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UWDP's Washington Huskies Mailbag - Week 11

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Two-way players, respect for UCLA and more questions about the Huskies offense. All in this week's mailbag.

John Ross is studying up to make his 2014 debut on Defense versus UCLA.
John Ross is studying up to make his 2014 debut on Defense versus UCLA.

Mail Time!  I'm not sure we have anything to do discuss.  Do we?  Thanks for stopping by!

Week 11 Mailbag

HatHead asks:
Say what you want, but the dismissal of Marcus Peters is a bold move for a team with high expectations attached. Would you say that the staff has effectively given up on the season without necessarily saying that they've given up on it?

Chris:  In 24 short hours, we've beaten the Marcus Peters debate to death.  If you are not tired of it yet, go here or visit here.

This question is somewhat nuanced in that it asks about where the staff's collective mindset is with regard to this season.  I would agree with the notion that the staff has clearly prioritized the full implementation of their philosophies, their programmatic processes and their on-the-field systems over the need to win games in the short term.  However, I can't imagine that any coach, especially with a bunch of fully invested seniors laying it all out there, will make decisions that fully jeopardize the present.

This is why I take Petersen at face value when he says that Cyler Miles is his best option at QB, even if he secretly thinks that somebody else has higher upside (which I have no idea about).  This is why Shaq is playing RB instead of a dinged up Lavon Coleman or Dwayne Washington.  This is why future cornerstones like Greg Gains, Vita Vea, Kaleb McGary and Drew Sample are sitting and getting red shirts instead of getting "developmental reps".

I'm convinced that this staff is fully invested in this season and that the dismissal of Marcus Peters was as much about keeping the team together this season as it was about getting a long-term principle or philosophy installed.

Kirk's Conscience asks:
John Ross at CB? Is that for real? Why would the coaching staff consider such a move?

JDKE asks:
The coaches have obviously made the decision to make Shaq a full-time running back. We now have confirmation that John Ross III will be at least a part time defender in nickel packages. Do you think this will also be a complete shift from one side of the ball to the other? It seems like it would be easier to still throw Ross in on offense for a couple bubble screens or vertical routes, than it would be to throw Shaq in on defense for a series here or there.

MrMike asks:
WHY AREN'T THE HUSKIES USING ROSS IN THEIR LINEUP. MORE THEN A FEW PEOPLE SITTING BY ME AT THE COLORADO WERE SAYING THE SAME THING.

Chris:  There are a lot of these types of questions in this week's mailbag.  Why don't we group them up and knock them out all in one shot?

In my view, there are two factors affecting the staff and their attitudes about playing their key guys two-ways.  The first is a depth issue.  We knew all along that cornerback was going to suffer from a lack of depth.  While the staff won't talk openly about injuries, we know that many of the young defenders who have been thrust into playing time are either dinged up or not ready compete.  We also now know that Marcus Peters is not part of the plan. Running back was a position of depth to start the season that has been decimated by injuries to the top three guys on the depth chart.  Without these depth and attrition issues, I'm not sure how extensively two-way players would be used.

The second factor at play here is one that we don't talk a lot about, but one that was foreshadowed by Chris Petersen to start the year.  The staff doesn't like the balance in this roster as it is currently constructed.  In Adam Jude's profile of Petersen last August, he quoted Petersen as saying, "I think we can do some really good things here, but you know — I don’t know. I haven’t been with this team (very long); we haven’t played a game. The roster’s not exactly how we want it to look."

That quote has gotten little attention, but could explain a lot of what we've seen.  The adjustment of Hau'oli Kikaha's role, the two-way experimentation with Shaq and John Ross, the cross-pollenation of safeties and corners, the attempts (and then abandonment) of playing Jaydon Mickens as an outside receiver, the shift of Colin Tanigawa to C and the benching of Mike Criste - all of these things indicate that the staff may be trying to get things in line with the roster that they have.

At this point in the season, it may be the case that they see Shaq as the best RB on their roster ... period.  It may also be the case that they see John Ross as a guy who needs to be on the field more even if he is sitting behind Jaydon on the depth chart (even before the Marcus Peters dismissal).  Either way, I think we should view this as a continuation of the experimentation that the staff is engaged in as they try to get the roster in line with what they eventually would like it to look like.

