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Mailbag Week #4 - "Is Jake Browning a One-and-Done?" Edition

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The best part about being 40 is that I did almost all of my stupid stuff before the internet was around.

Give me back my gum!!
Give me back my gum!!
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

First off, your weekly dose of useless facts.

  • The YKK on your zippers stands for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha.
  • A blue whale's heart is so large a small child can swim through its veins.
  • When you yawn and stretch at the same time, you are "pandiculating."
  • Tupac danced ballet in high school, and portrayed the Mouse King in a production of "The Nutcracker."
  • "Booby trap" spelled backwards is "party boob."
  • -40 C and -40 F are the same temperature.
  • The barnacle has the largest penis in all the animal kingdom relative to its size.
  • A group of flamingos is called a "flamboyance."
  • Donald Duck's middle name is Fauntleroy.
  • The Ottoman Empire still existed the last time the Chicago Cubs won a world series.
  • Armadillos give birth only to quadruplets.
  • The difference in time between when the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Stegosaurus lived is greater than the difference in time between the Tyrannosaurus and now.
  • The only state that doesn't contain any of the letters in "mackerel" is Ohio.
With that, it's on to your questions...

Andrew:

The more games we get to see the more it looks like our running game issues should be seen as a product of OL play (duh?). We also had some issues last year with questionable personnel (e.g. Christe on the bench). What are some suggestions you guys have for thinking about the OL, seeing what the issues are, what potential solutions there are, etc. Question one-and-a-half: is the technique and blocking style/scheme that Pete/Strausser like to use significantly more complicated than what Sark/Cozzetto were using? Is it just a matter of learning curve for these young OL? We have seen a lot of growth on this team in many areas in just 3 games, but the one glaring lack of growth so far is the OL (or maybe I just dont know enough about the OL to see it). What gives?

80sIMADAWG:

Will we be able to run the ball v. Cal? Rest of Pac-12?

Happyhusky:

How long do you think it will take for the run blocking to gel with our green Giants. (in the # of games)?

Issaquah/Jim:

We need to get the run game going as we go into league play. This will make our passing game even better. We need more balance. Great outing for Browning.

JerDawg:

My seats are too low of an angle to really see the problem with the O-line/runinng game well. Are we just getting man-handled and so no gaps ever develop? Or would you say that it is that our newer guys (OL or RB) just don't know the plays/missing assignments?

UWDP: Jonathan Smith gets a reprieve from the hot seat, and the running game takes center stage this week...

I'm not trying to insult anyone's intelligence, but in case anyone doesn't totally understand, the Huskies' running game mostly consists of two blocking concepts:  "Zone" and "power."  The basic idea of the zone is that the linemen are working to create a cutback lane for the running back, usually by finding a double team opportunity on one of the defensive linemen or linebackers.  There are three basic zone running plays - the inside zone (where the best opportunity to cut back is inside of the offensive tackle), the outside zone (where the line is looking to create a hole outside of the tackle), and the stretch (a very lateral play where the back is looking to get almost as wide as the receivers).  When watching from the stands or on TV, you can see the linemen step laterally or even backward in unison and create a sort of moving wall, and the running back will move with them while looking to take advantage of an open hole and get up field.  There isn't necessarily a predetermined hole for the back, more of a general area that "should" be available to him, because the linemen are blocking an area as opposed to a man.  When people talk about a running back's "vision," it's generally in regard to seeing that cutback lane opening up, making a sharp cut (the "jump cut" that is referenced here and elsewhere frequently - check out some Bishop Sankey highlights to see it executed to near-perfection) and getting up the field.

Power blocking is a more physical play where one lineman is required to win a one-on-one battle to open up a predetermined hole for the running back.  On, say, a power play to the offense's right side, the linemen on the right side will block "down" (to their left) which leaves one of the defensive linemen unblocked.  The guard on the left side will pull around the line, and block that man, opening up a running lane for the back (when it's run successfully, that is).  On TV or in the stands, you'll see the linemen generally fire off the ball more quickly than in a zone, and you'll see one of the guards coming around the formation to hopefully pancake an unsuspecting defensive end.  You'll generally also see the running back moving much more quickly toward the hole as opposed to watching for that cutback lane to open up in the zone scheme.  "Explosiveness" is the parlance of our times for a good power running back.

