This is the 15th entry in an ongoing series between Ryan Priest and Alex Hyres. Each week during the season, we'll look at the state of the Husky football program, break down the major story lines surrounding the team, and give predictions for the games. Up this week is Oregon State. Our previous posts are here: Wrapping up fall camp, Hawaii (Week One), Hawaii (Week Two), Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State, Stanford, Bye Week, Cal, Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, Arizona.
Alex: Against Arizona this past weekend, the Huskies exceeded my expectations. Buttressed by a career day from Dwayne Washington, the offense moved the ball consistently throughout the game. Meanwhile, thanks to the young secondary's best performance of the season, the defense dominated the Arizona offense. A strong performance from the offense and defense and an average performance from the special teams provided a chance for the Huskies to win and become bowl-eligible. And they blew it.
Colin Tanigawa turned the most fundamental play in football, the center snap, into a turnover waiting to happen. Tanigawa was not alone in creating turnovers; Cyler Miles and Deontae Cooper also collaborated in providing extra opportunities for the Wildcats' offense. As if the turnovers weren't enough to keep the Wildcats in the game, the Huskies drew penalty after penalty after penalty. While some penalties were questionable—the holding call against Perkins on Cooper's rushing touchdown comes to mind—other penalties were warranted. Either the coaching staff needs to teach open-field blocking differently or stop blocking altogether on kick and punt return because the Huskies seem to receive a penalty on half their returns.
Despite keeping Arizona in the game with turnovers and penalties, the Huskies held victory in their palms. And then they dropped the ball. As in, they literally dropped the ball onto the turf and gave Arizona another chance to win. Others have already adequately shown how the Huskies should have managed the clock, so I won't belabor the point here. Through two especially questionable calls—the fake punt against Stanford and the clock management against Arizona—Petersen has ended his honeymoon stage earlier than any other recent Husky coach besides Keith Gilbertson.
Unfortunately, the game's end against Arizona has overshadowed solid performances from a few players on both sides of the ball. Whose performance were you more impressed with, Sidney Jones or Dwayne Washington?
Ryan: Dwayne deserves every heaping bit of praise that is thrown his way for racking up his second career 100-yard game, but I came away from this game with a distinct impression that Sidney Jones is going to be the next great Washington cornerback.
That's not to say that Jones played flawlessly—quite the opposite, in fact. After letting Samajie Grant run past him to connect on a 57-yard pass from Anu Solomon in the first quarter, Jones was again beaten by his receiver, and was saved only by Anu Solomon's overthrown ball.
Many true freshmen who allow that kind of completion will shrink away from adversity, but Jones showed his mental toughness by rebounding and posting the best production of his young career by securing two interceptions, including one that appeared to salt the game away before Deontae Cooper's untimely fumble. There's every reason to think that he'll become Washington's next shutdown cornerback after he gets the chance to spend the next couple of years in the weight and film rooms.
Unfortunately, the good things that the Huskies did count as little more than a moral victory, and as we both know, those don't count for much in the Pac-12. While many fans have voiced their frustration that Deontae Cooper was put into a position to fumble instead of having Cyler simply take a knee, I understand why the coaching staff wanted to gain another set of downs before committing to that particular phase of the end game. After all, Coop has been as sure-handed a running back as Washington's had this year, and the chances of him making a costly fumble were miniscule at best. Unfortunately for the Dawgs, those miniscule odds came to pass.
My gripe with the coaching staff, rather, comes from Petersen's refusal to take a timeout (the Dawgs had all three remaining at the time) with about 30 seconds left on the clock before Arizona attempted their game-winning field goal. That was a pure case of Petersen failing football coaching 101: worst-case scenario, UW is down by one point and has 30 seconds and two timeouts to get into field goal range. That's not quite an eternity in college football, but it's close to it. Petersen's lack of understanding of how to handle that situation was astonishing, especially for a two-time Bear Bryant Award winner. More than anything else that contributed to Saturday's loss, his handling of that final sequence makes me worry about his ability to coach effectively.
Back to Saturday's encouraging developments: We finally got to see the reemergence of Kasen Williams, whose five catches led the team. What do you think Kasen's presence will mean for an offense that seemed to finally get into gear last weekend?
Alex: Against one of the better defenses in the Pac-12, the Husky offense consistently produced throughout the game utilizing a balanced attack. Dwayne Washington's rushing production was a welcome addition to the offense, as was the rediscovery of the team's veteran receivers.
Jaydon Mickens—the leading receiver from last year's team—and Kasen Williams—the No. 1 receiver from last year's team before he suffered a season-ending injury—had seemingly disappeared from the offensive game plan in the past few weeks. While Mickens' lack of production is more difficult to explain, many have attributed Williams' lack of production to last year's injury. In addition to contributing in the running game as blockers, Mickens and Williams made a significant impact in the passing game.
