A Murderer’s Row Of Outgoing Huskies & Some Other Peach Bowl Thoughts

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.

Husky Football Starts Tonight At Boise State

The Broncos are ranked in the top 25 in both polls; the Huskies are not.  That’s pretty much what you need to know about the game tonight.

Not a lot of people very high on the Washington Husky football team this year.  I think too much is made of all the defensive studs who left after last year.  Yeah, Shaq and Kikaha and Peters and Shelton were all great, but that defense as a whole last year was pretty underwhelming.  If the 2015 Huskies are bad, it won’t necessarily be exclusively the fault of the defense.

As usual, it comes down to quarterback play.  This year, we’ll be without Cyler Miles.  Say what you will about him, but if he were healthy and in a football frame of mind, he’d be the clear best option.  Now, does that mean he’d be any good?  Or that he has very much upside?  I don’t think so.  If you feel like this Husky team is in more of a rebuilding mode for 2015 regardless of whether or not Miles was going to be here, then it’s probably for the best that he’s not.  Let’s see who else we have on the roster; let’s see if – by season’s end – we haven’t found a star in our midst.

The 3-way battle – between Junior, Jeff Lindquist; Redshirt Freshman, K.J. Carta-Samuels; and True Freshman, Jake Browning – has all boiled down to tonight.  The coaches haven’t named a starter, but it would appear Browning is going to get the first crack at it.  I still don’t fully believe the team is going to stick to just one quarterback, as I think at least two will get regular play.  Browning is probably the better passer and quarterback overall, but he’s straight out of high school.  Ultimately, the move to burn his redshirt will probably be a huge mistake.  I tend to agree with the concept that true freshmen should never play bigtime college football; ALL of them should be given a year to adapt to college life, and get bigger and stronger.  The concern is really twofold though, when you’re talking about a highly touted talent like Browning.  The most likely scenario is:  he struggles, he loses his confidence, he gets injured, or some combination of the three.  The flipside of that is:  maybe he succeeds and ends up as this team’s starting quarterback for 3-4 years, but maybe he’s not quite as great as he could be, and when we get to the end of his college career – right as he’d be about to explode as one of the best players in the conference – he’s forced into turning pro before we get a chance at having him play his very best ball.

Obviously, that second scenario is a good problem to have, because it likely means we’ve had a successful 3-4 years.  But, I think we can all agree – however this turns out – 5th Year Senior Jake Browning would be a much better player than 4th Year Senior Jake Browning.

If you want my prediction, I think Browning does start tonight, and I think he does struggle during his true freshman campaign.  I also think he gets hit with the injury bug, because there’s no way I’m ever going to trust a Husky offensive line until they finally prove it to me.  The O-Line has been an issue for at least a decade now, and while help should be on the horizon with some of the better recruits we’ve gotten under Coach Pete, I don’t anticipate the O-Line being much of a strength in 2015.  Even if Browning doesn’t get injured, I still believe Lindquist will have his share of reps.  Maybe he comes in for a drive or two per game.  Maybe he has a sub package where we can utilize his running ability and/or cannon arm.

Either way, though, I don’t expect 2015 to be a banner year for the quarterback position.  Which is why I tend to believe this Husky team is going to struggle.  A lot.

At the moment, the Huskies have six ranked teams on their schedule – Boise St., USC, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, and Arizona St.  That doesn’t include a very tough Utah team, an improving California team, a road game against Oregon State, and an Apple Cup against what I feel will be an explosive Washington State team.  As it stands right now, the Huskies are favored to win 4 games, and two of those games are against non-conference duds.  Most of the betting public has the Huskies winning anywhere from 4-5 games; I think five wins might be pretty generous.  I can envision a scenario where the Huskies get beat by the entire Pac-12 and finish last in the conference (unfortunately, no Colorado on the schedule this year).

Did I mention John Ross is out for the year, and we haven’t even played a game?

I don’t see much of any hope for this team making a bowl game, but if they do, it starts tonight.  The Huskies will have to run the table in the non-conference schedule, and follow that up with a home win against the Bears.  That puts us at 4-0, which is where we’ll need to be, because I guarantee we’re going to lose at least the next three games (@ USC, home vs. Oregon, @ Stanford).  We follow that stretch with two home games against Arizona and Utah; we have to win 1 of those 2.  That should give us 2 quality wins, which sets us up for getting pounded down at Arizona State, followed by winning the last two, at Oregon State and vs. Washington State.  That gets us to 7 wins, and 7 wins probably gets us a bowl.  If these Huskies are like the Husky teams of the last five years, that’s exactly what they’ll do and it’ll be like Sark never left (except, I guess there’s now more booze for the rest of us to share).

