my previous Husky post on Tuesday.
I remember sitting there as the game went along, seeing botched Husky drive after botched Husky drive, silently pleading for this team to start taking some shots down the field. I mean, that was the key going in, right? You’re not going to run on Alabama; your only shot is to do what Ole’ Miss did, which is throw deep and throw often and hope for the best. The fact that we couldn’t complete anything longer than 20 yards all day was a real point of bitterness on my end. I mean, what the shit?! I know their pass rush was pretty good, but there were times Jake had PLENTY of time to throw!
But, you know, upon further reflection, that’s probably easier said than done. If it was so easy to throw deep on Bama, everyone would’ve done it and they probably would’ve lost a game by now. Even though I was in attendance, I didn’t get a good look at the coverage down field; my attention was predominantly focused on the lines. I mean, how can you not? That Bama D-Line is spectacular! I remember one time in particular, it was 2nd & 3, where it looked like the perfect time for the Husky offense to take a shot, but someone was on Jake’s ass almost immediately and he had to throw it away. I feel like that happened more times than we realized. I’m sure the Huskies WANTED to throw deep, but it’s not like you can do that all the time. You have to pick your spots. And, my hunch is, more often than not, in those spots you’d find a Bama lineman or linebacker in the backfield harassing our guy.
On top of that, it was pretty apparent that Alabama didn’t have any respect for our running game. It seemed like all day they went with a 6-man box, just DARING us to run the ball. Of course, when we did, we still couldn’t, because their 6-man box is way better than anything we could throw at them. I’ll say this, I was dreading any instance of Myles Gaskin touching the ball. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a solid running back with great vision and patience. But, you’re not going to get very far being patient against that Bama D-Line. This was proven by Gaskin having a rushing long of 10 yards, while averaging 3.4 yards on 10 carries. I would’ve much rather seen Lavon Coleman get the lion’s share of the carries doled out to our running backs. Not necessarily because I think he’s the superior back, but I think his style lends itself more to potentially breaking one against them. Now, obviously, on 7 carries he only got 16 yards, with a long rush of only 5 yards, so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he had another 10 touches. But, still, I like a guy who’s quick to decide and hits the hole hard against a line like that. Because, let’s face it, if the Huskies were able to open ANY holes in the running game, those holes weren’t destined to remain open for very long.
Ultimately, when you combine the fact that Alabama mostly kept six in the box, and rarely blitzed, it allowed them to keep their safeties back and eliminated most – if not all – deep passing attempts. I will say that, after the pick six, right before halftime, I saw John Ross streaking up the middle of the field, having gotten behind the defense. Had Jake Browning seen the same, we could’ve stolen a touchdown right back and made the second half a lot more interesting. But, who knows, he was probably trying to dodge another defender who aimed to take his head off. It was pretty discouraging to see us almost never attempt a pass in the middle of the field when the game was in doubt. Again, I don’t know if the defense dictated that, or the game plan, but an offense full of short passes to the sidelines isn’t going to get it done against any defense.
I’ll just close out with a little something on Jake Browning. I think it’s pretty clear he took a big step forward from his Freshman year to this year. I feel like he’s getting a lot of flak from fans, who think he “doesn’t show up” in big games. Let’s just take a step back here and remember he started from the very first game as a true Freshman last year. So, he was essentially thrown into the fire, and did pretty well for himself. He was damn near a completely different quarterback by season’s end. That put him into his Sophomore year this year, where as I noted above, he took a big step forward. The team succeeded accordingly and we cracked the College Football playoffs! He even found himself, for a while there, in the national discussion for the Heisman Trophy! Granted, it was a bit of a down year for the Heisman; I don’t know anyone who thinks Lamar Jackson is literally the best player in college football in 2016 (this probably should’ve been the year it went to a lineman or something).
In 2017, you have to figure Jake will be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy from Day 1. He’s coming off of a 12-win season and a playoff berth, the pressure will be ungodly. So, I’ll be most interested in seeing how he responds. He’ll be an upper-classman, he’ll have two years’ worth of experience in this system, and you figure he’ll be poised for one more big step forward in his progression. At this point, he’s got the experience, he’s mastered being a leader for this team, now it’s time to refine and fine tune his game to be an elite college quarterback. With a target on his back, and all of the Huskies’ backs as conference champions, nothing will come easy for this team in 2017.
How they respond to being in the long shadow of the 2016 Huskies will go a long way towards dictating whether we’ll be even better next year, or regress towards the mean.