So, I've been paying attention to a lot of the chatter that has been getting passed along in the various comment sections and threads hosted by this blog. Needless to say, there have been quite a few people that have passed along their thoughts on the state of Husky football. To tally the opinions of so many respondents is usually a daunting task. Fortunately for me, the sentiments tend to fall in a narrow range lying between "they suck" to "I'm done with this crap".
The more hearty amongst you have been rather forthcoming in your recommendations on how to right the ship during this week's BYE. Again, you've done me the favor of keeping those recommendations within a pretty narrow range. Your feedback tends to overwhemingly fall somewhere between "Can the OC and bring in Beau Baldwin or Doug Nussmeier" and "bench that 'poser' Quarterback with the 'noodle arm' who has 'no redeeming qualities'". All of those are direct quotes, by the way.
Charming. No wonder Chris Petersen loves fan blogs so much.
While firing the OC is always fun, it is highly impractical in the middle of the season. And, while I recognize that the most popular player on a struggling team is the backup quarterback - in particular the backup whom nobody has actually ever seen throw the ball in a game - I think we can agree that the benching of Cyler Miles is not imminent. If the example that Michigan has set by benching Devin Gardner and then reinstating him after one game is any kind of precedent, it could be a good bet that the benching of Cyler Miles may not even be on the distant horizon.
So that leaves us with the question as to what to do with this BYE week. The Huskies, despite a 4-1 record, are a team on the ropes and in desperate need of some therapy. Don't worry, Dawgs. I've got what you need right here ... Gekko's 3-steps to Success.
You like that? It's got a certain ring to it, don't you think? Maybe I can bottle it and get Brad to distribute it for me. He's compromised his integrity over lesser ventures, to be sure.
Step 1 - Build on Your Strengths... Defense and Kicking
Lost in all of the hullabaloo regarding the lethargic output from the Husky offense is the rather long list of things that are going well for the Huskies. When you track the "learning curve" of the team from what they presented in Week 1 against Hawaii to what they showed against a much more stout Stanford team, there a number of positives that shouldn't go unnoticed and upon which a winning strategy can be built.
For starters, the defensive line is truly an elite unit. Even last weekend when the Huskies only registered a single sack, the unit shined. Danny Shelton was as stout as ever in taking on double teams and in collapsing the interior of the pocket. Kevin Hogan never had the ability to step into a throw and go deep. The ends played relatively well - in particular Hau'oli Kikaha who really did a nice job in challenging Stanford's best OL Andrus Peat. This unit is playing at a high level and should be counted on to deliver stops when the Husky coaching staff is doing their in-game calculus.
The play of the secondary should not be overlooked. From the low point in Week 2 to now, this unit has progressed at a phenomenal rate. The Cardinal, who really count on a deep passing game to gash their opponents, only had one completion over 25 yards and that was on a play in which Budda Baker mistakenly left his zone. Besides that, nobody was really able to get past the net of the secondary and bust that unit. The d-line certainly had something to do with that. However, we need to give credit to Marcus Peters, Baker and Sidney Jones. They've really stepped up.
Finally, the kicking game can't be overlooked. While the kickoffs could stand some improvement, nobody can really debate the effectiveness of the punting or placekicking. These assets have been performing at the upper-tier of the conference and should be viewed as strengths to build on. If you accept that field position is strongly correlated with successful outcomes, then playing to the strength of the kicking game should be encouraged.
Taken together, these strengths become part of the identity of the team. This means that the staff should focus their upcoming game plans on a "tough guy" model: extending their turnover margin advantage (#4 in the nation), playing the field position game, being patient on offense and playing aggressive but not overly risky defense. Granted, it is something more akin to Stanford's model then Oregon's, but it is a model that can win and one that the Husky staff would do well to emphasize over the BYE week.
Step 2 - More Shaq, please.
Step 1 is a generalized recommendation. The next step in our BYE week prescription is a bit more precise. If you were paying close attention to last weekend's game, you probably noted that Shaq Thompson showed up in a variety of spots. At running back, at OLB, on special teams and, yup, at strong safety.
