No matter how much you want to overlook it, I believe that the change in coaching staffs and tone from the top from Steve Sarkisian to Chris Petersen has been a real shock to the program's system. I don’t think it’s any secret that the culture Sark cultivated is quite different from Petersen’s “OKG” system.
I'm not saying one is better than the other, but Sarkisian was here for five years. That’s a long time, and he was reasonably successful following an utter disaster perpetrated by a coach who I won’t mention by name. In the end, Sark left for what he thought was a better job, but the players that he left behind in Seattle were all in to his way of Husky football.
I think it can largely be distilled down to a "youthful exuberance" atmosphere changing to a "no BS” culture, the change from Sarkisian to Petersen. Coach Pete deserves a long leash during this first season, and his track record tells us that he’s going to turn the corner and produce well coached, competitive teams in the following years.
But it might come at the cost of this season if he can’t get the players synced with his process very quickly. The Stanford game was a real eye opener in that Coach Pete wouldn’t trust his defense to stop Stanford from going the length of the field. In what proved to be the defining moment of the game on Saturday, Petersen eschewed a traditional punt and called for a fake on fourth and nine near midfield with just over 7 minutes remaining.
Stanford was ready. MORE than ready; they were expecting it. You could tell by the way they hovered near the line of scrimmage that they weren’t going to try to block Korey Durkee’s punt. They were almost DARING Petersen to fake it, and the Husky coach blinked hard. Shaq got stuffed for no gain and Hogan led Shaw’s offense into the end zone shortly thereafter, and the game was over.
If you remember, to that point Stanford had pinned Washington deep but they had committed two critical third down penalties to keep the drive alive, which allowed the Huskies to tip the field position in their favor. All of those breaks were tossed aside with a Pop Warner type of call.
Saturday’s game was very unusual in that there were so many opportunities to second-guess coaching decisions. I can’t remember there being THAT many in one game, a few coming nearly back-to-back.
Petersen will learn from his mistakes, he’s too smart not to. Trying to win on a gimmick might have flown well at Boise State, and it's part of what people loved about his teams there. They won with style and flair. Against a quality Pac-12 opponent, gimmickry has to be tossed aside for field position and smash mouth. I don’t blame Petersen for the decision to have Stanford re-kick after their first kickoff went out of bounds. Getting John Ross III the ball any time is a good idea.
But that fake punt was just an awful decision. One that Petersen will learn from. He’s said as much the last 72 hours.
Washington’s best bet to win this year is to either get behind Cyler Miles’s skill set and have Jonathan Smith revamp the offense to feature more zone read and rushing, or to make a change at quarterback and go with someone that can throw the ball downfield. Can Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams read the defense quicker than Miles can? It was painful to watch how long it took for number 10 to go through his reads. Credit goes to Stanford’s defense, which may be the best in the country, but as an offensive coordinator, you HAVE to give your kids a chance. And the best chance with Miles is to use zone read as a base and go from there.
The defense has turned the corner in many ways, evidenced by how often they are turning the ball over. Washington is the best in the country at that skill, and the kids seem to have really embraced Coach Pete Kwiatkowski’s more aggressive scheme that still has to protect three true freshmen in the secondary.
The defense is showing up fine after five weeks. What comes as an utter surprise to me is what appears to be a glaring deficiency of Pac-12 talent along the line of scrimmage. Danny Shelton and Hauoli Kikaha are both having very good seasons, and while Andrew Hudson puts out a good effort, he isn't matching up well with what appear to be inferior offensive linemen. Evan Hudson is simply ineffective most of the time. But the depth behind them is not showing up on too many downs. They are either too young or they aren’t up to a quality Pac-12 level yet.
Shaq Thompson is an NFL-caliber talent and he shows it every week. He is definitely living up to his billing of being a first rounder. John Timu has been pretty good and Travis Feeney and Keishawn Bierria are doing well on the outside.
However it is the offensive line that really has been an unpleasant surprise. I know that the former staff had very high opinions of Micah Hatchie, Colin Tanigawa and James Atoe. But those guys have been very uneven so far this year. Mike Criste has yet to produce anything this year; I can only assume that he must be hurt. Dexter Charles comes on and makes a big play every so often, but as a unit this group has not produced nearly often enough. Ben Riva has suffered through injury. Siosifa Tufunga appears to be coming to the forefront now, and looked pretty good against Stanford. As far as the young trench guys, he is the only one that has caught my eye so far. Coleman Shelton may develop but he is being thrown into the fire far too early.
If Coach Pete brings in five or six offensive line prospects each of the next two recruiting classes, I wouldn’t be unhappy. That’s about where the depth appears to be from my seat.
So Washington is now 4-1 and into the teeth of their schedule. They are starting to figure some things out on defense while the offense searches for both an identity and a direction. The bye week comes at a very opportune time, as it will give the Husky coaches a week to decide whether or not Miles is the guy to lead the offense. I kind of think he is, and if that is the case, the playbook needs to be rewritten for a guy with great legs but not the arm strength to throw anything across the hashes or into tight windows. He can throw over the top but don’t make him throw anything where the ball is going to hang in the air while defenders can close - use his legs and make defenses defend him outside the pocket.
Either that, or make a change. Asking Miles to be a pocket passer is kind of like asking Barry Bonds to be a nice guy.
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