But, I hardly see that happening.  For this team to be reasonably good, we’re going to need steady play from our receivers.  Mickens is going to have to be a true #1 receiver, and Pettis will need to take a step up after a promising Freshman season.

We’re going to need to lean HEAVILY on our running game.  One of Coleman, Cooper, or Washington will have to step up and be a huge force for this team.

The defense will need to not be a wet paper bag.  Gonna have to find a way to bend & not break.  The secondary has a lot of talent, but who knows if the front seven is going to get enough push to let them do their thing?

And the quarterback is going to need to be more than just a game manager who avoids turnovers.  Make no mistake, he will NEED to avoid turnovers, but he also better be someone who’s got that clutchness gene.  This isn’t going to be a Husky team that rampages through the conference.  If this team is going to win games, it’s going to win CLOSE games.

Gun to my head:  I’m going with the majority and saying the Huskies win 4 games.  I think we’re for sure going to lose tonight, and I have a bad feeling it’s going to be by a lot of points.  I think half our wins come from the non-conference duds, our third win probably comes from either Cal or Utah, and our last win happens at Oregon State (here’s to hoping they’re a total trainwreck and keep us from being last).  For what it’s worth, I think the Cougars beat us in the Apple Cup and I think Luke Falk ends up being the next Ryan Leaf (in other words, a good thing for the Cougs, and a very bad thing for whoever drafts him #2 overall in the NFL).

In Coach Pete We Trust?  Maybe in 2016.

Neutered Huskies Can’t Get Much Going Against ASU

Oh, did the Huskies play a football game on Saturday?  You’ll have to forgive me if eight straight hours of tailgating left me a little browned out for the majority of the first half.

The defense is doing the lord’s work!  What else can you say?  They scored our only touchdown and gave us every opportunity to take control of this game.  This has to be, without question, the best defensive line since the turn of the century, and it has to rival some of the best D-Lines in Husky football history.  Absolutely unreal.  Hau’oli Kikaha would look MIGHTY good as the Seahawks’ LEO defensive end next year, that’s all I’m gonna say.

This game boils down to pretty much what our team has been about all season:  we don’t have a quarterback.  Troy Williams got his shot on Saturday, because honestly, why the hell not?  Can he be any worse than Cyler Miles has looked at times, and than how Jeff Lindquist looked in the game against Hawaii?  The answer, of course, is yes.  He can be worse.  And on Saturday, he was.  139 yards on 26 attempts for a pathetic 5.3-yard average, to go along with two picks (one of them returned for the game-clinching touchdown).

I want to say that the Huskies would be SO GOOD if we just had a quarterback capable of running the offense, but I’m not sure that’s the case.  At least in the last 5-6 years, we’ve had a dominant running game to take the pressure off.  But, without our top two running backs (Coleman and Washington out with injuries), we were left with Cooper and Shaq Thompson carrying the mail.

Indeed, Shaq led the way with 21 carries and 98 yards, which is pretty impressive considering he hasn’t had a ton of play on the offensive side of the ball this year.  To the Huskies’ credit, they didn’t bring Shaq out to make him a decoy.  When he was in the game, he usually got the ball, and did his best to make the most of it.  The only problem was, the Huskies tended to be a little predictable whenever Shaq was on the field.  It felt like everyone in the stadium knew exactly what was going to happen when they saw #7 back there.

I’ll pick up the action in the fourth quarter, when I finally started sobering up enough to remember what the fuck was going on.  The Huskies had one good drive all day and it happened when we were down 10-7.  We managed to chew up almost six minutes of clock on 15 plays, driving deep into ASU territory.  The bulk of the drive consisted of being in something of a hurry-up mode, with lots of short runs and lots of third down conversions.  We got it to 3rd & Goal at the 2 yard line and ran some dumb bullshit sweep play that ended up losing us yards.  We’d been shoving it down their throats up the gut the whole drive!  Just pound it two more times and get that touchdown!

Once we had to settle for the field goal, the game was pretty much decided.  ASU immediately marched right down the field and scored a TD to take the lead for good.  As soon as we were down seven, it was all over.  With only three minutes to go in the game, there wasn’t enough time for another pound-it-out rushing drive.  We had to rely on the arm of Troy Williams, and that just wasn’t happening.  Not in those nasty weather conditions.  Not with a quarterback making his first college start.  Not against a very good ASU defense.

The Huskies put up a good fight, but in the end this game boiled down to quarterback play.  It’s going to continue coming down to quarterback play until someone finally steps up.  Here’s to hoping whoever is red-shirting this year ends up being the savior this program needs.

The Huskies Head Into Their BYE Week With More Questions Than Answers

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).