Dwayne Washington has great speed, and is a big, strong guy.  He's shown to be a pretty good power running back at the UW.  On the zone runs, though, you'll often see him pick the wrong hole, or not wait long enough for the cut back lane to develop, or not quite have the ability to make a sharp enough cut to make a positive play in the zone scheme.  Miles Gaskin has a more natural feel for reading zone schemes it appears, but it's not clear that he has the sheer size to make a living as a power runner between the tackles.

There are many variations of both schemes, and what I've just given is a very basic description that isn't going to apply all of the time.  But for those that don't know what each is, you can usually tell what type of play is coming just by watching the first step of the offensive line.

As for the lack of success running the ball so far this season, as many of you suggest, I think the biggest reason is this:  True freshman, redshirt sophomore, senior, redshirt freshman, redshirt freshman.  Those are the classes of the Huskies' starting linemen last Saturday, from left to right.  Trey Adams was making his first start.  Coleman Shelton was making his 10th (I believe), but his first at guard after being moved late in the week.  Siosifa Tufunga was making his seventh start, but third at center.  Jesse Sosebee was making his first start at right guard.  Kaleb McGary was making his first start at right tackle.  And he's only played the position for about nine months now.  Ever.  Period.
There's as much potential on the offensive line as we've seen since probably the 2000 season, but it's almost all in the two youngest classes on the roster.  We've got the dreaded combination of youth and inexperience playing out in 2015.  And with the talent that's (likely) redshirting this year at the guard positions, it's not impossible that the line is even younger next year, if a guy like Henry Roberts lives up to the recruiting hype.  People complain about "youth" being used as an excuse, but it's a fact this year.  It just is.  There's enough talent in those young guys that the process doesn't necessarily have to take three more years to play out, but it's highly unlikely that it happens this season.  The key thing to watch is how they played last week versus how they look in the bowl game.

If Vegas is correct and the worst fears of Husky fans are realized, I think the majority of the reason is that this offensive line, objectively, isn't good enough to allow the Huskies to run a balanced offense, and to keep Jake Browning upright.  That isn't the same as saying they're "bad," just that they aren't ready yet.  You can't make 19-year old kids 21 in a single year, no matter how great the coaching is.  You can't add 80 pounds to a guy's bench press in three months.  You just can't.  Patience, grasshopper.  Watch the trajectory as much as the results.

I don't think there's really any issue with the coaching; in fact, I think it's pretty good.  I don't think the technique is overly complicated.  Yes, the Huskies are going to have to be able to run the ball better to win this week, and against the top half of the Pac 12.  In the short term, better blocking from the tight ends would really, really help this team run the ball better - their misses in that department have held back the attack greatly, and in my opinion they've fallen way short of expectations for a veteran group.

The running game is going to have to survive on the margins.  Dwayne Washington finding an open hole and running away from the defense.  Miles Gaskin bouncing a play outside and not getting caught behind the line of scrimmage.  Fly sweeps to Chico McClatcher or Jaydon Mickens.  And although people seem to hate to see it, five and seven yard gains from the horizontal passing game that's really an extension of the running game.  There may simply be some evolution of the running game as the season wears on, as well.  My guess is that the coaching staff "thought" Jeff Lindquist or KJ Carta-Samuels was going to win the starting QB job; both of them are capable runners and the base look of zone/read plays to their strengths.  Browning is isn't really a running threat.  He appears to be a very good decision-maker, so the "read" might turn into handing off versus throwing a pass.

Three guys will be making their second career starts on Saturday.  One will be getting his second start at a new position, following his first full week of practice there.  The line is going to get better, and they'll probably take a relatively big step up this week.  It probably won't be as much as fans want to see, but we're watching a team build a base that is going to pay dividends in the future.

80sIMADAWG:

If Vizcaino had not got into the end zone, would calling the fake at that time have been the right call? (Love his wheels!!)

