Several weeks ago as the Huskies went into their BYE week, I wrote an editorial outlining three recommendations for getting Husky football on track for a strong finish. You can find that piece right here.
The three recommendations in short form were:
- Build around the strengths of Defense and Special Teams
- Get Shaq utilized in all three phases of the game
- Implement the "Kasen Rule" - in other words, utilize your big receiver to get easy passes and YAC
Dr. Gekko's quick fix plan as only partially followed and, not surprisingly, the patient enters the last third of the season with precious few goals left to play for. The Pac 12 North is far out of reach. Any notion of a "signature win" over a conference power is long past. Even the idea of stringing together meaningful wins over winning programs is not realistic.
In short, this is a team that has squandered the present and, in doing so, laid waste to the final years of a number of Husky greats.
The here and now is not totally meaningless, however. The Huskies do still have an opportunity to close the season strong, to demonstrate an ability to at least "hold serve" over last season and to earn those extra 15 bowl practices that are so valuable for a rebuilding program.
"Rebuilding program". That is what we are, by the way.
With the idea that there is still some meaning left in this season but that the future is what is at stake, I've decided to seek a second opinion from myself and issue a new prescription for Husky Football.
Step 1 - Build on Your Strengths of Defense and Special Teams
Yeah, I know, the same as the first prescription. Sort of.
If you go back to the middle of the season, one thing that stood out was how well some of the young guys - namely Sidney Jones, Keishawn Bierria and Budda Baker, were playing. One key element to their upward trajectory was the cover that they received from the huge contributions made by the established stars around them like Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and Marcus Peters. Peters, of course, is gone. But the rest of those stars remain and can still be a factor for those young players.
Since the name of the game at this stage of the season is developing your young talent, I say build on your strength and let that talent grow under the tutelage of some of these superstars. This means putting Shaq back on defense full time, getting aggressive about your playing rotations while ensuring that at least two your stars are always on the field and playing John Ross as a full time CB.
Bend don't break has been successful for parts of the year. But it is time to move on and to help the pups grow up. It is time to load these kids up with all sorts of stretch assignments so they can earn some bankable reps and acquire some swagger. Put the young DBs on islands. Install some exotic blitzes. Experiment with different personnel groupings. But do it all under the guidance of your veterans so that the odds of success are a little higher and the lessons learned are a little more meaningful.
Step 2 - Play John Ross on Defense
I get that a number of people are mystified as to why John Ross isn't getting touches. How is it possible that the man who leads the FBS in 50+ yard touchdowns can go two or three games with nary a sniff? It seems implausible that such a weapon can be so trivialized in agame plan.
If you are one of those critics asking any of those questions, know that you are neither alone nor misguided.
However, the more technically astute amongst you long ago realized that John Ross has limitations as a receiver. First, he can't run routes. This isn't to say he's not precise, but he is easily knocked off his line by defenders. Second, he's not a good blocker. I say this with hesitation as he seems to be a willing blocker. It just doesn't appear that he is effective and, as such, he can't always be on the field when you want to preserve the option to run the ball. Finally, he's not a guy who is going to break tackles. This limits your flexibility on the types of routes you can use him on.
As a CB, though, Ross has serious potential. He is lightning quick. He's got pure closing speed. And, importantly, he's got long arms for his body size. Couple that with a very competitive spirit and you have the makings of a guy who could be a terror on defense as well as a part-time contributor on offense.
This is a move that has to happen and, apparently, is happening. Ross on offense is a huge weapon. However, he also plays the same position as Kendyl Taylor and Jaydon Mickens - two guys who have stickier hands and more versatility over the middle. Moving Ross now is a way to put more weapons in more positions for success.
I know that this will be an unpopular opinion. However, I have noted in previous editorial that I think the best path forward for Husky football is to have a determined and unrelenting commitment to putting your best athletes on defense, even if it hampers the offense. To do so fits our culture, our playing environment and our role in our division. Ross at CB is consistent with that strategy and given what a stellar team guy he appears to be, I think he'd make the move willingly.
Step 3 - Integrate Two TE Sets into the Base Offense
This last step might be the most difficult, but something that should be looked at. One of the healthiest position groupings on the team is the TE rotation of Josh Perkins, Darrell Daniels, David Ajamu and Michael Hartvigson. One of the most successful additions to the offense in the past few weeks has been the simple hitch route or quick slant to a TE (usually Perkins) up the middle. One of the most important elements of the Chris Petersen offense is creating confusion and numbers advantages for blockers against defenders.
An extra TE on the field can take advantage of all of these trends and aspects of the game.
I realize that implementing new formations - assuming that two TE sets aren't commonly worked in practice - can be difficult this late in the season. However, the Huskies have some weapons here and a QB in Cyler Miles who could benefit from receiving options that don't necessarily need to create separation in order to catch a pass. The presence of an extra TE also replaces one blocking WR with a bigger body when trying to establish the run game for guys like Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington.
Look, I know it isn't sexy and it isn't likely to blow tops off of defenses. However, this offense needs the opportunity to learn efficiency, pound on some defenders and establish a running game with Shaq staying on the defensive side. I say, "give the big guys a chance" and let's see if we can't get Cyler and this offense into an efficient rhythm.
That's my three step prescription for closing out the season strong, gaining bowl eligibility, and setting the Huskies up for a strong off-season. Remember, Dawgs, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Preferably purple Kool-Aid.