What have we learned about these 2015 Washington Huskies through the first three games of the season?

Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen referred to the first three games of Washington’s 2015 season as the ‘pre-season’, so I’m going to roll with that. Obviously the major difference between a ‘pre-season’ in college football is that the games still mean something. And as far as the Huskies’ 2015 ‘pre-season’, it was an eventful one. Here’s 10 things we learned about this version of Washington Football as they jump head-first into Pac-12 play this coming Saturday as they host California.

“I think the pre-season was a learning experience, in a good way,” Petersen said after Washington’s 31-17 win over Utah State. That first game on the road was kind of a tough one, no place like home. We get to start the Pac-12 here at home, so that’s really good." 

1. Jake Browning is growing up before our eyes

http://www.scout.com/college/washington/story/1589050-post-game-video-qb... Many in the outside, myself included, thought Jeff Lindquist was the obvious choice to be Washington’s starting quarterback for 2015. The Mercer Island junior had performed nearly flawlessly during spring and fall camp, while K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning had been more inconsistent. But the press only saw half of fall camp, and in the other half it was clear that Browning, the true freshman, had displayed all the characteristics needed to show Petersen and UW Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith that he was ready to handle the pressure of big-time college football.

What Browning has done in the first three games of his UW career is nothing short of remarkable: 59-89 for 844 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 160. For reference, fellow frosh phenom Josh Rosen’s current quarterback rating is 126.6. 

Going forward, the competition is going to tighten up considerably. It’s hard to say how much California’s defense will test Browning; that game has ‘shootout’ written all over it. But there’s no doubt that as Browning continues to get more and more comfortable with his role and the speed of the game slows down, he has a chance to do things never seen before at Montlake by a freshman signal-caller.  

2. The offensive line of the future is also the offensive line of today

©M. Samek / SCOUT
It was a bit concerning to see that the Huskies made four wholesale changes to their offensive line prior to the Utah State game; true freshman Trey Adams stepped up to play left tackle, left tackle Coleman Shelton was moved to left guard, Jesse Sosebee moved ahead of Shane Brostek at right guar, and Kaleb McGary moved in front of Matt James at right tackle. Senior center Siosifa Tufunga was the lone holdover from the first two games. 

Against a stingy Utah State defense, the new-look Husky line helped Jake Browning throw for 368 yards and three touchdowns, while minimizing the Aggies’ aggressive pressure front to only one sack. 

Adams wasn’t expected to start games so soon, but an injury to Jake Eldrenkamp created a domino effect that pushed the freshman from Wenatchee onto the big stage. He handled it like a pro, with no penalties on the day and stifling Utah State’s pass rush. 

3. The defense is good enough to keep Washington in games

©M. Samek / SCOUT
It’s easy to get caught up in the defense’s seven-quarter scoreless streak, one where UW held opponents to nothing for 109 minutes and 31 seconds. The most impressive quarters came at Boise State, and they had a chance to keep the string going if they had taken advantage of some chances against the Aggies. 

The takeaway from the fact that the defense is allowing only 11 points and 268 total yards a game is that they will keep the Huskies in games where the offense struggles. And with a true freshman quarterback, growing offensive line and questions surrounding the run game - there’s no question the offense will deal with inconsistency. 

4. Special Teams is living up to their name

http://www.scout.com/college/washington/story/1589075-post-game-video-pk... Special teams is a third of the game, and the Washington Huskies are taking full advantage of that opportunity to make a difference. With a punt return and fake field already in for touchdowns, Washington Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Choate is earning his paycheck. Tristan Vizcaino has become an unsung hero, but not just because of his speed to the corner of the end zone. His kickoffs have consistently been to the end zone or beyond, already accounting for 10 touchbacks out of 17 kickoffs. If he can continue to force touchbacks at a 60 percent clip, he will have justified his scholarship by that metric alone. 

5. The run game will only go as far as Myles Gaskin will take it

©M. Samek / SCOUT
Almost as surprising as how quickly Jake Browning has jumped the learning curve has been Myles Gaskin’s ascension up the running back depth chart. Who knows if the true freshman from O’Dea will ever be considered the starting running back, especially with three older players alongside him in the depth - but in practical terms he’s become the back Petersen, Smith, and Running Backs Coach Keith Bhonapha look to. He took the game in his hands late against Utah State to kill it out much like sophomore Lavon Coleman did a year ago when he was a freshman at Hawaii last year. So in that sense, maybe it shouldn’t come as that much of a shock that Gaskin is the latest and greatest youngster to carry the rock in crunch time. 

Coleman, Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper, and Jomon Dotson all have the ability to do big things; it was Washington who led the Huskies in catches and receiving yards against Utah State. They can be valuable contributors. But Gaskin’s blend of vision, patience, burst and lean puts him in the lead when choosing which running back the coaches are going to go to once Pac-12 play starts. 