UWDP: It's either a good call, or it isn't.  I don't think the result of the play determines that.  Given that the Huskies couldn't really run the ball, and that the compacted nature of the field that close to the goal line helps the defense defend the pass, and that the Huskies needed more than three points on that drive, I like the call.  The downside is that you aren't going to be able to run it again with Tristan Vizcaino again.  Coaches are going to be way too aware of a backup kicker coming in to a game.

Saltherring:

Can we expect to see Budda Baker on the field against Cal? How about Austin Joyner? How sis our young offensive tackles fare against Utah State?

UWDP: Austin Joyner is done for the year.  Chris Petersen said that following the Sacramento State game.

As for Baker, my guess is that he's going to play.  I watched him pleading on the sidelines to get back in last week, to no avail.  I'm certain he's burning to get out there.  And he's a tough, tough guy on the field.  Since we don't have any idea of the extent of the injury, it's anyone's guess how much he'll play, and how effective he'll be.

I can't help but grade Adams and McGary in two ways:  Objectively, they weren't great.  They did a decent job in pass protection, but neither really added much to the running game.  Subjectively, two guys - two freshmen - making their first starts showed a lot of potential out there.  They could be quite a tandem for the next few years.

Happyhusky:

Jake looked like an actual live QB (I can't remember the last time I said that about a UW QB). Naturally, I must ask how long he goes before he breaks my heart (As in, which game do you think he will revert to his frosh form, or standard UW QB form)?


UWDP: Did you miss the entire Keith Price era?

I have no idea why some people refuse to give that guy the credit he deserves.

As for Browning, expect it each and every week.  That way, when it doesn't happen, you can be pleasantly surprised.

Benno:

How good is the D? From what I can see, they have done a great job, only allowing 23 points in 3 games. It seems like they are getting great penetration at the line, not allowing RBs to get going or the QB to be comfortable in the pocket. The LBs are doing a greta job cleaning up behind the line and defending the middle, and the DBs are covering very well. On the flip side, they went against BSU with a first year QB and RB, Sacramento State and Utah State with a visibly hobbled Chuckie Keeton. Are we seeing a D that will end up a top 3 D in the PAC-12, or have they simply feasted on poor competition?

UWDP: I have been really impressed with the defense.  Not only are the starters playing at a high level, but especially in the front seven, the backups have played meaningful minutes and shown an ability to contribute.  There's athleticism and talent, and probably more importantly, this is the most assignment-sound defense I've seen at the UW in more than a decade.  They don't get caught out of position, they don't blow coverages, and they tackle very well.  For the most part, when they've gotten beat, it's because the offense out-executed them.

I'm not a big fan of using raw stats to determine relative rankings.  I like using S&P and FEI much better because they adjust for things like strength of schedule and garbage time, but those are based on projections a little too much this early in the season.  However, right now, the Huskies have the 23rd best defense in the country by preliminary S&P+ rankings, good for third in the conference behind Stanford (13th) and UCLA (18th).

gmcgriff:

I really enjoyed most of the game Saturday, but enough with the Jeff Lindquist experiment. Not to take anything away from Jeff, but he is put into a bad situation every time they put him in. Everyone including the guy selling soda noes what the play will be. How about putting both Jake and Jeff in and not letting the other team know what you will do. Your thoughts.

UWDP: I'm not a fan of it either, but for different reasons.

It's important to consider that all we know is the result of the play (Lindquist keeping it each time).  On his fumble, it was an option run; there was a back in pitch relationship to him, but Lindquist kept it.  If Petersen is to be believed, in the Boise State game, Carta-Samuels had the option to throw the ball when he was in the game in similar situations, so my bet is Lindquist has those same options as well.  Really, we're seeing the quarterback's decision of what to do on the play call.

I don't like it because:  1.  It's just too "cute."  I'm not a fan of that sort of thing, so no, I don't want to see Lindquist and Browning on the field at the same time which is even "cuter."  2.  Jake Browning needs game reps in the red zone and on third downs.  I think it's way more valuable to get your actual, starting quarterback snaps in those situations than to have a package for the running backup QB.

N/A:

Is Cal any good, or is Texas just bad this year?

UWDP: Hard to know right now.  There's some of both.

