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UWDP's Washington Huskies Mailbag - Week 14

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It's Apple Cup weekend. What's on your minds Husky Nation?

Who is the heart and soul of this Huskies team?
Who is the heart and soul of this Huskies team?
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Your questions.  Our answers.  Delivered with a smile as we snack on Hot Turkey Sandwiches, cold Bacon Explosion and heated Berry Pie with mom's whip.  Who's first?

Kirk's Conscience asks:
With the dominance of the UW's D-Line, how do you explain the middling stats produced by the unit overall? I get that the secondary is young, but they don't get burned a ton. Why isn't this unit top of the conference?

Chris:  The Huskies D is, indeed, a "middling" unit when measured against the various stats people use:  5th in the PAC in scoring D, 6th in total D, 4th in turnovers produced .. etc.

The advanced stats have been a little more friendly to UW, but not by much.  FEI is an efficiency measure that ranks teams on a points-per-possession basis adjusted for strength of opponent.  As of this week, the Huskies are ranked nationally as the #25 D and third in the PAC behind Stanford and ASU.

That kind of ranking probably more closely matches what the eyeballs of a typical fan sees from the Huskies.  To explain the traditional stats, which paint a slightly more morose picture, I think you have to look at the areas that look good and then try to discern what may be balancing it out.

Firstly, the Huskies have done a good job in the red zone all year.  Teams only score on 75% of their trips in and only 46% of the time do they score a TD.  That's Alabama / Ole Miss / Miss St level of production right there.  However, the Huskies have allowed a very high number of trips - 52 of them ... third worst in the conference.  Why?  The pass D has been the culprit.  The Dawgs bend but don't breat style of D results in modest gains per play, but a lot of first downs surrendered.  Their 224 is second worst in the PAC - 159 through the air ... also second worst in the PAC.

The bottom line is that the Huskies non-aggressive philosophy, designed to protect that young back end, has worked when you use points scored as the measurement.  However, as one would expect, that strategy has given up a lot of plays between the twenties and has kept this D from really flashing like a Stanford or ASU have in this season.

Ben Nice wants to know:
Who are the young players that did not play this season that can breakout or be an impact player next season?

Chris:  Next season, I'll be paying attention to the line of scrimmage when looking for breakout players.  Defensively, the one guy that we haven't seen on the field that I think could really pop is Jaylen Johnson.  Call it a hunch, but I think that Johnson has many of the same physical skills as Hau'oli Kikaha.  My hope is that he's learned some of Hau'oli's Judo skills and has picked up on his work ethic.  Johnson will definitely get a shot to rush the passer next year.

Offensively, keep your eyes out for Jake Eldrenkamp at Tackle.  He's had the luxury of both red-shirting and of getting valuable developmental time behind what remains of the Cascade Front.  He is getting the chance to learn the new offense from the safety of the practice field and he's been practicing against that tough UW D-line all season.  In 2015, he will benefit from playing alongside Dexter Charles assuming he wins the LT job next spring.  If so, he could really show up as a Junior.

Bham Dawg wonders:
The young dawgs in defensive backfield have come a long ways this season. Is this the week Budda Baker gets his first interception?

Chris:  If there were ever going to be a week for that to happen, this is the one.  Budda has had his hands on one earlier this season.  It could still happen, though I'm guessing the odds are against it.

Speaking of Budda, it is hard overstate how well he's done as a true freshman day one starter at free safety for the Huskies.  Despite not being anywhere close to physically ready for the duties, he's made remarkably few mental mistakes from that position.  The evidence is in the fact that the Huskies are squarely middle of the PAC in surrendering explosive pass plays.  While he appears to be wearing down, I have a feeling that emotion and adrenaline may just carry him through Saturday night.

Husky57 asks:
Kikaha spends half his game time as hybrid LB playing off the line? WHY? He still leads the nation in sacks playing DE part time. Can you extrapolate his sacks if he played DE full time?

Chris:  Various forms of this question / comment have been raised several times recently.  Count me amongst the minority of folks who just don't get the criticism of how this staff is using their BUCK or of having Kikaha in that position.

Is it possible that Kikaha would have more sacks as a line-up-on-the-same-side-every-down DE?  I suppose so.  The former high school Judo champion has an amazing combination of strength, speed and hand technique that make him a remarkable pass rusher.  But, would our defense be as stout as they have been all year without him at BUCK?  Would they be better off not protecting that secondary at all and simply rushing four down linemen all year?  Probably not.

Kikaha has been an MVP level candidate precisely because of the way he must be accounted for every down by the opponent.  The BUCK position affords him the opportunity to lineup at multiple spots on the LOS and to give both a rush or drop back look on every down.  He's a nightmare for both the offensive C and the QB because he must both be accounted for as a man in coverage as well as a potential pass rusher.  An elite one at that.  In short, Kikaha at the BUCK is literally like having two guys on the field when it comes to how the offense makes decisions.

I would probably agree that Kikaha would have one or two more sacks if he were the every down DE in place of Andrew Hudson.  But, I wouldn't make that tradeoff no matter how much I love Cory Littleton (and I do).  I think Kikaha's versatility has been maximized by this new staff, the secondary has benefited tremendously, and that the film that he's produced in both pass rush and pass coverage has done nothing but enhance his value to pro scouts.

Oregon Dawg goes on:
Why do I think we could lose this year. Snow/WSU's turn to win/feels like a trap game/cougars new Qb is getting better. We should win this game (every phase) but apple cup means throw out all the stats and the win-loss records, it's anybody's game, just ask Sark. Question: Do you think the husky players want it more? How many WSU students will skip the game because of thanksgiving weekend? How many cougars does it take to change a lightbulb? Go Dawgs!