So, About That Husky Game …

Look, the Huskies are 4-0 and that’s pretty much all that matters.  If we’re looking at the extreme bright side of things, then I can say that the Huskies are three more wins away from being bowl-eligible.  That’s the Cal game, the Colorado game, and the Oregon State game.  Bing, bang, boom, 7-6.

Of course, I don’t think very many of us would be too thrilled with 7-6.  Not with the surefire NFL players we’ve got on both sides of the ball right now.

But, if we keep getting these inconsistent performances like we’ve gotten for the most part in the first four games, we may have to temper our expectations and start looking on the bright side more than we’d like.

What can you say about this game last Saturday?  Georgia State is not a team that should be able to fly all the way out here and not just hang with us for a half, but clearly out-play us for a half!  They were up 14-0 after two quarters!  We struggled to run the ball.  Then, we mysteriously stopped running the ball.  And you can forget about any sort of passing game.  If we’re not throwing one of those annoying WR screen passes that don’t work unless John Ross is catching them, then we’re running these long-developing patterns that don’t work because our offensive line can’t keep guys off our quarterback!  Or, our quarterback gets a case of the happy feet, but either way, the passing attack is flawed.

How about simpler stuff?  Some slants, some crossing patterns, some 10-yard comebackers.  This isn’t rocket science.  Cyler Miles obviously isn’t comfortable back there.  This was only, what, his fourth career start at this level?  How about some quick drops and some quick passing?  How about some quick passing that isn’t a long lateral down the line of scrimmage?  That shit’s eventually going to get pick-sixed in a big moment, so I’d like to move away from that if at all possible.

Anyway, as I was saying, it was 14-0 at halftime, and the fans were restless.  I, for one, don’t blame the fans for booing.  I’m not saying you should boo every single time the team does something bad, but when your team is down 14-0 at halftime against a team they should CLEARLY dominate, then I think it’s God damn appropriate for you to boo.  Maybe don’t boo if you’re down 14-0 to a team like Oregon or something.  But, Georgia State?  Come on, man!

So, what happened in the second half?  Oh, not much.  The Huskies just ripped off 45 unanswered points to win the game 45-14 (and very nearly cover the 34.5 point spread in the process).

I’ll tell you what happened:  Dante Pettis happened!  The Freshman phenom and punt returner extraordinaire!  Four returns for 98 yards; I REALLY thought we were going to break that long drought and bring back a punt to the house.  Eventually – and very soon, I might add – he WILL bring one all the way back, and it’s going to be glorious.

We got some short fields, and finally we were able to impose our will in the run game.  The Huskies ended up rushing for 182 yards, which isn’t a crazy amount, but remember with Pettis we had a lot of short fields in play.  No one really took the reins and ran away with it, but it was a nice little team effort after a gnarly first half.  Shoutout to Jeff Lindquist who got in the game a few times and ran some QB keepers.  He ended up with 3 carries for 35 yards and a couple touchdowns on the ground.  That’s a nice little weapon to have, considering Cyler Miles doesn’t appear to be anxious to expose his body to unnecessary hits in the running game.  Over the course of the season, we could be looking at a nice two-headed hydra at quarterback that may prove to give opposing defenses fits.

Overall, I thought the defense acquitted itself well.  That’s two games in a row after that Eastern Washington debacle, and three good performances out of four overall.  With Stanford coming up this weekend, we’re going to need every ounce this defense can give us.

It’s understandable that you’d doubt this team going into this Saturday’s game against the 16th-ranked team in the nation.  The Huskies have yet to really play a complete game.  The offense outside of John Ross has been pretty underwhelming, and with him fighting an injury, this could be a scary proposition.  Stanford has a REALLY good defense, and it wouldn’t be totally shocking if they came in here and shut us out.

Do I think that’s going to happen?  No, but like I said, I wouldn’t be shocked.

However, I really think people are underestimating this Husky defense after that Eastern game.  They’re not going to be perfect each and every drive, but they have enough talent at all levels – secondary, linebacker, and especially along the line – to keep us in any ballgame.  And, let’s not forget, Stanford isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard themselves.  Their offense isn’t so great!  Yeah, they ran up the score against Army and UC Davis, but their defense really had a lot to do about that, considering they were able to shut out both teams.  Against USC, at home, Stanford was held to 10 points.  Now, they’re supposed to come into Husky stadium and ram the ball down our throats?  I don’t think so.

I think our defense is more than capable of keeping this game close.  I think eventually our offense will generate just enough big plays to make it interesting.  If we have John Ross back and healthy, I think we’ll even pull out a win somehow!  You heard it here first:  21-20, Huskies upset big bad Stanford.

Huskies Beat Eagles 8 TDs & 1 FG to 7 TDs & 1 FG

So, that game against Eastern Washington, amirite?

