Preview 2017: Washington Huskies
Previewing and looking ahead at the Washington Huskies season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Washington Offense
The Washington defense was the main reason for Washington’s rise to power, but the ultra-efficient offense had a little bit to do with it, too.
The offense was fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and eighth in scoring, doing a great job of capitalizing on just about every opportunity – the O was great at blowing up when it got its shot.
QB Jake Browning returns after a breakthrough season, but his main deep weapon John Ross is off blazing away now for the Cincinnati Bengals. Fortunately, Dante Pettis and his 15 touchdown grabs are back, along with almost everyone else in the loaded receiving corps.
Myles Gaskin is back after running for almost 1,400 yards with ten scores, along with fantastic backup Lavon Coleman who averaged way over seven yards per pop. There’s plenty of talent among the backups, but they’re going to have a hard time seeing the ball – Gaskin and Coleman are too good.
Three starters return up front with both tackles returning along with C Coleman Shelton, but the guards are going to be a work in progress. There’s going to be a rotation, but there’s versatility and size to play around with.
Biggest Key To The Washington Offense
Make sure the running game keeps on working. No one ran the ball all that well on Alabama, so there’s no dogging the Dawgs for only running for 44 yards in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl loss.
But as Penn State, Stanford and Arizona showed – among others – it was possible to run on USC. The Trojan defense came up with its best day of the season in the 26-13 win over Washington, holding the rushing attack to 17 yards on just 27 carries.
Those were the two worst rushing games of Washington’s season, and those were the two losses. The ground game got stuffed, and Browning struggled to pick up the slack with a rough day against the Trojans and – outside of one big play to Ross – didn’t do much against the Crimson Tide.
Run well, don’t force the passing game, and let the defense do the rest – it was a good formula that got UW to the CFP, it can work again.
What You Need To Know About The Washington Defense
An absolute killer, the Huskies finished 12th in the nation in total defense and were eighth in scoring D. No one came up with more than 28 points against this group, holding down Alabama, Oregon, USC, Washington State – everyone.
This year’s defense gets back seven starters, but the four who left are killers, with bug Elijah Qualls done up front, corners Sidney Jones and Kevin King gone on the corners and Budda Baker needing to be replaced at safety.
So the secondary is a problem, right? It’s not going to be better, but the safeties coming back are terrific, and the young corners taking over looked outstanding this offseason.
Baker led the way, but nine of the top 11 tacklers are back including a few killers in the linebacking corps. The defensive front should be able to get behind the line again on a regular basis, while Azeem Victor and the rest of the linebackers will gobble up everything against the run.
Even without Qualls, the size up front is massive, while the disruptive forces will come from everywhere else. A whopping 15 Huskies came up with a sack, and 24 generated a tackle for loss.
Biggest Key To The Washington Defense
The secondary really does have to hold up – eventually. It won’t be tested too much early on against a slew of mediocre passing teams, but eventually the Huskies have to face Cal, and UCLA, and Washington State.
Have problems against a Colorado or Stanford on the road, or an Oregon at home, and that could be the difference between going to the College Football Playoff and simply a very good season.
Again, there’s a ton of talent in the Washington secondary – Chris Petersen has been fantastic at reloading in a hurry, losing three first rounders in 2015 – but to lose three NFL second round draft pick-caliber defensive backs is obviously not a positive, especially a star like Baker.
Washington Will Be Far Better If …
The kicking game rocks. The Huskies only played in two games decided by a touchdown or less, but again, be on the wrong side of one of those, and that could be the season.
The punting game netted just 36 yards per kick, with Tristan Vizcaino doing an okay job, but the coverage team allowing almost nine yards per try. Australian Joel Whitford – a blaster – will likely take over so Vizcaino can handle the placekicking job. Keep pinning teams deep, and the UW D will take over from there.
Cameron Van Winkle is gone after hitting 16-of-20 field goals, but Vizcaino has a bigger leg and should be okay.
Best Washington Offensive Player
QB Jake Browning, Jr. – Good as a freshman, the 6-2, 205-pounder stepped up as a sophomore, turning into one of the nation’s most efficient passers hitting 62% of his throws for 3,430 yards and 43 scores with four rushing touchdowns and just nine picks.
He might not be all that big, but he’s got a live, accurate arm with the touch to throw deep – he had to with John Ross on the outside.
There were problems late in the season, with a rough game against Colorado and problems against the Alabama defense, but he ripped up everyone else with 12 multi-touchdown performances and six of his nine interceptions late in the year against USC, Arizona State and Bama.
A pure passer, he was a special high school bomber, cranking out national high school records left and right, highlighted by his 229 career touchdown passes. He’s had the right coaching throughout his career, being ready from the word go as a freshman. Already great, now he really knows what he’s doing – he should be even more efficient.
2. RB Myles Gaskin, Jr.
3. OT Trey Adams, Jr. 4. WR Dante Pettis, Sr.
5. C Coleman Shelton, Sr.
Best Washington Defensive Player
LB Azeem Victor, Sr. – Coming off a 95-tackle season, the 6-3, 222-pound blaster came up with 67 tackles with three tackles for loss before getting knocked out for the year with a leg injury.
Good enough to earn All-Pac-12 honors, he’s a dominant force in the open field with great quickness to go along with his hitting ability. He might not be a pass rusher, but that’s not his job in the middle – he’s more of a sideline-to-sideline range defender than a straight-line flier into the backfield.
2. DT Vita Vea, Jr.
3. LB Keishawn Bierria, Sr.
4. DT Greg Gaines, Jr.
5. S JoJo McIntosh, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
S Taylor Rapp, Soph. – Budda Baker was more than just an All-Pac 12 safety who led the team with 71 tackles – with most of them of the tone-setting variety. He was a heart-and-soul big play performer who won’t just easily replaced in an instant.
JoJo McIntosh is a factor at one safety spot, and Ezekiel Turner has to find a spot on the field in some way, but Rapp will either be a starter at either other safety job, or he’ll take over Baker’s nickel gig. Myles Bryant is an undersized try-hard type who’ll be in the equation, too.
The Washington Season Will Be A Success If …
It gets back to the College Football Playoff. How do you keep the Dawgs down at this point? There might be a few big personnel losses, but 15 starters return and the schedule isn’t all that bad with eight games against teams that didn’t go bowling.
The non-conference slate is a breeze, and even though three road games in the first four Pac-12 dates is a harsh way to open, going to Colorado, Oregon State, and Arizona State isn’t all that bad for any team with realistic CFP aspirations. The bigger positive? The tough conference start means four of the last five games are at home, except for …
Key Game To The Washington Season
Nov. 10 at Stanford – All of Washington’s key Pac-12 games are in Seattle, except for the Friday night date in Palo Alto against what should be an improved Stanford team.
Last year’s 44-6 blasting of the Cardinal was the unofficial moment when the Huskies flipped the switch to a special season to on, followed up by a 70-21 win over Oregon. Win at Stanford, and the Pac-12 North should be Washington’s again.
2016 Washington Fun Stats
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Washington 176 – Opponents 40
– Fumbles: Opponents 28 (lost 14) – Opponents 13 (lost 6)
– Red Zone Scores: Washington 54-of-58 (93%) – Opponents 33-of-43 (77%)