Shaq ... a safety ... go figure (yeah, I'm looking at you OneWoodWacker).
Shaq has had a few missteps of his own this season - for example, what exactly was he looking at while Trevor Walker was getting trucked by Ty Montgomery?
Despite this, there can be little doubt that he is the most versatile, and most potent, playmaker that the Huskies have (with all due respect to John Ross).
If you want to maximize your potential to win, Shaq is going to have to get fully deployed. This means putting him in on offense with the full playbook "turned on". This means making sure that not a single special teams units rolls out onto the field without him being on it. And, yes, this means moving him to Strong Safety for a majority of the defensive stats.
I'm serious. All Shaq, all the time.
I wasn't really on the "Shaq to Safety" train to start the season. But, I can see it now. Our defense is at its absolute best when Shaq and Budda are the safeties, Feeney is in there as at OLB and Cory Littleton is rotating in at BUCK with Kikaha moving down to end (though, I'm totally fine with opportunistic rotations of Littleton and the Hudsons as long Kikaha stays on the field). When you look ahead to our next several opponents - Cal, Oregon and ASU - you see teams that are really going to stretch out the middle of your defense and beat you by forcing you into mental mistakes and assignment breakdowns. Shaq at safety maximizes our versatility in defending an up-tempo attack and maximizes our on-the-field experience level (and, hopefully, minimizes our assignment mistakes).
This is a position change that really needs to be emphasized and worked out this week. This needs to happen.
Step 3 - Implement the "Kasen Rule"
The last step in my BYE week Rx deals with the most grating issue that our offense has presented in the first five weeks: the dramatic under-utilization of Kasen Williams in the Jonathan Smith offense. We can dicker and debate all day long as to why Kasen has barely seen the football over the course of the first third of the season. Injury, quarterback, play-calling ... whatever. The bottom line is that the Husky offense is going to have a difficult time generating big plays if the receivers and backs aren't able to generate yards after contact. And, even with a gimpy wheel, there isn't a single Husky ball-toter who can break more tackles then Kasen Williams. Not ... a ... single ...one.
To my eye, Kasen has actually been a pretty important part of what Smith and Petersen have been trying to do. In addition to being the "deep guy" who is sent on missions seeking out pass interference calls, he is used extensively as a perimeter blocker in an attempt to spring our explosive jitterbugs like John Ross and Jaydon Mickens. I get it. Kasen is an excellent perimeter blocker. At full strength, you might even call him elite. He's a bad man and I get why the coaches want to leverage that.
Still, we need to make the choice to sacrifice his blocking and allow him the opportunity to take some of those short passes and screens and try to make something happen. If I'm sitting in Smith's shoes, I'd implement "the Kasen rule" this BYE week. Going forward, I'd play Kasen in a true flanker role and whenever the defense shows man coverage with Kasen getting one on one attention, I'd have the QB call an audible. A CB playing 5-10 yards off Kasen results in a one-step screen pass. A CB in press results in a hitch or double move that allows Kasen to use his physical skills to create some separation. Either way, I'm getting Kasen the ball with the idea that he can break a tackle and generate a few big plays.
If you want a reminder of what Kasen can do in the short passing game, I point you to Stanford, 2012. Enjoy this highlight montage, in particular what happens around the 3:20 mark.
The Kasen Rule needs to go into effect immediately and evaluated against Cal, Oregon and ASU - teams that all lack size at the CB position. If we can get Kasen going, great. We stick with it. If not, then we adjust again but without any regrets about not giving one of our highest potential play makers the opportunity to make some plays for his team.
This is not negotiable. Jonathan Smith needs to make this happen this week.
So, there you have it. My 3-step prescription for surviving the remainder of the season. And I got through it without harping on noodle-armed quarterbacks with wonky throwing motions and jumpy kangaroo feet. I'd love to hear what ideas you have on what the Husky coaching staff should be focusing (other than benching the QB - if you want to discuss that, take that discussion over here). Leave your comments below.