Everything you need to know about the Huskies

WE WANTED TO know as much as possible about Oregon State’s next opponent – and who better to ask than Husky expert Chris Fetters, Editor of Dawgman.com. With bowl eligibility on the line Saturday for both Oregon State and UW (Pac-12 Networks, 7:30 p.m.) here’s a mountain of insight and info on all things Washington …

1. BeaverFootball.com: Washington offensive coordinator and former Beaver QB Great Jonathan Smith it seems has come in for a lot of withering criticism from the Husky fans this season. How much of it is justified in your view?

Fetters: Some of it is justified, but I think their ire should be more directed at his role as Washington's Quarterbacks Coach. But I'd also say fans' expectations should have been tempered from the start when breaking in a new QB, even though Cyler Miles did start the OSU game last year. That's never an easy thing to do, and when you add to it various injuries, movement within the offensive line, etc...

Smith's job hasn't been a bowl of cherries. All the being said, it's my opinion Smith's best play-calling of the year was last week at Arizona. He's found a balance in using Miles as a runner and has also started to hone in on some aspects of the passing game that have found success.

2. BeaverFootball.com: There's always a transition period when a new coach comes in - in what ways has Chris Petersen gone about remaking the Husky program and how are his changes, player departures, etc., being perceived by the alumni and fan base?

Fetters: Petersen has changed almost every element of the program - from recruiting to weight training and conditioning to nutrition to practice to how they travel. Since nearly every part of the program is behind the curtain and not privy to public disclosure, the fans just want Petersen to win. That's why last weekend's loss at Arizona stung particularly deep; it would have been seen as his the first big win of his UW tenure.

As it stands, Petersen has already lost nearly half as many games in his first year at UW as he did in eight seasons at BSU. The honeymoon, at least as far as a lot of fans are concerned, is definitely over. But generally speaking most are going to give him the time he needs because his record in Boise gives his a lot of credibility.

3. BeaverFootball.com: Washington's defense looks very strong in its front seven, a little less stout in the secondary - or would you characterize it differently, and who are the players on D that Oregon State fans should watch for?

Fetters: The strength of the defense is in its front seven, without a doubt. Five of them are seniors - Danny Shelton, Hauoli Kikaha, Andrew Hudson, Evan Hudson, and John Timu. Add to that group Shaq Thompson, because there's every reason to believe Shaq will bolt to the NFL after this season, and you can see why the Huskies have relied so heavily on their front seven. Thompson, Shelton, and Kikaha have all been touted as NFL first round draft picks next spring.

By contrast, Washington is starting two true freshmen in the secondary - Budda Baker and Sidney Jones - and two more true sophomores - Kevin King and John Ross - are playing alongside them. Ross didn't become a full-fledged cornerback until last weekend, so you might as well think of him as a freshman experience-wise. He took over for the departed Marcus Peters, who has also been getting praise as the top cover corner in the draft, but the way he left UW will most likely mean a drop in draft stock for the Oakand, Calif. junior.

4. BeaverFootball.com: Cyler Miles looks to be a great athlete but also a guy who has struggled at the quarterback position this year. Many Beaver fans only know Miles as the QB who, in his first college start, helped UW absolutely crush Oregon State 69-27 last year. How has Miles gone from that point a year ago, to where he is now?

Fetters: Simply put, he benefitted that night from a running attack that absolutely ran roughshod over the Beavers to the tune of over 530 yards. That's going to make any first-time starter's job very easy. For the most part he just had to hand the ball off. And as you know, when games start to get that lopsided, momentum means so much. There's very little Miles had to do that night, other than keep the ball off the ground. This year has been a lot different because of the departures of so many skill players around him, namely Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Those two were a big part of Washington's offense last year, and they haven't filled their gaps with anyone close.

Add to it the normal growing pains a program suffers during regime change, as well as the suspension Miles had to deal with by not being with the team all spring and then having to sit out the Hawaii opener - and you can see he had some serious catching up to do. It took 11 games, but Miles had by far his best game of the year last week, and is hoping to build on that Saturday night.

5. BeaverFootball.com: UW comes into this week at 6-5 but with four of those wins against lesser competition in Hawaii, Illinois, Georgia State and FCS team Eastern Washington, and they’re 2-5 in conference play. You are what your record says you are but still, from what I've seen, Washington looks like a far more physical, better team than 6-5. Agree? Disagree?

Fetters: Agree, but to a point. They are physical, they are tough, they battle. But they haven't been the smartest with penalties (don't get me started on how the Pac-12 penalty situation is vis-a-vis the other power conferences are nationally), and until a few games ago they had been pretty good holding on to the ball. But slow starts plagued them against Stanford and UCLA, as well as ASU - three games they were competitive in, and honestly should have done better in.

At this point the Pac-12 is a tough, tough league - but if all you can do is beat the teams below you but lose to the teams ahead of you, that's all you are; a middle-of-the road program. 6-5 is about right, given the full scope of what's required to succeed in this conference.

