Washington football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Huskies, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Washington Offense
The Huskies were extremely young on this side of the ball last year, so the inconsistency was basically built-in. But the program must decide whether it’s the team that averaged 18.5 points in six losses or the one that normed 47 points over the final three games. Since U-Dub used rookies and sophomores everywhere, including the all-true freshman backfield of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin, it’s understandable why expectations are so rosy for 2016.
Gaskin was way ahead of his timetable, and Browning played very well for a first-timer in the Pac-12. Now, the duo needs more help. Browning will get an instant boost from the healthy return of WR John Ross III, one of the fastest athletes in the conference. Still, more receiving help is needed from the likes of Dante Pettis, Brayden Lenius and Chico McClatcher.
Up front, Washington continues to struggle in pass protection, though five linemen who logged at least 400 snaps in 2015 are back. Overall improvement hinges on how well second-year tackles Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary develop, and the shift to center of uber-versatile junior Coleman Shelton.
Key To The Washington Offense
Return of Ross. One of the offense’s biggest needs is more pop from the receivers, especially now that last year’s top two receivers have graduated. It’s no wonder the program is treating the return of John Ross III as a seminal offseason moment. The junior, who missed all of 2015 to a knee injury, averaged almost 22 yards a catch and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2014. Ross ran a hand-timed 4.25 40 earlier this year, so he can take the top off the defense if Jake Browning has the arm strength to reach him.
What You Need to Know About the Washington Defense
Pete Kwiatkowski didn’t win the Broyles Award given to the country’s top assistant. Too bad, because it would be difficult to find a defensive coordinator who oversaw a better reclamation project in 2015. Last year’s D on Montlake was forced to replace seven starters, including four former Huskies selected in the first 44 picks of the NFL Draft. And yet, Washington still led the Pac-12 in scoring and total D.
It was a remarkably quick rebuilding job by the staff. Now that the script has flipped, with seven starters back, U-Dub believes it can dominate at a nationally high standard. Spearheaded by S Budda Baker and CB Sidney Jones, the secondary could be as air-tight as any in America this season.
The three-man line is big and nasty, with 321-pound Elijah Qualls poised to become a household name from defensive end. If there’s a concern about this unit heading into the summer, it’s at outside linebacker. Hard-charging Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton, putting pressure on seniors Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching to deliver the best seasons of their careers.
Key To The Washington Defense
Joe BUCK. On Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense, the BUCK is one of the most important positions, because it’s where a lot of the Huskies’ pressure derives. The job, a hybrid between an end an outside linebacker, is tailor-made for production and success. Hau’oli Kikaha set the school sack record at the position in 2014, while Travis Feeney was an all-star there last fall. After playing on the D-line the past three years, Kwiatkowski is hoping senior Joe Mathis can capitalize on playing a spot that best fits his versatile skill set.
Washington Will Be Far Better If …
It becomes significantly more efficient with the ball. When it mattered most, third downs and in the red zone, the Husky attack had a nagging penchant for flat-lining. U-Dub ranked 82nd nationally in third-down conversions and 79th in red-zone touchdowns, hardly a surprise considering the quarterback was a true freshman. But now that QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin are a year older, they’ve got to be the sparkplugs for more extra points—and fewer field goal attempts—from PK Cameron Van Winkle.
Best Offensive Player
Sophomore RB Myles Gaskin. Considering how he was buried behind Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman on the preseason depth chart, Gaskin was a welcome revelation for a depleted U-Dub offense. After carrying the ball just five times in the opener, he quickly took flight to finish with at least 100 yards in eight of the final dozen games. Gaskin is combustible, consistent and up for any challenges, tearing through USC, Oregon and Stanford in consecutive games last October.
Best Defensive Player
Junior S Budda Baker. It’s taken just two years for Baker to become the emotional leader of a very good Husky defense. He epitomizes the trajectory of the D under Chris Petersen, bringing sharp instincts, versatility and production to the defensive backfield. And he has heart and boundless energy, the likes of which becomes contagious to the teammates around him. Baker is a coach’s dream, a unique blend of cornerback athleticism and linebacker toughness that often translates into greatness.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Sophomore QB Jake Browning. If Browning can take the next step in his maturation, the rest of the program is going to follow a similar path in 2016. The quarterback spot always matters more than everyone else, but even more so when that guy is entering his second year on campus. Browning did some nice things as a rookie, putting down a solid foundation. But now he has to surge forward in his development, particularly in the latter stages of games that could go in either direction.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
The Huskies win nine games for just the third time this century. After losing six times in each of Chris Petersen’s first two seasons, it’s time for Washington to move further from break-even and compete in the Pac-12 North. The staff has had continuity and the personnel will be even better after employing so many underclassmen in 2015. Plus, the non-conference slate is extremely cushy, with Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State traveling to Seattle to start the season.
Oct. 8 at Oregon. As it pertains to the intense rivalry with the Ducks, it’s basically been a lost 21st century for the Huskies. Washington has dropped 12 in a row in the series, including last year’s 26-20 defeat at home. If U-Dub is truly about to hit a new gear under Chris Petersen—and make a play for the North Division—it must end Oregon’s dominance … in Eugene. While not quite Army beating Navy, a win at Autzen Stadium would be program-defining for Chris Petersen’s Huskies.
2015 Fun Stats
– Yards per play: Washington 6.0 – Opponents 4.9
– Sacks: Washington 34 – Opponents 33
– Second-half scoring: Washington 206 – Opponents 109