We’ve had a few days to digest the Huskies’ stunning loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl. The backlash from that game has centered around Cyler Miles and his poor first-half performance, the exclamation point (or, more pointedly, another question mark) to throw on top of a wildly inconsistent debut season for the sophomore quarterback.
When assessing the Huskies’ first season of the Chris Petersen regime, and in particular the team’s offensive shortcomings, the quarterback play is a reasonable place to start.
But, instead, let’s start up front.
The veteran offensive line, like the veteran defensive line, was supposed to be the backbone that supported the young, unproven players playing behind it. The defensive line, more often than not, did that for the young secondary. Too often, the offensive line didn’t do that for a young quarterback and young running backs.
Injuries played a part. Senior Ben Riva, the returning right tackle, missed virtually the entire season with knee and ankle injuries. Junior Dexter Charles, in his third season as the starting left guard, missed a month with an injury, then sat out the bowl game because of a reported academic issue. Those don’t completely explain the Huskies’ inability to develop a consistent running game. In their eight wins, the Huskies averaged 214.8 yards rushing; in their six losses, 153.7. Not good enough.
Similarly, Miles had a quarterback efficiency rating of 163.9 in the seven starts he won; in the five losses he played in, his rating was 116.1. In other words, against good competition, he was bad.
We could have a chicken-or-the-egg argument all day long: Did the run game get stuffed because defenses weren’t afraid of Miles’ arm? Or did the inability to run the ball force UW to throw more than they would have preferred? The point is neither worked well enough long enough, leaving the Huskies starving for offense against quality opponents. (Many have and will continue to point to the offensive coordinator and the play calls, and that’s not unfair. I will say that coaches are generally only as good as the talent around them, hence all the time, facilities and resources (and uniforms!) college football programs use in trying to reel in recruits.)
The Huskies lose four of the five O-linemen who started the Cactus Bowl. It was a group long on experience, but too often short on production in 2014. There’s depth there heading in 2015 — albeit, mostly unproven depth — and if the offense is going to take a jump forward, it has to start up front.
Some glass-half-full prospects for 2015:
- The Huskies have experience at quarterback. That’s … something. One could argue the Huskies have as many questions about the quarterback position as they had in August while trying to pick a starter among Miles, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, all more or less rookies. That’s probably a fair argument. But what the Huskies have now that they didn’t then was a quarterback with a full season’s worth of experience. Miles has been knocked down, repeatedly. He faced a lot of heat in 2014, much of it his own doing. That he was still standing at the end of the season is worth something. The Huskies have invested a bunch of “banked reps,” as Petersen likes to say, in this quarterback, and that’s not something you just disregard completely.Maybe, ultimately, UW coaches come to the conclusion that Miles isn’t the answer going into the 2015 opener at Boise. I don’t know. I can’t imagine they know that, either. And anyone pretending to have the answer is just guessing. We know virtually nothing about redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels or true freshman Jake Browning, who is already on campus. They figure to be part of the equation in the spring and summer, along with Lindquist. It should be fun and competitive, but many question remain.
- Perhaps most promising, in my estimation, is this coaching staff has a year under its belt with these players. That’s a year to build trust and set expectations. Those awkward, uneasy conversations — So, uh, what’s your name again? — are well out of the way. There’s a comfort level now, and that’s not to be taken for granted.
- An interesting perspective from one UW insider I talked to this week, who said O-line coach Chris Strausser should be considered the team’s MVP, because of the way he was able to hold the patchwork line together. Take that as you will.
- A deep receiving corps: Jaydon Mickens, Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius are all back, and that’s a talented and versatile trio for any quarterback to work with. Throw in John Ross III — who wants to continue to be a two-way threat next season — and the receivers should be a strength for the UW offense.
- Back by committee? Dwayne Washington started to separate himself as UW’s featured running back in November. Although he was shut down in the Cactus Bowl (42 yards on 13 carries), he has a chance to be one of the better running backs in the Pac-12 next season. Add in Lavon Coleman and Deontae Cooper, and that’s a good group — with experience — to start with in the backfield.
- Two words: Budda Baker.
It’s too early, of course, to make any broad predictions for 2015, but there seem to be a lot of bleak opinions out there. Much of that has to do with all the talent the Huskies are losing on defense, and much of that has to do with the uncertainty at quarterback. I get it. I do, however, think many of us overlooked how much of a transition 2014 would be, for players and coaches alike. As I noted after the Hawaii game, it felt like players were just thinking too much on the field. This coaching staff made a big emphasis on fundamentals and details, which was an adjustment for players. It look awhile, but by late November there was more playing and less thinking — and more fun, too — and that translated onto the field.
Now that there’s a comfort level established between the staff and the players — expectations are now known — the Huskies can head into 2015 focusing on being a better team.
Huskies’ 2015 schedule:
Sept. 3 or 4 — at Boise State (Thu. or Fri.)
Sept. 12 — Sacramento State
Sept. 19 — Utah State
Sept. 26 — California
Oct. 8 — at USC (Thu.)
Oct. 17 — Oregon
Oct. 24 — at Stanford
Oct. 31 — Arizona
Nov. 7 — Utah
Nov. 14 — at Arizona State
Nov. 21 — at Oregon State
Nov. 27 — Washington State (Fri.)