Head Coach: Chris Petersen (6th Season)
OC: Bush Hamdan (2nd Season, 2nd stint on staff (’15-’16)
DC: Jimmy Lake (2nd Season, 6th season overall)
Co-DC: Pete Kwiatkowski (6th season)
Regular Season: 9-3 (7-2)
ESPN Football Power Index: 10
Offensive Efficiency Rank: 18
Defensive Efficiency Rank: 15
Special Teams Efficiency Rank: 105
Can the Offense Improve After Jake Browning?
ESPN’s efficiency rankings listed above can be hit-or-miss and such is the case with Washington’s 2018 marks. Their actual results were far more polarized than their balanced rankings indicate with their offense far less proficient than their outstanding defense. The Huskies averaged under 27 points per game and many fans pointed toward Jake Browning’s two year regression as a potential reason. Browning threw for less touchdowns in his last two seasons combined than he did in his Pac 12 Player of the Year campaign in 2016. Browning moves on after becoming the winningest quarterback in program history, but there is plenty of hype surrounding the man that will likely take his place. Former Georgia starter and five star recruit Jacob Eason is eligible for 2019 after transferring to Washington last year. Pressure is on second year OC Bush Hamdan after last season’s relatively disappointing play and his integration of Eason into his offense is key in 2019. Eason will reap the benefits of what should be one of the country’s best offensive lines. Washington returns five lineman with significant starting experience. Center Nick Harris is back after an All-Conference season and so is projected NFL first round LT Trey Adams after missing most of last season to injury. Jaxon Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg round out the sound interior and Jared Hilbers bookends Adams at RT. They have some quality depth too in a unit that has performed well each of the last three seasons. Though the OL will be a strength, the Huskies say goodbye to their all time rushing leader Myles Gaskin. RB play should not be too concerning, however, with the explosive Salvon Ahmed poised for a breakout season. Ahmed will likely not be the workhorse Gaskin was, but they have Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant to rotate in after getting their toes wet last season. WR play needs to step up for the offense to be potent and they may have their best corps since 2016’s dynamic duo of John Ross and Dante Pettis. They return every contributor headlined by leading receiver Aaron Fuller. Slot receiver Andre Baccellia and 6-4 outside target Ty Jones look to improve after posting solid numbers and there are plenty of talented youngsters pushing them for playing time. Even with improved WR depth, expect to see a heavy dose of 12 personnel with a lethal TE duo. Hunter Bryant flashed exceptional ball skills the few times he was the healthy and has big time potential if he can stay on the field. He will team up with an old-school, physical TE emerging as a freshman last year in Cade Otton.
Washington has everything they need to be one of the conference’s most efficient offenses that can eat clock and control games. A great deal of it depends on solid quarterback play and making more plays in the passing game. This is a critical year for OC Bush Hamdan and though Eason is the projected starting QB, he has yet to officially earn the job. Fall Camp will tell us more about this QB-OC marriage.
Ready to Reload on Death Row
Washington’s defense has been so good throughout Chris Petersen’s tenure it is easy to forget he is originally an offensive minded coach. They have recruited and developed players tremendously on defense and are no longer a unit that rebuilds, rather one that reloads. Washington’s “Death Row” defense has to reload again this year after losing nine starters from the conference’s top defense last season. The Huskies run a similar scheme as Cal utilizing multiple fronts and dropping into nickel often. The Huskies were exceptional against both the run and the pass dawning a sensational secondary, instinctive linebacking play, and a whole lot of beef up front. Just like Cal, their lone weak spot was their pass rush. Finding one is integral to matching last season’s success with so much production departing. They lose two key players on the DL but return two veterans in Levi Onwuzurike and Benning Potoa’e. Onwuzurike should push for All-Conference honors while Potoa’e shifts inside after playing on the end last season. They have enough highly recruited young talent to develop a stout, deep rotation that can disrupt the line of scrimmage. The linebacking corps is the greatest unknown for this defense. Replacing tackling machine Ben Burr-Kirven will be difficult in addition to developing OLB’s that can get after the QB at a higher rate. Brandon Wellington is groomed for a starting role on the inside while Joe Tryon and Ariel Ngata are enticing pass rushing options on the outside. There is a host of young talent competing for spots, but it may take time for players to emerge and play up to this defense’s elite expectations.
Ironically, the position group many Washington writers and fans view as the strength of the team is the one where they lose the most production. The Huskies lose four of its five starters in the secondary with three of them selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. The reload is ready, nonetheless, and there is a lot of hope this year’s cast can come close to last year’s spectacular results. There is still plenty to figure out with guys shuffling positions in the spring, but the unit is more ready than one would assume given the lack of starting experience. Nickelback Myles Bryant returns after a stellar season and could see time at free safety depending on how the others develop. Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor are ready to perform after impressing in limited time as rotational players. Molden can play multiple positions and Taylor should be a lock at corner. CB Kyler Gordon and safeties Brandon McKinney and Isaiah Gilchrist are also in the bunch competing for playing time. The secondary may take a step down from last season, but not a far step, for a very well coached unit with some future stars taking on greater roles.
Washington has won two Pac 12 titles in the last three years and is not going to stray from its three year reign of Pac 12 supremacy. They are very much in the hunt for another Pac 12 title but have more unknowns than some of their competitors. Chris Petersen has built a nationally relevant program in Seattle and more prosperity this year will confirm that claim. Success in the passing game will be a major factor and there will be a lot of attention on how the promising young defensive cast performs.