In the first quarter, Cyler Miles hit Mickens in stride on a quick slant that resulted in a 46-yard gain. Mickens continued to produce throughout the game, including a catch for 12 yards and a first-down, and he finished with 69 yards on four catches. Meanwhile, Kasen was targeted throughout the game and used his large frame to carve out space in the zones of Arizona's defenders, which allowed him to finish with 39 yards on five catches. Compared to their production in previous years, those numbers may seem pedestrian, but even being targeted in the passing game is an improvement.
For the Huskies to achieve bowl-eligibility, the offense must continue to find ways of involving Jaydon Mickens and Kasen Williams. There is no excuse for failing to involve Mickens; despite a few drops throughout his career, he has been very reliable, especially on third down. While Williams may have lost a step due to his injury, he is still a big physical target with good hands. If the Huskies are going to continue their success on offense, Mickens and Williams must be part of the plan.
Sean Mannion is the Beaver's best player and a future NFL quarterback. How do you envision the Huskies keeping him in check?
Ryan: Sean Mannion is that rarest of college quarterbacks: The tall, immobile pure drop-back passer. In addition, he's protected by arguably the most porous offensive line in the Pac-12. Against a front seven like Washington's, that's a recipe for disaster.
Last season, the Beavers allowed 25 sacks in 13 games. This year, they're up to 30 in 10 games. There's a multitude of reasons for the team's regression, but a major one worth pointing out is that OSU is missing the kind of clear No. 1, Biletnikoff-type receiver that Mike Riley enjoyed having in recent years in the forms of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Without a definitive go-to receiver, Mannion has looked pedestrian this year far more often than his first few seasons in Corvallis.
Of course, Hau'oli Kikaha's health will be key in this matchup. Washington fans saw firsthand how much his absence can affect a game after he left the UCLA matchup with a stinger in the first quarter, and the Dawgs struggled mightily to corral Brett Hundley—himself one of the most sack-prone quarterbacks in college football—for the rest of the evening. Danny Shelton's ability to collapse the pocket from the inside will likewise create opportunities for players like Andrew Hudson and John Timu to make their way into the Beaver backfield.
Of course, Mannion will almost assuredly test Washington's young cornerbacks, who must continue their growth and maturation. Sidney Jones IV in particular made a pair of freshman mistakes last week that resulted in one long pass and a just-barely incomplete ball on the other, but he stepped up and made two picks later in the game, including what should have been the game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter. If Washington's defenders can keep Oregon State's receivers from getting behind them, they should set themselves up well for success.
Prediction time! How do you see Saturday's game shaking out?
Alex: Last year's game against Oregon State was Washington's most complete victory of the season. In the absence of the injured Keith Price, Cyler Miles played an efficient game at quarterback aided by an onslaught of rushing yards by Bishop Sankey, Dwayne Washington, and Deontae Cooper. While I don't expect the Huskies to beat the Beavers into complete submission again, I do expect a convincing victory on Senior Day at Husky Stadium.
Though Sean Mannion possesses an NFL arm, he's throwing the ball to average Pac-12 receivers; therefore, I expect the Beavers will try and shorten the game against the Huskies by running the ball. If the Huskies can handle the Beaver rushing attack with seven defenders in the box, then the Beavers will be forced to throw in less than ideal situations—dropping back in obvious passing downs and dealing with the Hudsons, Kikaha, and Shelton.
The biggest key for the Husky offense is taking care of the ball. Cyler Miles cannot put the ball on the turf—especially in the red zone—and expect to win the game. The same goes for the running backs. If the Huskies avoid turnovers and find rhythm early on offense, then the Huskies should have no trouble beating the Beavers at Husky Stadium on Saturday night.
Ryan: To put it plainly, there's no reason for Washington to squander this game away. Of course, I said the same thing with 1:30 left to play last week, so stranger things have happened.
On offense, the Dawgs seemed to finally get some good things going last week by feeding the rock to Dwayne Washington and Kasen Williams. What's more, the Beavers rank seventh in the conference in sacks (24) and tackles for loss (65), so it's not as if the Washington offensive line will be facing off against a group of world-beaters. After posting arguably their best performance of the season, it's reasonable to think that the Huskies will have a good chance to continue executing at a high level.
I've already spoken about how the defense can limit the Beavers' chances of making big plays this game, but it bears repeating that this game seems tailor-made to the strengths of Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. Their ability to make Sean Mannion uncomfortable will be paramount to assisting a Washington pass defense that, while it shows potential, is still likely the weakest unit on the defense. The linebackers will also need to be stout against a Beaver rushing attack led by Terron Ward and Storm Woods, who have earned 14 touchdowns on 5.82 yards per carry.
Washington played their best game of 2013 against Oregon State with many of the same players that will take the field Saturday. While I don't expect the Huskies to blow the Beavers out of the water like they did last year in Corvallis, I think a 14- or 17-point Washington victory sounds appropriate. Washington 34, Oregon State 20.