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Your Questions Answered! UWDP Mailbag Week 10

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Week 10, Dawgs. And we still have questions to answer.

Stephen Lam

Nothing like a home loss to create some tension in the weekly UWDP Mailbag.  Husky fans are feeling punchy this week.  Methinks that some are approaching DefCon1 and ready to take desperate action.

Take your finger off the trigger, Dawg fans, and let the smooth responses from Brad, Kirk and Chris assuage your pyromaniacal tendencies.

Week 10 Mailbag

CostaRica Dawg:
Did Chris Petersen (while head coach at Boise St.) ever let an assistant go?

Chris:  It isn't as easy as you think to research coach "firings" given the fact many coaching changes that are perceived as "voluntary" in nature are often mutual partings.  To get the best answer possible, I pinged our Drew Roberts over at the Boise State site, One Bronco Nation Under God, to see what he knew.  Here is what he said:

"None are coming to mind off-hand. Almost all left of own volition. He ran cover for Prince for two years and insisted he wasn't a problem, so I'm not sure Smith will get the bum's rush. Of course, it would seem he's under a tad bit more pressure in Seattle, so you never know."

The closest that we've seen to Petersen letting go of an assistant was his decision to not offer his Offensive Coordinator from a year ago, Robert Prince, a position on his UW staff.  That isn't to say that others were not encouraged to move on, but Petersen is very private and not one prone to throwing others under the bus.  If that happened, we'd never know it.

Applying the spirit of this question to the current situation, it would be difficult for me to believe that the CEO of our program doesn't hold his staff accountable for doing their job.  If Smith is failing in the eyes of Coach Petersen, then I expect the situation will be dealt with through increased role sharing, role reassignment or - at worst - a dismissal.

Ezdawg asks:

Is the Pac 12 officiating really that bad or am I missing something?

Brad: It's really that bad.  And it's so broken right now that the former head of officials Tony Cornette resigned midseason.  As much as Chris might think that Larry Scott's every waking moment needs to be spent getting the Pac 12 Network on DirecTV, fixing the officiating needs to be his primary job.  It's a joke, and it's hurting the reputation of the conference.

Benno asks:
Talk me off the ledge. What are some positives about the offense? What can we look forward to for the rest of the year and into next year? Are we being too pessimistic about it after the monsoon weather conditions and a first time starting QB last Saturday?

Chris:  It is hard to find many positives to pinpoint given the dearth of results that we've seen from the Huskies on that side of the ball.  However, I do get a sense that a large portion of the fanbase is under the assumption that the Huskies offense "is what it is" at this point in the season.  Given the fact that this Husky offense is under a complete overhaul from something that was simple and that relied upon timing / athleticism to one that is complicated and relies more on scheme / execution, I think that this is poor assumption.

Over the past few weeks, I've seen some positive developments.  The OLine play is getting better.  In particular, pass protection and blitz pickup have improved notably.  Run blocking is still hit or miss, but part of me believes that what we saw in the run game versus ASU was as much about the line as it was about Shaq and Coop.  Finally, I do think Cyler's trajectory is still showing upward, a sentiment that Coach Petersen has reiterated a few times now.

The other thing that I'd say is that it is easy to try to boil the problems on offense down to a single factor like "Cyler's arm strength" or "Troy's inexperience" or "Lindy's inaccuracy".  I don't buy any of that.  What I see is a team that is lacking in timing and in precision on assignments.  These aren't "talent" issues.  These are experience and reps issues.  The underlying talent of this team is being held back by their tentativeness in executing the playbook.  This can still and should still improve as the season trods on.

Lamonte Johnson comments:
I predicted we would win three conference games. We still might, Colorado and Oregon State. No chance against the Cougs.

Chris:  You might still be right.  We'll have to see. Let me ask you this:  Say the Huskies win this weekend against Colorado and then one of their next couple after that.  If UW goes to Pullman with three wins already, will you be rooting for UW to lose the Apple Cup in order to claim the title of "Best Forecaster" or will you throw your vanity into the wind and pull for a UW victory on the frozen tundra of the Palouse?

Green Barf Bag asks:

Can anybody on your staff recall a time when a Husky offense has declined so precipitously from one year to the next? Hard to believe that this was a record-setting offense just one year ago. Is Sark that much better an offensive coordinator than Jonathan Smith?

Brad: It's not as simple as just putting the blame on the coaches.  Gone from the 2013 season are one of the most efficient and productive quarterbacks in Husky history in Keith Price, a record-setting running back in Bishop Sankey, a great tight end in Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, and a productive outside receiver in Kevin Smith.  Add to that the near-disappearance of Kasen Williams this season (and as much as I fault the coaching staff's inability to get him involved, I also think that he isn't 100% right now), and this is simply a different team that it was last year.