Chris: Thanks for the questions.  In short order my answers are "no - but not less, either", "Not as many as you think" and "None.  Lava lamps don't use light bulbs"

Since you asked, I thought I'd comment on the whole "want it more" thing.  I noticed that issue get raised with both Kim Grinolds and Softy Mahler asking questions about emotional advantages immediately following the Oregon State game.  In truth, I have a hard time accepting that "want to" or "emotional advantage" have anything to do with it.

Sure, football is an emotional game.  I get that.  I also get that emotion is often used as a proxy for measuring commitment and that commitment can lead to both better preparation and better endurance.  However, that is often a weak proxy.

To me, fans want to see emotion because it increases the drama and allows us to make the connection to the team and the game that stimulates our fanaticism.  However, the key to winning football is that tried and true combination of preparation and execution.  There is no right way to show emotion, display a demeanor or to "dig deeper" than the other guy.  It matters that you find your focus, but not how you do so.  And, at this level, I think most kids - on both sides of the ball - are able to do that.  When the Huskies lose, it is not often because they were less emotional or focused than their opponent.  It just feels like that to us fans who are so desperate to pin the reason on a single factor.

Broadway Reps comments:
Cyler stood in the pocket and took a couple of shots. Kudos. Makes for better production.

Chris:  Indeed, he did.  There were two plays, back to back, in the first quarter that exemplified that.  The first was a first down completion to Jaydon Mickens that he literally threw over the head of an oncoming blitzer.  The second was the long attempt to Dante Pettis that he just overthrew - taking a shot in the face just as he released it.  Both of those plays preceded the long Dwayne Washington TD run.  It was a short but impressive series.

While I think Husky fans have lost their collective minds with the harshness of their critiques in Cyler, it isn't hard to be impressed with the ability of both the staff and of Cyler to make improvements on a week to week basis.  Whether we are talking about improving pocket presence, throwing more over the middle, working second and third options on progressions, or standing in the pocket to work down the field, we've seen new things get added to Cyler's repertoire each week.  Sark used to talk a lot about "cleaning things up", but it is refreshing to see a staff and a QB that actually can do it.

RockDawg asks:
Can anyone remember the name of the stadium the Cougs played in before Martin (The Cow Pasture?) and what our record was there?

Chris:  The predecessor to Martin Stadium, which opened in 1972 on the same site, was Rogers Field.  Rogers Field first hosted a football game all the way back in 1895, but was renovated in the 1930s and expanded to its ultimate capacity of 23,000 seats.  The Huskies played the Cougars on Rogers field 23 times with an all-time record of 14-8-1.

Amoeba asks:
Now that we can look into the rear view mirror a little bit, what is the best story line of the entire Huskies 2014 season?

Chris: I can't really decide, so 'm going to hand this off to poll for you, the reader, to provide a definitive answer.  Off the top of my head, I'm going to say that the immediate candidates are:

  1. The inspirational comeback of Andrew Hudson following his "suddenly senior" Sark experience
  2. The "two-way" twins of Shaq Thompson and John Ross
  3. The record-breaking season of Hau'oli Kikaha which caps a remarkable career that was marred by two ACL injuries
  4. The emergence of Sidney Jones as a true freshman CB

Scroll down below to place your vote on the 2014 Husky Football Storyline of the Season.

Stewak notes:
WSU's defensive line appear to be statistically similar to UW's. Is this due to teams simply taking advantage of their weak secondary, trying to keep up offensively, or something else?

Chris:  While I would agree that WSU's defensive line is better than what they've been given credit for, I would not make the argument that they are statistically similar to UW's nor are they as effective in similar ways.

If you look at the basic stats that D-Lines most dramatically effect, UW is better than WSU in sacks by a margin of more than one per game and more than half a yard per rush per game.  While the latter is somewhat close, those are still pretty notable differences.  If you extend it to pass D, the differences stretch.  Even if you expand your analysis to include advanced metrics, you'll come away seeing even larger differences in areas like F/+ and S&P.

WSU's D-Line is built around some very big, mean men.  Senior Toni Pole and Juniors Destiny Vaeao and Xavier Cooper all approach 300 lbs and range in height between 6'1" and 6'4".  Unlike the Huskies who rely on their D-Line to generate pass rush, WSU's down linemen are dedicated space eaters who ideally are plugging running gaps and taking on blocks to allow the LBs like Kache Palacio and Daryl Monroe to make plays.  Cooper is the best of the bunch and has been able to generate five sacks of his own this year.

There are a few problems that curse this line. First is the depth.  None of the big 3 can really be expected to take 80 snaps in a game and the depth behind them is not established.  The second weakness relates to their ability to pursue and be a factor on the perimeter.  If you've ever seen Danny Shelton chase down a QB or a RB heading towards a sideline,  you know how destructive a big man with lateral pursuit capabilities can be.  The Cougs don't really have that.

Nonetheless, I expect the Cougs D-Line to have a good game against UW.  The conditions favor them and the reality is that UW is not going to run up huge snap counts nor are they going to spend all game out on the perimeter like a UCLA or ASU might.  While Cyler's mobility may be a challenge for them, I think they will be a difficult test.

PaulC asks:
Is UW freshman NT Greg Gaines related to the Greg Gaines who played linebacker for the Seahawks back in the 1980s? Or is the name similarity just a coincidence?

Chris:  I do not believe so.  The Seahawks Greg Gaines hails from the state of Tennessee and has suffered with bouts of documented chronic pain and dementia stemming from his career in the NFL.  As far as I can tell, Gaines returned to Tennessee following his playing career and has focused mostly on trying to manage his health with the support of his wife and his family.  Greg Gaines of the Huskies hails from La Habra, California, which is in Orange County north of Anaheim.