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UWDP's Washington Huskies Mailbag: Week 9

You got Questions. We got Answers.

There aren't a lot of words left to describe the beating that Washington took at the hands of Oregon last weekend.  So, let's not try to create any more.  On with the questions.

MisterWaterFallin asks:
With the recruiting success on the basketball side of the school, should we expect to see this positively impact the football program as well? There aren't many institutions that field elite basketball and football teams at the same time, but I can't help but think that this would be a positive for both programs.

Brad: My initial thought was just to say "No, it won't really matter," but it can't hurt.  With the advent of social media, the number of guys that play both sports in high school, and the rise in the offseason camps and leagues for both sports, it's possible that a star basketball player and a star football player from different areas could get to know each other and decide that they want to go to the same school.  The odds of that happening, as well as the frequency of it happening, are both pretty low, though.  As you mention, there are very few schools that are consistently good in both sports, and the success of one has no real impact on the other.  The success of either is good for the University of Washington, and that's probably the most you can ask for.

Andrew M Smith asks:
Looking at the rest of the schedule, how many wins do you think the dawgs can get?

Chris:  I'll most likely be revisiting the Gekko Files predictions in the next week or so.  (You may revisit those now, if you'd like).  As things stand, I don't really see any reason to take UW off the pace that I had originally set for them when I made the projection back in August.  I think that there are five more wins on the UW Pac 12 schedule against one more loss.  Where those come?  Well, that's anybody's guess.

I suppose that there is a bigger point to this question that ought to be addressed.  While I think that most fans are really disappointed by the Oregon result, it is pretty well understood that few people really expected anything more than a 1-2 conference record at this point.  The consternation about how poorly the team has played relative to expectations is surely a factor that may cause you to throttle down your outlook.

On the flip side, keep in mind that this staff hasn't yet fired all of its bullets.  Riva could still come back healthy.  The QB situation could improve (either by switch or by learning curve).  The TEs could become more of a factor as they become more integrated.  The entire team could continue to get better at executing their new system such that more wrinkles can be added.  With the baseline talent on hand, there isn't any reason to think that we've hit some plateau and that there is no more runway to the season.  Quite the opposite.

BumRap asks:
There has been lots of criticism of Jonathan Smith's new offense. What has changed so dramatically in scheme from last year such that everybody on offense seems to be struggling to pick it up this deep into the season?

Brad: I don't think the scheme is all that substantially different.  Both the 2013 and the 2014 use a significant amount of zone read looks in the running game, and heavily utilize the short passing game.  The biggest differences seem more to be with play calling and execution, and the loss of Keith Price and Bishop Sankey.

Although the running attack has struggled against better competition, I think that Smith has a tendency to give up on it a little too quickly.  And whether it's by design, or the inability to make it work, the mid-range passing attack is non-existent in this offense.  There's nothing being done to keep a defense from simply crowding the line to attack the run and minimize the gains in the short passing attack.

Another issue is the pace of the offense.  More than one coach that successfully runs an up-tempo attack has said it's absolutely critical to fully buy in to playing as fast as possible, from practices to the games.  Since we don't get any practice information, it's not really possible to know how the team operates Monday through Friday.  But the tempo in games is disjointed.

The biggest factor right now is that the 2014 Huskies simply don't have the talent at quarterback, running back, and receiver that they did in 2013.  Smith doesn't appear to be doing the best job to mitigate that, and he absolutely has to find a way to get the ball down the field in the passing game.  But I'm not convinced he's the biggest problem with the offense.

ElvisLovesUW comments:
My diagnosis of last weekend:  running toward your own goal line; happy feet; wild out of control tackling; dropped passes (reception or interception); penalties; turnovers. Now how do we fix this?
1) one major tailback such as Dante Cooper for 25+ carries. (OL becomes familiar with his style)
2) QB has two or more options on each play; let him loose in decision making (right or wrong; no indecision) IT factor and grit follow.
3) Tackling: eyes on belly button/center of gravity. Less likely for arm tackle or being juked out.
4) Get everyone involved, TE, WR, RB, QB, OL.
5) Communication and trust builds confidence and success.

Brad: Yes, last weekend wasn't the best effort of the season on either side of the ball.  To your fixes:

1.  I'm not sure Cooper is a 25 carry-a-game back.  If Coleman and Washington aren't available, he might have to be.  But I like the idea of shortening the rotation a little.  I'd love to see one back get the chance to establish a rhythm with the offensive line.

2.  I'm all for the packaged plays.  The Huskies obviously have some of them in their playbook.  And it's not always easy to tell if they aren't running them more than it appears just by their nature.  When Miles runs (as opposed to scrambling), he can be effective.  And one or more of the reads are frequently done pre-snap, so it takes a little off of his plate.  With a less-than-dynamic offensive line, doing more of this is a good strategy.

I'm not sure you can manufacture the "It factor."  I think a guy is either born with it, or he isn't.

3.  Yep.  And wrap up.  Somebody should send Pete Kwiatkowski this excellent video made by Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.

4.  I'm all for getting the tight ends involved.  I'm all for rediscovering Kasen Williams.  But with each passing week, it's becoming more likely that Husky fans need to accept the sad reality that the offense this season just isn't going to be very dynamic.

5.  I don't disagree, but as much as anything, this team needs a big dose of just playing well.

OzDawg asks:
At this point, Coach Pete has not lost a game he is supposed to (a Sark speciality) but he has not won a game he was an underdog in (to give Sark credit he pulled a couple of these off).  Which of the remaining games do you see this year's team losing and winning that fits those descriptions?

Chris:  I may be the only guy still holding this position, but I'm befuddled as to why UW is showing as a home dog to ASU this weekend.  I get that the UW suffered a blowout to a team that most thought they were ready to compete with, but ASU has suffered a worse blow out - at home - to a decidedly worse team.

The "eyeball test" tells me that ASU is probably a lesser team on a position by position matchup basis but that they are further along (obviously) in their ability to execute their schemes - particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  This really could be a toss up.  Thus, I think that CP has a 50/50 chance to get one of those wins that you ask about this weekend versus ASU.

As for the remainder of the schedule, the biggest trap game left for them could well be WSU.  On the flip side, I think I speak for many when I say that we seem to have a matchup advantage against UCLA, though I expect them to come into Montlake as a road favorite.

RockDawg asks:
How many teams in Div 1 have more sacks then My boys Danny and machine gun Kikaha-haha-ha?

Kirk: Not many - Kikaha (12.5) and Shelton (7.5) have combined for 20 sacks so far on the year.  Checking the always handy site, I see that only 23 teams have more sacks than our dynamic duo, topped by Utah with 33.  Incidentally, stud Ute DE Nate Orchard has 10.5 on the season to rank #2 behind Kikaha.

Kirk in Kent, WA asks:
How will UWs defensive gameplan change if Taylor Kelly is in at QB vs. Mike Bercovici?

Kirk: Both Chris Petersen and Pete Kwiatkowski have been asked this question and they both insist that they don't see ASU's offense changing based off of which of those two is at QB.  I think that's mostly correct, though I think it's also clear that Bercovici isn't nearly as comfortable - nor as effective - as Kelly at running the ball.  I don't think the scheme necessarily changes because the base concepts of what ASU does is still the same - it's just a matter of emphasis, with the Sun Devils leaning more on the passing game with Kelly out.  I also wouldn't be surprised if the edge defenders have taken note of Bercovici's tendencies on film and might be more inclined to bite inside toward the RB on the zone-read plays.