I had a really odd feeling throughout that game.  For starters, I was in a bar having lunch as the game kicked off and Washington raced out to a 21-0 lead.  The Eagles fumbled on a kickoff with their first possession, and contrary to popular belief, the Huskies actually DID manage to force them to punt – one time – on their second possession.  Nevertheless, even with a 21-point lead, I couldn’t help feeling like it wasn’t safe.  That NOTHING would be safe.

Indeed, as the first quarter drew to a close – with Washington up 24-14 in one of the highest-scoring quarters of football I’ve ever seen – we were in a dogfight for the ages.

I watched the rest of the game from home.  And, you know, I saw what you saw:  a defense that couldn’t get out of its own way.  Giving up bombs as well as intermediate & short routes.  Not being able to get off the field on third down (Eastern converted 6 of 12 third downs and 4 of 4 fourth downs).  We gave up 573 yards to one of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.  To be fair, they’re a well-coached and well-recruited college football program.  Also to be fair, the Washington Huskies should be in a completely different class.

But, this wasn’t us playing down to the level of our competition.  Nor was it a lesser school rising to the occasion.  This was simply a matchup nightmare, and I’m not sure there’s anything we could have done from a scheme standpoint or a player personnel standpoint to make the outcome of this game any different.

In spite of all of that, though, I never felt like we were going to lose this one.  For as great as their offense was, ours was just a little bit better.  John Ross is a fucking maniac and I love him to death.  If he manages to stay healthy, he might go down as the greatest wide receiver the Huskies have ever produced.  The numbers might not be there – as we somehow only managed to get him three touches in this game of non-stop scoring – but when all is said and done and he’s making lives miserable in the NFL, we’ll look back and remember with fondness his all-too-brief tenure with the Washington Huskies.

The running game was the real star of the show.  After being shut down for long stretches in the Hawaii game, the Huskies rampaged to the tune of 356 yards on 57 carries for a 6.2 yard average and 7 touchdowns.  Lavon Coleman once again took over, with 17 carries & 118 yards; Dwayne Washington was next on the list with 10 carries and only 35 yards, but he seemed to get a lot of work in the red zone and goalline, as he plowed through for 2 scores.  It’s unfortunate that this great rushing game is completely forgotten thanks to the ineptitude of the defense, but then again, it’s Eastern:  you’re SUPPOSED to run for 356 yards against a smaller school like Eastern.

Cyler Miles, as I hoped, did indeed get the start at quarterback.  He looked as rusty as you’d expect, but he also flashed leadership and ability that we weren’t getting from Lindquist in Hawaii.  Miles ended up throwing for 180 yards and a touchdown (and no turnovers), but he also ran for 58 yards on 12 carries, for three more touchdowns on the ground.

This was the perfect game for him, to be honest.  We needed everything he had on Saturday, and he delivered.  It was a nothing defense, so he was able to work out his kinks and eventually find a rhythm.  But, the game was always close, so he got a full game’s worth of reps that he also desperately needed.  It’s a nice little warmup for him as we take on Illinois this week.  They should be somewhat better defensively, but they shouldn’t be so good that he’s having a hard time doing what we need him to do to win.

In the end, it came down to turnovers, as so many games do.  The Eagles overcame that early-game kickoff return fumble to eventually take a lead in the third quarter, 38-37, and then going into the fourth quarter, 45-44.  But, to kick off the final frame, the Huskies pushed through another TD and a 2-point conversion to take the lead for good.  On the subsequent drive, the Eagles were moving the ball with ease once again, but as they got it into Washington territory, a defender popped out a completed pass for a fumble that we recovered.  The Huskies drove the ball right back down the field and got that 2-score lead to seal the deal.  Obviously, the Eagles scored again to bring it back to 1-score, but the Dawgs were able to run out the last 3+ minutes for the win.

I know everyone’s down on this defense – even though they single-handedly preserved that victory against Hawaii in the second half – but I’m not.  The Eagles were a fucking matchup nightmare as I said before, with a mature quarterback who’s capable of throwing it all over the field.  With the way we’re trying to break in almost an all-new secondary this year, the passing game was always going to be our Achilles heel.  The Eagles just so happen to do it better than most.  I shudder to imagine what our defense is going to do against the likes of the Wildcats, Ducks, Cougars, Beavers, and Bears, but lets hope the kids grow up fast.

I fully expect the Huskies to come out this week against Illinois and put up that complete game they’ve been looking for all season.  Then, we follow that up the following week with another cream puff of a game with Georgia State.  At this point, the Huskies WILL be 4-0 as we all anticipated coming into this season.  I’m more sure of this now than ever before, even after the shitpile of a start we’ve had to this season.  Everyone’s just getting back into the flow of football being back, combined with getting used to the new coaching staff and playbook.  You’re going to have some kinks, because contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t Alabama or Ohio State.  Not yet, anyway.  We’re still working our way back to elite, and this is just another blip on the journey.  By the time we finish our 4-game non-conference schedule, we should be well primed to take on the best of what the Pac-12 has to offer.