Andrew asks:
What do you guys think about all of the offensive/defensive player swapping and two-way playing? Is it good for the team and players long-term? Conventional reasoning would lead one to believe that playing both sides of the ball means you are not going to play either role as well as if it was the only focus.

Chris:  This is a fair question and one that I think can be debated endlessly.  As I noted above, I do not believe that this staff will continue to emphasize the two-way player as part of their philosophy in program management.  I really do think that this is about the staff trying to get the roster balanced to suit their needs.

However, I do think a good case could be made that this situation is good for the program.  If you think about how Petersen has handled the situation for Shaq, for John Ross and even for a guy like Kaleb McGary - who wanted a shot at DE despite everybody recruiting him as an OT, you have to admit that Petersen is a credible recruiter when he tells a player that they will get a shot to play where they want to play.  Imagine how that credibility might play out in recruiting pitches to guys like Isaiah Renfro and Austin Joyner.

I also think that there is something to be said about team morale.  Do you get a boost as a player when you see a teammate get a shot to play on the other side?  Does it motivate you when you see a fellow defensive star score an offensive TD or a fellow offensive player make a pick 6?  I think it must.  It becomes part of your identity - the fact that we are all football players ... not specialists ... contributing to the success of a single team.

You could argue the old "jack of all trades, master of none" point and it would be fair to do so.  However, I see this more as a unique phenomenon that really only applies to the most elite of the talent base on the team and probably something that can be managed.

CRDawg asks:
If ASU doesn't beat Notre Dame this weekend, does the PAC 12 champ have a chance at the "Final Four" ?

ZombieDuck comments:
Hi Chris. Good stuff, as usual. I wish the Ducks had already wrapped up the Pac-12 North, but they still need to win one of their remaining three games to do so. I don't see them losing to the Buffaloes at Autzen, and they'll be favorites at Rice-Eccles and Reser, but stranger things have happened.

Chris:  There is an interesting subtext to the first question given that there is no reference to Oregon in it.  CRDawg must presume, as did I when I updated my season outlook, that Oregon has one more loss on their schedule (perhaps this weekend to Utah?).  ZombieDuck takes it a step further by hinting that Oregon really can't afford to look past just sewing up the North division.

From where I sit, Oregon is the only legitimate contender for a Pac 12 representative in the inaugural playoffs and they will easily win the North.  Arizona State will go to the playoffs if they win out, but a single loss anywhere along the way coupled with that awful loss to UCLA will keep them out.  Given what my eyeballs tell me about ASU, I don't see them running the table all the way through the Pac 12 Championship.

The Ducks have the best chance to finish out undefeated and represent the conference in the playoffs.  That's not exactly ground-breaking insight.  Even still, I'm not sure that this will happen.  The Ducks are an imperfect team and the Pac is very competitive.  While far from impossible, I fear that a two-loss Pac 12 champion is likely and that they will not qualify for the playoffs.  The conference could well be locked out altogether.

OprahJimfrey comments:
Lol How is UCLA #7? The game vs Arizona was not really that close. Take away the phantom penalties in the 1st drive and AZ never even sniffs the endzone. UCLA also destroyed ASU in tempe and lost a close game to Utah. As for Stanford above them, has anyone watched their offense? Lastly USC is getting beat up and attrition is wearing them down. They shouldn't be ahead of UCLA either. The bias on this site is downright hilarious.

PowderBlue2 asks:
I can't believe the disrespect that you are showing to UCLA. Give me three GOOD reasons you think UW will even keep this game close this weekend.

Chris:  I haven't had this much competitive hostility in the weekly mailbag since my little ... errr ... issue with the Cal fans (which can be relived right here if you have the inclination).

While I realize that many UCLA fans are still enamored with that generous top 5 ranking that was allocated to them during the pre-season, I think that even the most fanatical amongst them would accept that they were overrated.  When you consider how the season has played out, you see several significant flaws:  porous pass protection, lack of playmaking in the passing game, inconsistent rushing attack and poor pass rush all being the keys.

This isn't to say that UW isn't flawed.  They are - and, as such, I have consistently ranked UW below UCLA in just about every Power Ranking I've posted this season.  It is just that I don't see UCLA, right now, as a team that is going to regularly beat any of the six teams I put ahead of them - including USC.  This may be subjective and, if UCLA puts up another defensive showing like they did versus Arizona, I may change my tune.  However, right now, they are easily the most disappointing team in the PAC relative to expectations.