The numbers don’t lie; Gaskin has 193 yards so far as the Huskies move into conference play - the next-best running back has 42. 

6. The receivers need to focus on blocking, not catching

©M. Samek / SCOUT
This point became painfully obvious in Washington’s first game at Boise State, and to a much lesser extent against Sacramento State and Utah State. When the Huskies tried to extend defenses side-to-side with their outside screen game, the results were poor - to say the least. And most of it had to do with the fact that the receivers (and tight ends) just didn’t do a good job at all in giving the pass catchers a chance for upfield yardage. It’s not all their fault; the quarterback needs to do a better job leading the receiver and the receivers need to be able to make a move and beat their man. If the receivers can start to get something out of their screen game, as well as any stretch runs like fly sweeps - it doesn’t have to be NFL-quality; it just needs to provide another weapon for Jonathan Smith to have in his playcalling arsenal. 

7. The use of the tight end as a weapon should increase

©M. Samek / SCOUT
Everyone knew about Josh Perkins and what he could do in the pass game. His 25 receptions last year was testament to that fact, and Perkins is already a third of the way toward matching that mark through three games. Those same people after the first two games of the season were wondering where freak athlete Darrell Daniels was in the offensive gameplan. They got their wish Saturday, as the junior tight end caught four passes for 75 yards. Those four passes puts him at over a third of his 2014 production. And then Browning found redshirt frosh Drew Sample for his first UW career catch, a three-yard touchdown on a play originally designed to find another one of the talented tight end bunch, sophomore David Ajamu.

All of the tight ends are ‘OR’s on the official UW depth chart, meaning all of them could potentially start. The Huskies had 41 total catches out of the tight end group last year; they are already at 13 through three games. Expect those numbers to jump up considerably considering the talent of the group and the fact that Browning can lean on them for easy catches when trying to move the ball downfield. 

8. The defensive line loves to play Hockey

©M. Samek / SCOUT
Washington fans were spoiled rotten last season with the Huskies’ senior-laden defensive front. They were a record-setting crew, the heart and soul of UW’s defense. When you lose that much talent from one year to the next, you have to figure out another way to maintain that positive momentum. Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and Defensive Line Coach Jeff Choate have hit upon a formula that is working so far; hockey shift style substitutions. It’s a way to involve a lot of linemen to keep players’ fresh and energized to go full-tilt for the whole game. 

There’s no way the 2015 defensive front could possibly match the pure numbers the 2014 group put up, but what they have done is stifle offenses and provided enough pressure to force quarterbacks into poor decisions or dump-off situations. What the Huskies were able to do with four men last year they are doing with at least eight right now. And so far it’s producing the desired results. 

9. Azeem Victor has quickly become the heart and soul of the UW defense

http://www.scout.com/college/washington/story/1589057-post-game-video-mi... Speaking of last year’s front four leading the charge on defense, it’s been easy to identify Washington’s defensive leader - and he’s been doing it by example from play one at Boise State. The sophomore middle linebacker has 26 tackles - 16 solo stops - and the next best are Keishawn Bierria and Cory Littleton with 16. We’ve always known Victor to be a big hitter, and he used his calling-card to thump Utah State’s Jalen Davis on the opening kickoff to set the tone. He’s doing it on defense and special teams, and as he continues to grow in his role as one who leads by example. 

Talking to Victor, you’d be astonished at how mild-mannered and soft-spoken he is. But don’t test him between the lines. One measure of a successful defense is when the leading tacklers are in the front seven. So far the top-three tacklers are all linebackers, led by Victor. 

10. Kevin King's transition to cornerback has been seamless

http://www.scout.com/college/washington/story/1589079-post-game-video-cb... With a seeming logjam at safety, Kevin King made the move during the offseason to cornerback, and the junior has come up with three interceptions in three games as a result of that switch. In fact, even though King hasn’t really been starting (he’s listed as an ‘OR’ with Darren Gardenhire), he’s made the most of his opportunities and at 6-foot-3 has used all of his length to his advantage. In fact, King’s three interceptions matches the most of any Husky in 2014, Marcus Peters - and we all know how Peters is doing right now in the NFL. There’s no doubt King will be a vital cog to keep the Huskies’ secondary ticking. 

“I think there’s been a lot of football learned by a lot of people tese three weeks,” Petersen said post-game Saturday. “I keep saying, I’m really anxious to see where we are three weeks from now as well.”

And that just might be the biggest thing we’ve learned about the Huskies so far through their ‘pre-season’; this team is growing by leaps and bounds with every game experience. While they may struggle from time to time because of their youth, they are also taking their lessons to heart and should be that much better by the time they make it to October.


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