  • Miles will have three full games under his belt by then
  • The kinks should be worked out of our pass defense
  • The running back rotation should coalesce into a two-headed monster of Coleman and Washington
  • The offensive coordinator should figure out how to get the ball into the hands of John Ross more than a paltry few times per game
  • The offensive line will have had four full games together and should improve accordingly

All while knowing that our stable of offensive skill positions is stacked.  On top of Ross, I thought Kasen Williams looked solid, especially on that nifty 2-point conversion.  He could be the jump-ball machine we all expected, and it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.

And finally, let’s not forget that this defensive line is doing the lord’s work.  Danny Shelton looks like he’s a first round talent at defensive tackle.  We should be able to keep running games in check while still being able to generate pressure without necessarily sending more than four guys at the quarterback.

The Huskies Very Nearly Lost To The Rainbow Warriors

I mean, it’s like, come on!

That game was a fucking shit-pile from beginning to end, with the exception of John Ross being my sunshine on a cloudy day.  Do you believe in Love At First Sight?  What if it’s been multiple sights, but you never really appreciated what was in front of you until now?  Oh mercy me, I’m rambling …

I don’t even know what to say after a game like that.  The defense was all out of sync for the entire first quarter.  The running game completely disappeared for most of the game.  And our quarterback couldn’t do a God damn thing the entire second half.  We were LUCKY to come out of that with a win.  If Hawaii would’ve ever managed to snag a lead on us after we got to 17 points, we would’ve been screwed.

Thankfully, the defense started to get its shit together once the Rainbow Warriors got a 10-point lead on us early.  Marcus Peters ended up having a pretty good game, but you can’t discount his disaster of a first quarter.  It looked like he was playing about 15 yards off of his receiver all day.  I don’t know if it’s just the style of their offense, or if they somehow game planned something against us, but when they threw the ball, they overwhelmingly threw to the outside.  I’m guessing their quarterback’s weak spot is hitting receivers down the middle of the field, because he didn’t seem to have much success when he tried that.

The defensive line would go long stretches without getting much pressure, and there were a lot of times where we were gashed in the running game pretty good.  But, they stiffened when they had to and incorporated just enough big plays behind the line of scrimmage to keep Hawaii from totally running away with this one.  Danny Shelton looks like the beast we all figured he’d be, which is a comforting sight.  If he’s not double teamed, he’s on the warpath.  And, even when he is double teamed, he’s getting extreme push to disrupt what the offense is trying to do.

The only thing the defense couldn’t do was create a turnover, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  I think, by season’s end, we’ll be pretty happy with our team’s turnover differential, as they were constantly jumping routes and trying to strip balls.

Offense was a completely different story.  We moved the ball pretty damn efficiently in the first half.  That nifty little reverse to John Ross to score from 20 yards out was a thing of beauty!  When you bring in Coach Pete, you’re bringing in a solid head coach for your football program, but you’re also bringing him in for a little razzle dazzle, and he didn’t disappoint in his first game.  These plays aren’t something you want to feature on every drive, but you pick your spots, and even though you’re known as a coach who will take some crazy chances, it’s still nearly impossible to predict when they’ll happen or what they’ll be.

Our running game has potential, even though we were basically manhandled for most of the second half (until that final drive, when we were able to run out the last four minutes or so).  Dwayne Washington was the de facto starter, and I thought he looked pretty dynamic at times, though the numbers don’t bear that out.  Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper had four combined carries.  I still like Cooper, and think he’ll find a few moments to shine this year, but Callier looks like a shell of his former, pre-injury self.

The story for me in the running game was Lavon Coleman, who’s apparently a red shirt Freshman I’d never heard of before this game.  He’s got the kind of power and burst that can be a workhorse for this team.  Indeed, the team trusted him with the game’s final drive – even after he fumbled the ball that we ended up falling on – and he delivered.  If this game is any indication, the Huskies will have a nice two-headed hydra at running back with Coleman and Washington.

The offensive line looked better than it had in years when it comes to pass protection, but that’s not saying a whole helluva lot.  Still, Lindquist had time, he just didn’t know what the fuck he was doing when he had that time.  Also, there’s no excuse for our running game to be shut down for as long as it was in the second half.  Credit Hawaii for simply out-fighting us in the interior.  That will need to be rectified as the season goes on.

