We now return you to your previously scheduled program.
It's been a long break for Husky football, but no more. The Huskies arrived in Dallas yesterday to make their preparations for the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl. The game is scheduled for this Saturday and will see the Huskies take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at the site of the historic (that's a fancy word for "decrepit") Cotton Bowl.
The Huskies will partake in a few bowl week activities. On the schedule is a viewing of Star Wars, a golf outing, and a banquet dinner with the staff and players of Southern Miss. But, don't be fooled into thinking that it is business as usual for UW. The Cactus Bowl drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State last January is still fresh in the minds of the players and Chris Petersen.
UW's preparations leading up to this week included a full slate of recruiting and practices. As we are now transitioning into a normal game week, it makes sense for us to get a little bit caught up.
... Coaching Search Completed
While recruiting tends to dominate December, the big news around Montlake has focused on filling out the coaching staff. As we have covered already, Bush Hamdan was hired out of his QC role to take on the position of Wide Receivers coach and Passing Game Coordinator. Getting Hamdan promoted into the staff has been in the cards since the day Chris Petersen hired him out of the OC role at Davidson. It could be argued with some confidence that his availability was a major factor in Petersen's decision to let former WR coach Brent Pease go.
We now also have word that Utah State DL coach and former UW defensive back Ikaika Malloe is set to become the successor to Jeff Choate as UW's defensive line coach, pending administrative signoff. Malloe is a home-run hire for Chris Petersen in that he checks all of the boxes that seem important to Coach Pete: experience in the role, experience recruiting the region, cultural synergy and, as a bonus, a UW alum.
Malloe has been coaching defensive lines and special teams for 13 years with stops including Utah State, Portland State, UTEP and Hawaii. He started his career as a GA for Washington.
He's been associated with some very high-performing units over the years - both on D-Line and special teams, including bowl campaigns for perennially troubled programs like Hawaii and UTEP. He's a well-connected recruiter, particularly in the Pacific Islands (he'a a Hawaii native). As a Husky, the former walk-on was the winner of the 1992 Brian Stapp Award (Defensive Scout MVP) and three times won the "Hard Hitter of the Year" award.
It's most likely that Malloe will be named officially immediately following the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
... Injuries Update
There isn't a ton of news leaking from Montlake on the status of injured players who have now had several weeks to recuperate. Various interviews with staff members have revealed one significant piece of news: Elijah Qualls is back.
UW"s star defensive tackle was injured on Halloween night early in UW's dominating victory over Arizona. He missed three straight games before making a brief appearance in the Apple Cup. The Huskies fared well in his absence thanks in part to the emergence of Greg Gaines and the improvement of Vita Vea in the middle. But Qualls is a versatile and athletic playmaker as an interior lineman. His presence will be a difficult x-factor for Southern Miss to prepare for, especially as he moves his starting position from snap to snap.
There has been precious little news on other injuries that Husky fans have been wanting to get caught up on. Players like Trey Adams, Budda Baker, and Keishawn Bierria were all a little dinged up to close out the regular season. It is presumed that all are available for the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Little news has been made available on the rehab assignments of several other Huskies dealing with more serious injuries. No word on the progress of players like John Ross, Austin Joyner, or David Ajamu has been provided by the university. But we did hear from Jeff Choate the other day that a few younger players have been dealing with injuries that held them out of bowl preparations. Included in that list was redshirt defensive lineman Jason Scrempos, who had a presumed shoulder injury "cleaned up" per coach Choate.
... Recruiting Explodes
Recruiting has moved into the so-called "dead period" and will remain in it until the conclusion of bowl season. During that time, coaches are allowed no contact with recruits. It is usually just before the coming of the dead period that we see many recruits make their football commitments. Indeed, this was the case all over the PAC 12 as significant recruits made or affirmed their commitments to schools such as UCLA, Arizona, Utah, USC, Cal and, yes, WSU.
UW received no such commitments for the 2016 class during that time period (QB Jacob Sirmon did commit to the 2018 class). For a fanbase used to the drama surrounding the Steve Sarkisian recruiting approach, this might be viewed as a bit of a letdown. The good news is that UW's class is "technically" full (14 commits to replace 14 graduating seniors) and that no flips happened despite intense efforts by other schools to pick off commits such as CB Kentrell Love, DE Amandre Williams, and LB Camilo Eifler, among others.
Remarkably, UW also appears to be rising in the eyes of many high profile athletes that have previously committed to other schools or who remain at large. Players such as the top rated JUCO player in the country, DE Jonathan Kongbo, WR Javon McKinley, LB Mique Juarez, Stanford de-commit David Long, Louisville commit Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, Texas stud WR Zach Farrar, and top-rated TE Devin Asiasi all have UW in the "top x" list going into Signing Day.
And that is just a partial list.
The strong push by UW to close out the 2016 class will be full of drama both in terms of which players select UW and how Chris Petersen makes room for them.
... The #HODBowl
The Huskies landed in Dallas yesterday and will hold three more practices this week in preparation for their matchup against Southern Miss. UW is preparing for this postseason with a sense of urgency, given the failure that they experienced in their last bowl game. As such, the practices over the last few weeks have included more live contact sessions and extra work for the regular rotation players.
In his last presser, Chris Petersen alluded to the fact that the Huskies are treating the bowl game as "their last game of the season" and building on the lessons learned against Oklahoma State. He stated that the team did not feel good about their effort in the Cactus Bowl and hinted at the fact that this game presents his young team with a chance to clean the slate.
We've got much more coverage to come over the next few days. While you are enjoying your shopping outings, holiday parades and Christmas potlucks, don't forget to check back with the 'Pound for more previews and predictions as we race to the last game of the year.