The question that we can't answer is what the team would look like if those guys were still around.  It's entirely possible that if they were, Jonathan Smith would look like an offensive mastermind on the fast track to his own head coaching gig.  And if Sarkisian was still here without those guys, his detractors from seasons past might already have had their heads explode.

I'm not impressed with Smith right now, but it's tough to know A. if Chris Petersen is, and B. how much of what we're seeing with offensive design and play calling is actually on Smith, and how much of it is Petersen's influence.  I have a tough time believing a coach like Petersen would accept a job like Washington's, and then turn the full reigns of the offense over to a guy that has next to zero experience as a coordinator.  Ultimately, it's Petersen's job to fix.  We'll see what that means the rest of this season and next offseason.

CaliforniaHusky asks:
Big question for next year will be the replacements for the defensive stalwarts of this year? How does it look you think ? So even if the offense gets better the defense other than secondary will be interesting.

Chris:  The theme of "wasting away the last years of Shaq, Peters, Shelton, Timu and Kikaha" is a refrain that has been repeated liberally throughout the bowels of this blog.  And, while it is very painful to lose stars of that caliber (though Shaq and Peters have another year of eligibility), I'm not ready to concede that the defense will be "worse" next year.

The first thing we have to agree upon is that a "different" identity doesn't mean "worse" identity.  The strength of this year's D is the pass rush generated by that D-Line.  "Strong pass rushers" will not be next year's identity.  However, it is possible that next year's DLine will be more balanced than this one with guys like JoJo Mathis, Will Dissly and Elijah Qualls all bringing some new things to the table - particularly in run support.

I also think that there is much reason to believe that the back end can be even more effective in 2015.  Budda Baker is already flashing super star potential and could really pop by this time next year.  Our other young DBs are also getting great experience.  Sidney Jones and Kevin King both look like they could be real factors next year.  The LBs - especially Travis Feeney, Cory Littlleton, and Keishawn Bierria - all look great and are getting significant reps in live games this year.

I'm most concerned about replacing Timu mostly for his leadership and the role he plays keeping people organized when opposing offenses turn up the tempo.  I don't know who will replace that aspect of leadership - Baker?  Azeem Victor? It'll be most interesting to see who emerges as the field general and traffic controller come next season.

Jon asks:

It seems to me there is nothing going on in the passing game in the intermediate middle 10-20 yards down field, like the deep dig route. Is that a product of the offense not utilizing that area or the QBs not having the arm to get it there? It seems with guys like Mickens, Ross, and even Campbell, them running free over the middle to catch and get YAC, the UW passing offense would improve quite a bit.

Brad: There's probably a little bit of a lot of things going on here.  Those are some of the most difficult throws to make (especially what Hugh Millen calls "the big boy out route" ) as far as the combination of timing, accuracy, and arm strength required.  The passing game has struggled with all of those aspects at the QB position.  There's also not a lot of it designed (or at least called, which may relate to the QB issues) into the offense right now - the Husky passing game has mostly being mostly been lateral, with an occasional shot down the field of the arcing, rainbow variety.

What was really interesting last Saturday and the last quarter against Oregon with Troy Williams at QB was how much of the passing game was built around the short middle of the field versus the edges of the field with Miles.  I don't know if it was by design or execution, but those little dump-offs are a great way to keep the linebackers engaged in the passing game and keep them from simply collapsing on the run.  I hope we see more of that this weekend.

Chris Bonneu comments:
Yeah, I feel bad for Mike Riley. Coach Riley seems to really like coaching in Corvallis but his Beavers are struggling I think due in large part to Phil "Moneybags" Knight and his contributions to Yuck football. Which means that Mike Riley might get run out of Corvallis sooner rather than later. Which is too bad 'cause anybody who knows what OSU Beaver football was like before Mike Riley showed up knows that it was like Colorado or WSU football is right now, but worse. MUCH worse.

Chris:  Thanks for the comment, Chris.  Nice name, too.

Your comments are in relation to what I wrote in the Power Rankings concerning the situation that Mike Riley might be facing in Corvallis very soon.  It raises questions about leadership and about optimal program management in what is clearly a new era of college football.  Would OSU be better off replacing an "old school" guy like Mike Riley, a man who is clearly a beacon in the community and fully committed to the OSU program, with a "new school" who might come in, take OSU's money, make an impact and then seek out brighter lights after having a run of success?

I can't answer that definitively.  Every fan has to make his own choice on that.  However, my personal preference is that you are always better off having employees who are more passionate about your business/school/program than they are about their own career trajectory.  Mike Riley is like Lorenzo Romar.  Either man, as long as they maintain that passion and put in the work, have earned a certain level of reverence and an extremely long leash.