Ultimately, this game came down to the play of the quarterback.  Jeff Lindquist was starting for the first time, so it’s reasonable to give him a pass on this one.  It’s unfair to expect perfection right out of the gates.  Nevertheless, for an entire half of football, he was nothing but a detriment to this team.  Usually, when you’ve got quarterbacks with issues throwing the ball, they can make up for it with their legs.  I have a feeling if we’d gone with Troy Williams to start the game, this is something we would’ve enjoyed.  We might not have had that breathtaking 91-yard touchdown pass to John Ross in the second quarter, but I bet it would’ve been a more comfortable victory, with a much improved running game.

This game really took a turn for the worse midway through the third quarter.  Hawaii had just kicked a field goal to make it a 17-13 game.  Lindquist passed for 21 yards on the first two plays of the drive, then we ran it down to the 50 yard line to make it 4th & 1.  At this point in the game, the defense had been on point for the last two full quarters, only giving up those three points on the previous drive.  The Time of Possession battle was HEAVILY in Hawaii’s favor, thanks to their 10-play and 18-play scoring drives back in the first quarter.  Say what you will about the announcing team (and the color guy’s bias towards the Rainbow Warriors), but they made a good point about how the effects of those two early drives would more than likely be felt late in the game, with tired legs and hands on hips and so on and so forth.  We could’ve taken CHARGE of this game right then and there.

And, indeed, it looked like we were going to go for it.  But, instead, we wasted a time out, and when we came back from commercial, the punt team was on the field.

This was an unconscionably stupid decision by the coaching staff.  For starters, you HAVE to go for it there!  It’s 4th & 1 (but, more like 4th & inches) at the 50!  You’re going up against the Rainbow Fucking Warriors!  This isn’t the Crimson Tide defense we’re talking about.  If you can’t nut up and get a few inches against Hawaii, then you might as well prepare yourself for a lousy fucking season.

When I saw the time out was called, I figured it was just the coaching staff making sure the offense knew exactly what play should be called.  More than likely (the more I think about it), they were probably just stalling to see if the refs would go back and look at the spot of the ball.  Either way, if you’re not going to go for it there, WHY CALL THE TIME OUT?  You’re at midfield; take the delay of game penalty!

That decision to punt was Playing It Safe to the extreme.  I don’t necessarily need Big Balls (Coach) Pete here to go for it on fourth down every time; but I can’t abide punting at the 50 yard line on 4th & inches when you’ve got the most experienced offensive line in one of the best conferences in college football!

I belabored this point on Twitter, but the fact remains:  there wasn’t an immediate impact to this decision.  The Rainbow Warriors didn’t come back on the very next possession and ram it down our throats.  But, for one thing, it set a tone.  The Huskies were going to be timid for the rest of that game.  And, for another, it cut the legs off of the ONLY decent drive the Huskies managed in that half (until they ran out the clock to close things out).

This put a ton of undue pressure on a defense that had already been worked to death to that point in the game.  Which ultimately gives me even MORE respect for what this defense was able to accomplish in this game.  Holding Hawaii to 16 points in this environment was a sight to behold.  If we go for it there and succeed, we probably end up scoring points on that drive.  Which would’ve taken some of the pressure off of our defense.  At the VERY least, it would’ve used up more time on the clock, which would’ve been nothing but a help to our cause.

And, who knows, maybe Lindquist would’ve had a better game had we gone for it.  He was certainly off on the majority of his throws in the second half.  But, he completed a couple on this drive.  Had it continued, maybe he could’ve gotten into a better rhythm.  A lot of what if’s surrounded that decision to punt.  I just hope it’s not a harbinger of hyper-conservative decisions to come.  Because, looking back, even if we don’t convert there, we still have them at midfield and likely would’ve either forced a punt or held them to a field goal.  Granted, that would’ve meant that we would’ve needed to score at some point in the second half, but you can’t live in fear.  I would’ve rather we took the chance, even if it might have ultimately cost us a game we had no business winning in the first place.

Heading into Game 2 against Eastern, I’m absolutely petrified with fear.  If we play like we played against Hawaii, you can chalk that up to a loss and a bunch of snarky replays on SportsCenter.  Oh, the top 25 team with the great and powerful Chris Peterson can’t beat a team from the Divison I Football Championship Subdivision?  Or, something a little catchier with “boo yah” tacked onto the end.

As Husky fans, we have to hope for a couple of things.  Cyler Miles is eligible to play after his 1-game suspension; we have to hope that he’s adept at running this offense enough to be a viable starter in this game.  Because, if Troy Williams isn’t good enough to replace Jeff Lindquist in that Hawaii game, with how atrocious he was in the second half, then I have no doubt in my mind that Cyler Miles is the best quarterback on this team.  Period.  Cyler Miles with even a partial grasp of the offense would be better than what we got in the first game.

