This week's debate looks at which position group has been the best surprise so far. Even though it's really early in the season, there's been enough football to where you can start to shape your opinions on position groups as a whole. The successes and failures of each unit is intertwined in a nasty web, where a really good unit can elevate another, or a poorly executing unit can make it seem like everyone else is down at their level, which is part of what makes this such a strong topic for debate.
I attempted to make a compelling case for all nine position groups, but so much of how surprising you find something is what you expected in the first place, so keep that in mind as you are going through these.
Without further adieu
The starter of this unit was kept under wraps until kickoff, but Jake Browning receiving the keys to the offense wasn't really much of a surprise, per se. The true freshman had an illustrious career at the high school level and there was no incumbent, but there was many questions of how well he'd do as the starting quarterback at the Pac-12 level this early. In my opinion, he's played well and avoided becoming a trainwreck or liability to the team, so that's been a good surprise in that sense. It's all relative to your expectations really, and I'm sure some out there are disappointed he hasn't come in and been lights out, like we've seen from other true freshmen in the past (like Robert Griffin, who played remarkably great as a true freshman at Baylor before his first ACL injury) or even others that are currently playing at a different level, like Josh Rosen. Comparing Browning's situation to others is a dangerous game that really requires a little inference and a lot of guessing, and that's not quite fair for anyone involved and it doesn't get you anywhere. A true freshman starting game one on the road in a hostile environment and not caving under the pressure, and then following that up with a stronger showing in a game where they couldn't afford to take a step back is promising and, honestly, above what some expected going in. I guess with this one, it's all dependent on what you expected out of Browning's first couple of starts.
A unit that looked to potentially carry the offense though rough patches was a disappointment in Boise when called upon to tote the rock, but the emergence of Myles Gaskin against Sacramento State was a pleasant surprise, although it was received with some deserved trepidation. It's reasonable be nervous that some things that worked last week won't necessarily work against conference foes, but even so, the debate of whether or not this level can be maintained is a much better one to have than wondering if he can contribute this season a high level, since he's proven that he can. Like Browning, Gaskin's talent was apparent coming in, but any expectations would be based on a somewhat wild guess.
Meanwhile, Dwayne Washington came in with lofty expectations, mostly based on how he ended last season, tallying 100 yards in the final three games of the year. He has not been at that level so far this season carrying the ball, tallying a measly 27 yards on the ground, but through the air he's been one of the offense's most reliable targets, leading the team with 9 receptions, 7 of which came in the opener against Boise. Shia LeBeouf would be disappointed by the lack of holes that he's had so far, but his impact in the passing game out of the backfield was one of the only steady sources of production when times got tough on the blue turf. In a crazy, roundabout sort of way you can make an argument that his impact on the passing game so far has been enough to cover up any running game woes, and that will prove more valuable down the stretch than 20 more yards on the ground in the opener would have been.
As a unit, they're not carrying a huge share of the load, with backs and tight ends combining for 45% of the receptions. We've seen them make game changing special teams plays to carry the offense, with Jaydon Mickens blocking a punt and Dante Pettis returning a punt for a touchdown, and the old adage is the receivers can only catch what they're thrown. The preseason prognosis was one of spotty optimism, as not much was known of their potential as a unit. We knew going in that Mickens would be a steady target and Pettis would be a playmaker, but past that, there was a lot of question marks. As a group, there hasn't been much of an opportunity for them to shine, which is somewhat normal, all things considered. Like the running back group, young playmakers making the best of limited opportunities and veterans finding ways to make an impact is this groups calling card, which is a huge positive in a world where wide receivers usually are more concerned with touchdown dances as opposed to playing special teams.
Coming into the year, it looked as if the position was going to be two deep, with established veterans Joshua Perkins and Darrell Daniels appearing to have the position on lock. Due to the emergence of Drew Sample and David Ajamu, the Huskies are four deep with talented players who, in the words of the mean-but-lovable coach from D3: The Mighty Ducks, are two-way
hockey football players, possessing the talent and desire to block and catch passes. Having four talented tight ends gives a young quarterback a safe option underneath on plenty of plays, but also provides a schematic advantage against teams built to stop four wide receiver sets, which are plentiful down the line. Joshua Perkins had a stellar game against Sac State last Saturday and is emerging as one of UW's best receiving options, sitting second on the team in receptions right now. Deep and talented, this group has earned consideration to be the best surprise so far.
If you prepare for the worst and end up slightly better, that's a good thing, right? There are plenty of offensive lines around the country that are so bad that you feel for the quarterback and running backs' parents up in the stands, watching their kin get pummeled play after play, almost defenselessly due to poor offensive line play. Things aren't all roses for this group so far, but a young and inexperienced line that is growing as a unit and playing hard is something that you can definitely be proud of, and is definitely better than some doomsday prophesiers saw coming. It's very tough to quantify how good an offensive line is doing, which makes this tougher all together, but I mean, things could be much worse along the front, right?
Faced with the task of replacing three starters, one of which was a first round pick in the NFL Draft, the trio of Joe Mathis, Elijah Qualls, and Taniela Tupou had their work cut out for them, though all had seen snaps in the past for the Huskies. So far, they have done a solid job battling on the line of scrimmage, holding Boise to 3.5 yards per carry and shutting down the Sacramento State rushing game all together. The depth and versatility of personnel has led to more opportunities for the coaches to call varying fronts, especially on passing downs, where the defense has been using more even fronts (center uncovered and four guys along the line of scrimmage) in their nickel packages. The depth has also proven to be strong as the game goes on, as was apparent in the Boise State game especially. There hasn't been an emerging superstar, but the unit appears very, very stout and talent laden down the depth chart.
Travis Feeney's transition to the BUCK linebacker position has had flashes of amazing plays, but as a whole, he's not as much of a pass rushing force as Kikaha was last season from the same position, which has been missed this season. His versatility, mixed with the complementary talents of Cory Littleton on the other edge, has helped this defense stay so fast and aggressive in the flats, shutting down potentially big plays before they even happen. In the middle, Kieshawn Bierria and Azeem Victor have been tackling machines, and their range has also helped this defensive front stay at a high level. For this unit, the pass rushing is down but everything else is up, leaving this all up to how you interpret what their role should be.
The two most talented returning players on the entire Husky defense, and arguably the entire team, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones have kept their play at the high level we were expecting, sans a couple moments of mediocrity. In the first game, I'm not sure the Broncos even targeted Jones and Baker helped take away the middle of the field, keeping the action down near the line of scrimmage. They both have been as advertised, but the real surprise of the group is how solid Brian Clay has been at the other safety position, as well as the flashes shown by Darren Gardenhire and Kevin King, who has notched two interceptions already in the young season. Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner have made the most of limited meaningful playing time and hope to find larger role going forward, which is encouraging when you look at the quality of talent they're competing with.
Durkee had some solid punts mixed with some not so great punts, and Van Winkle is 2 for 3, with his 46 yard miss week one being the one that people will remember. Vizcaino has 7 touchbacks and Masel, the long snapper, hasn't had any snaps there bad enough that they come to mind, so that's a plus. This is an option just because someone might really want to pick it, and that's their prerogative.
Please vote in the poll below and leave your comments on why you chose the unit that you did. At the end of the month, I hope to have time to write a summary of the results and some of your best arguments for each. So far you guys have been great though, and I really appreciate how great the comment section is each week, so thank you.