This isn't just a sentimental notion. There is a lot to be said for both long-term continuity (which is as much a part of Oregon's rise as Phil Knight's money) and the impact that having that kind of fully-steeped leadership has in drawing talent to places that are otherwise difficult to recruit to.  I think Riley shows resilience every year.  He breeds toughness and commitment in his program.  He's an asset for all of the Pac 12 and I hope he stays at OSU for a long time.

Ozdawg asks:

I recognise that this is purely hypothetical, but do you believe Petersen actually thinks OC Smith is doing a good job or was that just fluff for the press? At what point does he have to step in and take the play calling duties away?

Brad: I believe that Chris Petersen thinks Jonathan Smith is trying as hard as he can to be a good offensive coordinator.  But even with the personnel losses, I have a tough time believing that Petersen thinks Smith is doing a good job, simply by looking at the results.  I'd also guess that Petersen blames himself more than he ever would Smith, because that's just the kind of person he is.

There was probably some fluff in that comment at his press conference Monday.  But no matter what he actually thinks, it's absolutely the right thing to say publicly.  It's less an "attaboy" for Smith than it is for the consumption of his players - it's critical that they remain confident in their coach, and in the design of the offense.  The endorsement certainly doesn't mean things won't shift the rest of this season, or that Smith's job is secure, but in the middle of the battle, you can't cut Smith's legs out from under him unless you plan to fire him right then and there.

If a change in responsibilities is made during the course of this season, I doubt we're going to hear much about it.  Even though I don't think Petersen will start calling the plays himself full-time, he might take a more active role in things behind the scenes.

zacobw says:

biggest frustration with the ASU game... In a game when you can't throw why not use the QB you won't let throw but who can move a pile. A Lindquist/Thompson backfield would have changed that game. Yeah ASU would have loaded up the box but both Jeff/Shaq can move piles and don't go down one on one. That would have truly made the read option dangerous.

Finally if you aren't going to let Jeff Lindquist play QB why not give him reps at Tail Back. He seems a lot like a guy that played at Stanford Tobby Gerheart. Just saying...

Brad: There's certainly some logic in putting the best runner in at QB if you don't have the confidence or ability to throw the ball.  Part of the issue might have been that Thompson probably isn't that comfortable with the zone-read exchange, with so little time practicing as a running back.  That certainly doesn't mean you can't run the look, but with a predetermined hand off or quarterback run, but that loses a little of the effectiveness of the play.  For now, we'll just have to take Petersen at his word - that the team felt confident with Williams, and the game plan they had in place for the week.

I'm not sure Lindquist has the speed or quickness to play tailback.  It's not necessarily an easy transition, either.  Even though Lindquist is a running QB, what he does from that position is quite a bit different than running the ball out of the tailback spot.  But the QB situation is going to be interesting to watch this offseason - if no one transfers or switches positions, there'll be five of them on the roster all looking for reps this spring.  That's too many.

Atomic Dawg asks:

Who is the three center and presumably next year's starter?

Brad: The Huskies signed Dane Crane a couple of years ago, who was a highly-rated center coming out of high school.  He'll likely get a look this spring.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if other interior linemen such as Siosifa Tufunga, Cory Fuavai, Andrew Kirkland, maybe even Shane Brostek, get a look this spring.  It's a pretty fluid position after Tanigawa and Criste graduate following the season.

Ben Nice asks:
Is Jake Browning going to be good enough to start next year?

Chris:  It doesn't take too much guesswork here to conclude that Ben is not feeling very nice when it comes to our current stable of four scholarship QBs all of whom return in 2015.

I wouldn't advise anybody to expect Jake Browning to step in and become a starter in 2015.  Though he is expected to enroll at UW in January, thus becoming eligible for spring ball, there are a number of factors working against him.  First, the struggles of the current QB roster hint at how hard it is to pick up CP's offense.  It kind of reminds me as to why Sark made the change in 2013 from a complicated, multiple formation playbook to one that was more simple.  Coaching those kinds of offenses is difficult and it takes a long time for players to really command it.  Second, I think CP simply prefers to red-shirt young players to the extent that he can.  Sometimes numbers don't allow for it, but we'll have four if not five scholarship QBs on next year's roster.  That is a lot of reps that a true freshman has to overcome to convince the staff it is worth burning a red-shirt for.

ElvisLovesUW comments:
The UW football team was either tied or ahead at one point in every game. So shouldn't we focus on how to close out a game for a win (positive) rather than to seek blame for a loss. (negative)

Chris:  Well, yeah.  But what fun would that be?  We are sports fans and we are inherently irrational.  It is our enduring charm and it is what ensures that our wives leave us alone when the game is on.  Am I right?