Secondly, we have to hope there’s no stubborn pride at play from the coaching staff.  Yes, Cyler Miles was wrong to get in that offseason brouhaha that ultimately led to his suspension.  But, the coaches have to let that shit go and put the best players out on the field.  Let Cyler Miles start, let him get his feet wet in these next three non-conference games at home, so ultimately he’ll be ready to go once the table is set for Stanford on September 27th.

Because I have some serious doubts that Jeff Lindquist is the man for the job.  He will CERTAINLY kill our chances in the “regular season”, and what’s worse, he might even cost us a chance at a win this weekend.

Husky Football Starts Tomorrow, You Guys!

Look, you’re not going to get some huge in-depth breakdown or anything, because to be quite honest, I don’t have a great handle on the players I haven’t seen or am otherwise unfamiliar with.  Here’s my broad, general assessment of the state of the Husky program in 2014:  we’re strong across the board, but quarterback is a huge questionmark.

That’s really all you can say.  Every article about the Huskies is essentially that main point, written hundreds of different ways.  Sark may be a lying scumbag, but the coffers are full right now!  The offensive line is one of the most experienced – if not THE most – in all of the Pac-12.  We lost our stud running back in Sankey, but those behind him are flashy and exciting and the position overall is deep.  The receivers took a big hit when Stringfellow decided to act the fool after the Super Bowl, but with Ross and Mickens, and a healthy Kasen Williams (among others), we should be rock solid there.  You could say tight end is a little weak (with the loss of ASJ), but I’m not too concerned about that.  And that’s not even taking into account how strong the defense is, with Shaq Thompson returning and Budda Baker playing as a true freshman.

This is a STOUT team, in a STOUT league.  In any other year, with a more experienced quarterback, we’d be talking about the Huskies making a run at a conference championship and maybe even a playoff berth.

But, you can’t escape it.  Cyler Miles fucked up on that night with Stringfellow.  He missed all of spring ball and has been playing catch-up ever since.  He’s also suspended for the first game against Hawaii tomorrow, so that sucks.

If things were going well, Miles would be the unquestioned starter on this team, and we could let ourselves dream a little bigger.  As they stand right now, Miles is probably still the best QB on the team, but it’s iffy as to whether or not he’s going to have enough of a handle on the offense to re-take the starting job.

Right now, for at least the first game, it’s Jeff Lindquist (with Troy Williams backing him up).  I don’t know much about either, except that they’re both probably pretty highly rated prospects out of whatever high schools they came from.  We shouldn’t have much to worry about in the early going – the Huskies have kind of a pushover schedule for the first four weeks, with Hawaii, Eastern, Illinois, and Georgia State – but whatever happens, the Huskies absolutely NEED one of the three QBs to establish himself.

I don’t anticipate any upsets in those first four games, but it would be tragic if there are.  I would think, though, with how strong we are on defense, we’d just pound the rock with the running game and feel our way through the passing game.  If a guy steps up, this could be a really special season.  But, realistically, we should probably expect some ups and downs.

Best Case Scenario will have the Huskies starting out 6-0, with the four wins mentioned above, followed by a hard-fought home game against Stanford, and another cake walk down in Cal.  That would lead us to an October 18th road game against Oregon which we’ll most likely lose unless they’re suffering from massive injuries to all key positions.

To be frank, this is the easiest and best schedule the Huskies have had in YEARS.  The road games – aside from that one in Eugene – are pretty choice:  Cal, Colorado, Arizona, and WSU.  We avoid USC and Utah this year.  Meaning all of our non-Oregon tough games are at home, where we’re amazing:  Stanford, ASU, UCLA, and Oregon State.  It wouldn’t be a stretch – if the quarterback situation works itself out early – to see this team come together and go 8-1 in conference.

Even if I go with cautious optimism and play it safe, we’re talking about no worse than a 6-3 conference record (figuring we lose two of the Stanford/ASU/UCLA games), but I think we have a better than good chance of winning all three.  Either way, if we go 6-3 in conference, that should still amount to a 10-win season, which is something we haven’t seen ’round these parts since the year 2000.

The worst case scenario involves a lot of injuries and headaches that I just don’t want to get into right now.

The fact of the matter is, the Huskies are a really good football team.  They’re 25th ranked for a reason, which is remarkable considering the quarterback situation.  We’ve got a great head coach, a great schedule and should be poised for an amazing ride.

I think we’ve got an 11-2 season in us; that’s my official prediction.  Of those three home games I mentioned above, I’m worried about ASU first, Stanford second, and UCLA third.  I really hope we kick UCLA’s shit in.  It would be almost as satisfying as winning down in Oregon (especially after being forced to watch the Myles Jack dick-sucking-fest on ESPN last season).