6. BeaverFootball.com: What are your thoughts on Petersen switching John Ross (WR to CB) and Shaq Thompson (LB to RB to LB) from where they started and seemingly excelled, to the other side of the ball?

Fetters: The Thompson move was prompted mostly out of necessity due to the injuries of Jesse Callier, Lavon Coleman, and Dwayne Washington. In many ways he could be the best RB UW has, but at the same time he could be the best player at a number of positions. Petersen is on record saying he doesn't know what his best position is for the NFL, despite Shaq wanting to just play defense. Washington and Coleman are back, so it's natural to get Shaq back to where he wants to be - and as long as Washington runs the way he did at UA last weekend, Jonathan Smith won't worry about using him in a spot role.

The move of Ross has been a lot more curious, but not the move itself - more the idea of why Smith and the UW offense haven't been able to target him more. He basically averaged a touchdown every three or four times he touched the ball, so it's particularly baffling their inability to fold him in with some role somewhere. But because of Peters' dismissal, it has given new life to Ross getting a lot of playing time. He played a ton of DB in high school, so he's a natural fit.

7. BeaverFootball.com: Who are the guys on offense Beaver fans should most keep an eye out for and is Thompson expected to play more running back than he did last week at Arizona?

Fetters: Thompson didn't carry the ball at all last Saturday, but the way events unfolded I'm sure UW fans would love to see him in there late this Saturday night if the Huskies are up by less than one score and four minutes left on the clock. They could use his bruising, take-no-prisoners approach. Fair play to Deontae Cooper, who had never fumbled in his UW career before last weekend, but Thompson provides a more rugged, aggressive option.

As far as the rest of the offense goes, Dwayne Washington ran for 148 yards and two scores at Arizona; he seems to be the 'hot hand' I would expect Smith to call on Saturday night against OSU. Kasen Williams has been a total afterthought his whole senior season, something I never thought I would be writing - but Kasen had a bit of a breakout game last Saturday, leading the Huskies in receptions and showing some signs of getting back to the old Kasen; tough, physical, and dependable. Dante Pettis has emerged as a go-to guy outside, as has Joshua Perkins.

8. BeaverFootball.com: What should Beaver fans know about the Husky special teams?

Fetters: It's a definite mish-mash. Cameron Van Winkle has been very dependable as their field goal kicker, and true freshman Tristan Vizcaino has been handling the kickoffs. Punter Korey Durkee has had a bit of a roller-coaster season, having arguably one of the best punting days ever for a UW punter against Stanford, yet having one of the worst ever versus Arizona State. The ASU game was a miserable one all the way around in terms of the weather conditions, but the Sun Devil specialists handled the weather a lot, lot better than the UW specialists did.

In the return game, John Ross has taken one back to the house this year, and two others have been called back because of dubious penalties. Dante Pettis took a punt return for six at Colorado, and definitely has the look of a player that could break another one soon.

9. BeaverFootball.com: College football media projections often don't match the end result. For UW, Petersen inherited the bulk of a 9–4 team with both lines intact, the preseason magazines had Washington as a consensus No. 22 nationally and picked 2nd-3rd in the Pac-12 North. Is there a big picture reason to point to for the current record?

Fetters: The simple answer is, Petersen and his coaches didn't recruit most of the players they are using, and there's been a lot of organizational and program disruptions during the regime change. For my part, I went along with everyone else that thought 10 wins was easily achievable if Petersen simply tried to use the players in front of him and cobbled together an interim strategy that could harken to his systems, yet still be able to utilize a lot of what Steve Sarkisian left behind.

Both Sarkisian and Rick Neuheisel before him did a great job of taking the talent at hand and turning it into something right away. Petersen? Not as much. He set about immediately to impose his systems and processes at UW, regardless of the short-term consequences. No doubt it should pay off, looking at the big picture - but right now getting to a bowl is looking like a positive first-year result. Not many had it going that way.

10. BeaverFootball.com: How do you see Washington matching up with Oregon State on paper and what's your prediction?

Fetters: Certainly based on what happened last year and the fact that there isn't a ton of turnover on either roster, it's hard not to see Washington stacking up well with what Oregon State offers. That being said, the Beavers come off a big, big win over Arizona State and we all know how important confidence and momentum can be.

For some reason, Husky Stadium is nowhere near the house of horrors it typically has been for opponents over the years; I really am at a loss to explain it. Some of it has to do with the late starts; some might have to do with where they've placed the students and band (west end, compared to right behind the UW bench in years' past), some of it probably has to do with the weather, and some might have to do with just general UW fan apathy. But I see no reason why that would make a sudden turnaround Saturday night. The Husky fan base is getting older and apparently more than happy to sit at home in front of their home theater to cheer on their team.

All that said, as long as Washington can win the turnover battle (something they've been good at all year) and can take Sean Mannion off his spot, make him run around and force him to make plays with his feet - the Huskies can win in Seattle. It won't be easy, the weather is expected to be lousy, and the last two games at Husky Stadium have come down to the wire - so I don't expect anything different. So I'm predicting a UW win, but a pretty close one - Washington 27, Oregon State 20.


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