First look: Washington

The Washington Huskies are coming off of their first loss of the season, but still possess the top scoring offense in the Pac-12 led by dynamic quarterback Jake Browning.

With its undefeated regular season hopes on the line, No. 7 Washington failed to get any offensive rhythm going on Saturday, losing 26-13 to No. 15 USC and breaking its 12-game win streak dating back to the 2015 season.

The last time UW lost was on Nov. 14, 2015 to Arizona State, 27-17, at Sun Devil Stadium. This year, the Huskies (9-1 overall, 6-1 in conference) will be at home at Husky Stadium playing the Sun Devils (5-5 overall, 2-5 in conference) this week in what will be a huge bounce-back game for UW.

The last time the Huskies failed to score more than 13 points was in their 16-13 loss to then-No. 23 Boise State on Sept. 9, 2015. Washington has averaged 44.8 points per game this season, compared to its opponents' 17.9 points per game. Both marks rank as the best in the Pac-12.

With the loss to USC last week, the Huskies all but assured their fall out of the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings set to come out on Tuesday. However, Michigan and Clemson also lost Saturday, leaving only two undefeated teams left in the FBS -- No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Western Michigan.

ASU head coach Todd Graham said USC did a great job matching up with UW in the back end and that the difference in the game was the turnovers.

UW currently holds the second spot in the Pac-12 North behind Washington State and if the Huskies win out, they will go to the Pac-12 championship game.

If UW loses to ASU this week and WSU (8-2 overall, 7-0 in conference) beats Colorado this week then the Huskies will have two conference losses to WSU’s zero headed into the Apple Cup for the last regular season game of the year. Therefore, WSU would go to the Pac-12 Championship game to face the Pac-12 South winner regardless of the Apple Cup result.

If Washington beats ASU, regardless of WSU’s result this week, the Pac-12 North champion will be decided in the Apple Cup on Nov. 25.

At the helm of the Huskies’ program is UW head coach Chris Peterson, who is in his third year leading the team. Prior to being hired by the Huskies in December of 2013, Peterson was the head coach of Boise State for eight years, amassing a 92-12 overall record.

In his first two seasons at UW, Peterson had a 15-12 overall record, 8-10 in conference, with the Huskies finishing third in the North in 2014 and fourth in the North in 2015.

Joining Peterson on staff is UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, who is in his third season as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks' coach.

In his first season at Washington, Smith coordinated an offense that scored the fourth-most points in Washington history, while passing for the sixth-most yards ever at UW. Prior to coaching at Washington, Smith worked under Peterson at Boise State from 2012-2013 as the quarterbacks coach.  

Under the guidance of Smith, UW sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is now considered a Heisman Trophy candidate, with 35 passing touchdowns, five interceptions and 116 completions for 2,532 yards already this season.

The Huskies are averaging 477.1 yards of total offense, 267.5 yards through the air per game.

Last year, Browning played in 12 games for the Huskies as a freshman and was 233-for-368 passing for 2,955 yards with 10 interceptions and 16 passing touchdowns.

This year, with the improvement of Browning and the explosive players Washington has on offense, ten Husky receivers have averaged 12 or more yards per reception.

UW wide receiver John Ross leads the Huskies' receiving corps with 52 catches for 896 yards, an average of 17.2 yards per catch, and 15 touchdowns on the year. UW junior wide receiver Dante Pettis is second on the team with 39 catches for 596 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“Explosive plays would be one,” Graham said on why UW is so good offensively. “Ross is probably the best player, most dynamic player in our league.”

Pettis is also UW’s punt returner and already has two touchdowns on the year with a 12.5-yard return average. Ross leads the kick return group, with one kickoff returned for a touchdown and a 28.6-yard return average.

Ross redshirted in 2015 due to an injury suffered in the spring. No Husky wide receiver had more than three touchdowns catches in 2015.  

Instead, then-freshman running back Myles Gaskin took the bulk of the workload in 2015 with a freshman in Browning at the helm of the offense. Gaskin had 14 rushing touchdowns on 227 carries for 1,302 yards on the season.

This year, Gaskin returns as the leader in the Huskies run game, averaging 100.3 yards per game. On the year, Gaskin, 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, has 166 carries, 1,003 yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Joining Gaskin in the backfield is junior running back Lavon Coleman, who is averaging 60.6 yards per game and has three touchdowns on the season.

Looking at the UW defense, the Huskies have been without senior defensive end Joe Mathis for the past four games. Mathis was UW’s sack leader prior to his injury.

In addition to Mathis, it appears junior outside linebacker Azeem Victor will be out for an extended period of time after Victor was carted off the field Saturday night with what looked like a serious right leg injury. Victor was leading the Huskies in tackles with 68, three tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

With Victor out, junior linebacker Keishawn Bierria is the team’s active tackles leader with 54, two tackles for loss, one sack, two pass breakups, five fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Bierria’s five fumble recoveries is a program record.

UW junior cornerback Sidney Jones, 6-foot, 181 pounds, leads the standouts in UW’s secondary with three interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, seven passes defended and 27 tackles.

Jones was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after his two interception performance in UW’s 66-27 win over Cal on Nov. 5.

Last season, Jones started every game at cornerback and finished the season as the Pac-12 leader in pass break-ups with 14, tied for fourth in the Pac-12 in interceptions with four and tied for second in forced fumbles with three.

UW senior cornerback Kevin King, 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, is opposite Jones in the secondary and has a team-high nine pass breakups, 10 passes defended, one interception and 2.5 tackles for loss.

King made the honorable mention All-Pac-12 list last year and had an interception in each of Washington's first three games.

UW junior safety Budda Baker not only has 47 tackles, one interception, two pass breakups and three passes defended, but also has 5.5 tackles for loss. Baker was named Midseason All-America by ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and USA Today and a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Last year, Baker was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. He had 49 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and nine passes defended.

Along the defensive line, Greg Gaines leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and also has 3.5 sacks.

“They play really good defense,” Graham said. “Really physical defensively against the run and really good on the back end so I would say explosive plays and defense are the two things when I think of them, describes how they play the game. Very, very well-coached that would be the third thing.”

UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is in his third-straight season as the UW defensive coordinator after following Peterson from Boise State, where he completed his fourth season as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2013.

In 2015, his second with UW, Kwiatkowski led the top defense in the Pac-12 Conference, despite losing five starters to the NFL after the 2015 season. His unit led the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 18.8 points per game and total defense with 351.8 yards per game and was second in rushing defense at 125.3 yards per game.

Under Kwiatkowski, UW runs a 3-4 defense, keyed in on takeaways. This year, Washington leads the Pac-12 in turnover margin, with plus-15. UW has 24 total takeaways and has only lost four fumbles and five interceptions.

“The number one thing is turnover ratio and then rush defense, rush offense,” Graham said. “That’s the thing that effects scoring points. All you need to do, it don’t matter what year it is. You look at the top four or five guys in the league in turnover ratio and there will be a direct correlation unless there is something really offsetting.”

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