But, regardless of what happens, football is back and that makes me happy.  Husky tailgates are a huge highlight of my year.  On September 6th, I plan on waking up at the crack of dawn to get there early for the first round of beer pong, no later than 7am.

Cyler Miles Is Back, Damore’ea Stringfellow Is Gone

You probably remember the kerfuffle back in February when these two crazy kids got into an altercation with some other people.  I most certainly don’t remember the specifics, because who cares?  The point is:  these two kids got in trouble with the law and were suspended from the team.

As it turns out, Cyler Miles wasn’t charged with anything, but Damore’ea Stringfellow was.  Neither one of them got any reps in the spring practices, and now here we are.  May 15th.  Cyler Miles has been reinstated, and Damore’ea Stringfellow has decided to transfer.

It’s good news for Miles.  This is a team that just lost its starting quarterback, running back, and tight end to the NFL.  We might have enough pieces to make up for the losses of Sankey & ASJ (obviously, we can’t say those pieces will be better, but if we can get 80 cents on the dollar, that might be good enough), but we need all the talent we can get out of the quarterback position.

This is a big year for Husky football.  The defense has improved by leaps & bounds the last two seasons, coming to a head in 2014.  This year’s defense is going to be as good as it’s been, probably since the last Rose Bowl team.  We can’t let that go to waste.

Also, you have to figure, the offensive line is going to be as good as it’s been since I can’t remember when.  I’m not saying it’s going to be All-World or anything, but we’ve got enough upper classmen on the line with starting experience, that you HAVE to expect remarkable improvement over the last five to six years.

The foundation is in place.  The foundation – defense & the O-Line – has been mostly pisspoor for the last decade-plus.  In the Sark years, we mostly got by on the talent of our skill positions on offense.  As odd as it sounds, the script is flipped here:  there’s a lot of question marks about our skill positions.

And it starts with quarterback.  Cyler Miles is the only guy on the roster with starting experience at this level.  That makes his missing the spring practices all the more detrimental to our chances.  Maybe he’s good enough to overcome this setback, but he’s still at a serious disadvantage.  Had he participated, we’d be looking at a clear front-runner, and someone with serious momentum heading into this season.  In short, Husky fans would have a chance to relax in the knowledge that we’ll PROBABLY be okay with Miles at the helm.

Now?  I’m anything but comfortable.  On the plus side, I guess it’s a LITTLE comforting to know we’ve got three viable starting candidates, and that the other two – Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams – probably helped themselves a great deal by taking all the spring reps.  So, at least it’ll be interesting heading into fall camp.  I just hope someone is able to separate himself from the pack and take control of this team, because it can be pretty special.

Of course, it won’t be as special as it would’ve been had the whole post-Super Bowl incident never happened.  That’s because Damore’ea Stringfellow is no longer a Husky.

There is A LOT of smugness on the Internet from the holier than thou Husky alums out there who write about this team.  A lot of “this type of stuff doesn’t belong on this team”.  How soon we forget, when we graduate from college, all the dumb shit that WE’VE done.  It feels to me like Husky Nation has been pushing Stringfellow out the door as soon as they heard about this incident.

Let me ask you this:  why are we holding these kids to a higher standard?  If they’re truly STUDENT athletes, then you have to accept that as students – as young kids – they’re going to fuck up from time to time.  It’s how they respond that determines their character.  Maybe Stringfellow didn’t respond as well as the coaching staff wanted.  If so, that’s fine.  But, to expect these kids to be perfect – to never get in a fight, or get drunk at a party, or God forbid drink and drive even though MOST of us have done so at one point or another – is a little unfair.  Get off your high horses, people!  He fucked up!  And you should be more disappointed that he’s no longer a part of this football team than smugly happy that he’s leaving forever.

And don’t pretend you’re thinking about Damore’ea Stringfellow, the person.  You know him as Damore’ea Stringfellow, wide receiver, and that’s ALL you know him as.  You read some shit about the incident that got him in trouble, but don’t pretend for one second that you actually care about how his life turns out.  You care about him being a Husky or not being a Husky, and that’s it.  Leave his personal life to people who are actually IN his life.

As a Husky fan, it sucks.  Stringfellow was only getting better as the season went along last year, and he was due to REALLY take that next step.  If we could’ve gotten two more years out of him, there’s no telling what he could’ve done for our offense.  In that sense, in conjunction with the quarterback battle, expect our offense to take a step back in 2014.  How far that step back goes depends on the players who step up in his wake.  I’m not going to doom the season just because we lost our number one receiver.  That just means someone else will have to take charge.

Say what you want, but 2014 will NOT be a dull season.  Here’s to hoping it’s also a special one.