As for their matchup versus UW, I really don't have a read on it yet.  I think that both teams are about equal when pros and cons are all weighed, though I sense that the UW four man pass rush versus that UCLA OLine is a significant advantage for UW.  The big difference between the two teams is that UW has mostly played its role in beating the teams that they are better than and losing to the higher-ranked teams in the conference.  UCLA is probably, pound for pound, the closest match to UW of any opponent so far.  That is what makes the game tomorrow so intriuging.

ElvisLovesUW suggests:
How about varying tempo with unexpected play calling? Deception gives UCLA one more thing to think about.

Chris:  At this point, I will accept simply executing the base offense in the manner that Chris Petersen and Jonathan Smith have envisioned it.  They want fundamental execution of assignments on the offensive line, they want the backs to hit holes between the tackles and they want Cyler to execute a passing game that focuses on quick, accurate short and mid-range throws with the occasional play-action.

Tempo is more of a strategic tactic in this offense than it is a fundamental part of its identity.  When UW starts hitting plus plays on first and second down, that is when you will see it become a factor.  Otherwise, I'm not expecting UW to do much in terms of introducing tactics that are not already on film.

Chris Bonneu comments:
#8 for the Huskies sounds about right to me. I'm glad you guys are even-handed about this and aren't getting carried away with the Dawgs' wins over the likes of Colorado and Illinois

Chris:  In this week's Power Rankings, I had UW at #8 just behind UCLA at #7.  I think that, right now, Stanford, UCLA and UW make for an interesting interchangable bunching of teams.  Stanford is the team reeling while UCLA seems to be the team that is surging.  All the while, UW is the one team - perhaps in the entire conference - who seems to know exactly who they are.  They have beaten with some assuredness the teams that they are supposed to be better than and lost to the teams that were supposed to be better than them.

UCLA represents an opportunity for UW to test where it belongs within its segment of the conference pecking order.

MemoFromTurner asks:
Of the Husky players, Cyler Miles has born the brunt of criticism from the Husky fan base for a somewhat disappointing season. Here's my problem with Cyler. It's not the noodle arm, the fumble fingers, or the way he reads, or fails to read, his progressions. It's the realization I've come to that he's kind of an okay athlete who still looks out of shape. Not sure where I formed the impression that he had wheels and vision as a runner but I did. Wishful thinking? Is Miles a better athlete than we've seen or is this it?

caDawg comments:
People are being unrealistic and impatient with Miles. First year starter, new staff, new playbook, and missed Spring and much of the off-season. I think the ASU loss showed MIles is the best option at QB and the Colorado game showed, while still growing as a QB, he can keep focused after mistakes and is working hard to get better. Which he is every week.

Chris:  Despite the fact that Chris Petersen has clearly made his pick as to who will be care-taking the QB position the rest of the season, the subject of Cyler Miles is still a hot button for the fanbase as exemplified in the two comments above.  Since this is a blog and I get paid for every comment that gets posted below, let me address the QB situation once again.

First, I think it is pretty clear that every guy who has been run out there has done so without a full grasp of what they are trying to do and with a high level of hesitation - as opposed to anticipation - in what they actually did do.  For all of his deficiencies, Cyler is the one guy who seems to have the firmest grasp of what is supposed to be happening on the offense and, as such, has won the job.  For now.

I do think that the issues of arm strength and throwing motion have been overblown.  Petersen has addressed this issue when directly asked several time now and his answer is the same.  His attitude is that arm strength is a nice-to-have, but that the offense can be run at a high level with accuracy, ball protection and anticipation.  There can be no question what metrics CP uses in evaluating his QBs.  Cyler is hitting those marks and, to be clear, I think his athletic ceiling hasn't been touched this season as he prioritizes simply trying to execute the plays in front of him.  We can and should see more for him in this final third of the year.

But, just because Cyler has the job right now doesn't mean that he's a lock for next year.  Troy Williams is obviously taking steps forward given that he's passed Jeff Lindquist.  KJ Carta-Samuels is a talented kid who is getting important experience as a red-shirt.  Incoming true frosh Jake Browning, who is a stellar talent, will enroll this Winter and be present all of spring.  Cyler is getting an important advantage as the starter for the rest of the season, but there is a long way to go until we see who is best positioned to run the offense in 2015.