Let us dispossess ourselves of the notion that the Washington Huskies’ return to relevance has anything to do with Chris Petersen. Ignore his sterling 115-24 all-time record as head coach. Forget everything you’ve heard about his ability to discover underrated recruits. And for the love of God, don’t let yourself be distracted by his shiny silver hair and even shinier teeth.
We all know the real reason that the Huskies are 8-0 and on a direct path to the College Football Playoff. We have removed the blinders from our eyes, and we can now see clearly into the hidden machinations of the universe. We know that the Huskies’ resurgence has everything to do with one man: Jeffrey Raye Tedford.
That’s right. Jeff Tedford, former Cal coach and present-day UW consultant, is the man behind the magic. The only plausible explanation for the Huskies’ emergence as a Pac-12 superpower is that the universe knew how annoying it would be for Cal fans. Just imagine ol’ Jeff, snuggled up in his purple and gold windbreaker, chewing gum and fiddling with the velcro on his enormous wrist-mounted playbook. Ooh, it makes me so mad I could fire an offensive coordinator just thinking about it.
And suddenly, I really want to win this football game. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Washington owns the fourth most prolific offense in the nation, scoring an impressive 46 points per game. Interestingly, while Petersen (or more accurately, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith) prefers to run the ball about 60% of the time, two thirds of the Huskies’ touchdowns have come on pass plays. That’s how you keep defenses off balance. With improved versions of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin in the backfield, UW can move the ball any way they like.
And—whether or not you accept that Jeff Tedford is the secret mastermind of the program—Petersen’s offense introduces some fascinating little twists on the spread that make it even harder to stop. I’d like to draw your attention to one particular example, broken down here. In a nutshell, Petersen took a classic read option, designed to draw in the defensive end, and then twisted it into a speed option/pitch to the outside. It’s a relatively minor adjustment, but it creates just enough confusion to freeze the defense. Very clever,
How Washington can fool defenses to set up the option
Washington Husky Football has a cool play, and Stanford had no idea how to stop it.Posted by SB Nation College Football on Thursday, October 6, 2016
Jake Browning looked very much like a freshman when he faced the Bears last year, taking too many hits and chucking his fair share of knuckleheaded interceptions. But that’s okay because he was very much a freshman, just four starts into his college career. No such excuses will be necessary this time around, however. Browning has been making a solid Heisman case for himself, throwing 28 TDs against just 3 interceptions. Only two FBS quarterbacks have more passing touchdowns, including some guy by the name of Davis Webb.
Browning has the nation’s second-best passer rating in the nation, a function of his much-improved accuracy and his stubborn refusal to turn the ball over. He’s been on a slight downward trend since his six-TD performance against Oregon, however, completing just 50% of his passes against Oregon State and 60% against Utah. Huskies fans are particularly concerned about an interception he threw last week when he failed to read a crossing Utah safety late in the game. Ultimately that’s just one mistake in a season relatively devoid of them, but if you want to extrapolate that to say Browning is due for a decline, I won’t be the one to stop you. But before you write him off, just remember that he’s also got four rushing TDs and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
“Pshaw to your puny rushing numbers,” says Myles Gaskin, who is having a rather impressive season of his own. The elusive sophomore back leads the Pac-12 with 881 yards, a total bolstered by four consecutive 100+ yard performances. On the strength of great downfield vision and a nasty spin move, Gaskin is averaging nearly 6.5 yards per carry this season, almost a full yard better than his 2015 numbers. He has also fumbled the ball exactly one time in his entire college career.
“Pshaw to you too,” says Lavon Coleman, the junior who has taken over the Huskies’ backup RB spot since the departure of Dwayne Washington. The burliest of Washington’s running backs, Coleman has become a worrisome big play threat. He’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry on a decent sample size of 59 touches. Sophomore Jomon Dotson is also in the mix as the third tailback in the Huskies’ rotation.
The Huskies have done well to replace last year’s top two receivers, Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins. John Ross, out last season after a strong campaign in 2014, has reemerged as the team’s biggest deep ball threat. Fittingly, he leads the receivers with 11 TDs. Fellow junior Dante Pettis is the Huskies’ top possession receiver, having already contributed 8 TDs of his own. Sophomore Chico McClatcher rounds out the starters, who will frequently give way to freshmen Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia.
The Huskies list four co-starters at tight end, all checking in at 6’4” or above. The senior leader of the crew is Darrell Daniels, followed closely in productivity by sophomore Drew Sample. Three top receivers (Pettis, McClatcher, and Daniels) are averaging over 10 yards per attempt, which should give you a sense of how dangerous this passing offense is. For comparison, Tre Watson is the only Golden Bear who can boast the same level of production.
Jake Browning got sacked a bunch of times last season. Like, a whole bunch of times. More advanced metrics like stuff rate and power success rate lead to the same conclusion; the offensive line was a bottom 50% unit in 2015. If you’ve been following the thread of this post so far, you might surmise that such is no longer the case in 2016. And you’d be correct! Browning, either as a function of better protection or better awareness, has stayed much more upright this season. Washington running backs, meanwhile, are getting stuffed at the line less often. (One caveat is that power success—first down percentage on 3rd/4th and short—has actually gone down.)
Credit those improvements to experience along the line, as all five of this year’s starters saw significant time last season. Adding to that consistency, LT Trey Adams, C Coleman Shelton, and RT Kaleb McGary have started every game this season for the Huskies. The line allowed three sacks against Utah last week, but some of that blame can be placed on the shoulders of true freshman Nick Harris. He started in place of normal left guard Jake Eldrenkamp, who is slated to return against the Bears.
Here’s one final statistic to help you Know Your Enemy for this week: the Washington Huskies lead the nation in turnover margin, only giving up the ball six times against 19 takeaways. That ratio, on a per game basis, is the nation’s best by any team since 2013. I know Jeff Tedford is somehow responsible...