The thing with Texas - for as well as they've recruited the last five years, the culture change from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong was, and still is, a lot bigger than what we've seen at Washington transitioning from Steve Sarkisian to Petersen.  There are people that know a lot more about it than me, but from what I've seen and read, Texas Longhorn football was rotting from the inside, on the field and off.  They've got talent, but when you look at their attrition, it's not nearly what recruiting rankings would suggest.

I think Jared Goff is an exceptionally good quarterback.  He's accurate, he's decisive, and he's a better athlete than most people would give him credit.  The biggest difference I've seen in the little I've watched of him is how much more he's accomplished at throwing in the face of pressure.  He's doing a better job of keeping his eyes down the field, he's able to throw accurately without having his feet perfectly set, and he's able to change his arm angle to get the ball over, under, or around the defense.

S&P+ has Cal's offense at 20th in the country.  Defensively, they're at 84th.  Cal is imperfect.  Texas has a long road ahead of them.

AL:

Dwayne Washington continues to excel as a receiver. If Gaskin continues to look like the better running back and takes snaps away from Washington, does the coaching staff consider converting Washington to a wide receiver?

UWDP: Well Dwayne Washington is a converted receiver.  He spent his redshirt year there in 2012 prior to being moved to running back prior to the bowl game against Baylor.  I don't think there's any way he moves back at this point.

It's probably worth remembering that coming in to this season, people have been fairly critical about some of the drops Washington has had.  And much of his success as a receiver is because he's a running back - defenses would treat him differently if he consistently lined up out wide.

Washington is the better blocker.  Washington is the better receiver.  I'm really excited about Gaskin, but I think a fair amount of what he did against Sacramento State was 1.  Based on opportunity, and 2.  A little fool's gold.  He had some nice runs, but a couple of his long ones may very well have turned out to be negative yardage plays against even mediocre defenses.  He was able to get away with bouncing things outside against the Hornets, but those are frequently plays that end up as tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

We'll see how things go as the season wears on.  But Washington is a running back.

Rhaego:

The first game left all of the UWDP reeling about play calling. Has the play calling improved or do we owe the offense's success to execution?

UWDP: Who was killed?

Randall Floyd:

Now that the Utah State game is over, a game that I have been dreading since I found out Cyler Miles was going to be retiring, I find that my optimism for the Husky season is now sitting at an unreasonably high level. However, I wouldn't exactly say that thinking the Huskies might, possibly, get bowl eligible this year is a very high level of optimism, at least when I think about a wonderful time when the Huskies were in their heyday. Then again, taken in the context of the last 12 years, I suppose having a decent chance of finding themselves bowl eligible would be quite the accomplishment ... where was I? Oh, right, this logically leads me to my question for this week ... chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken?

Rhaego:

Three weeks of football has given us a good idea of how good our Husky team is. What I'd like to know is what 3 weeks of watching our future Pac12 opponents tells you about our chances against them. Based on those observations, which teams should we now expect to beat, and which teams should we now expect to lose to?
UWDP: 1.  Plain steak  2.  Plain chicken  3.  Chicken-fried steak  4.  Chicken-fried chicken

Yes, context.  And optimism.  And expectations.

I've thought "bowl" since before the season.  That hasn't really changed.  I always find myself optimistic at this time of year, after crushing a bunch of cupcakes or hanging with "better" teams.

Oregon looks to be down a little, but they're still quite a bit better than the Huskies.

Stanford is probably better, but they'll beat themselves once or twice a year, and they usually do their best to keep their opponents in the game.  Of the big "upsets" the Huskies could register, I think this is the most likely.  Unless....

It's Utah, which enters it's eleventy-billionth straight season with an dinged-up quarterback.  As good as Lorenzo Devontae Booker is, Utah isn't going to score a lot of points against the Huskies.

The Huskies will beat Oregon State.  They'll beat WSU.  The Dawgs are better than both of those teams.

As down as ASU appears to be this season, the Sun Devil defense may be a little undervalued.  Road wins are always tough.  Michael Bercovicci is streaky.

USC has a lot of talent.  They're schizophrenic, though.  The Huskies have a puncher's chance, but I don't see that one going well.

Cal, Arizona and the UW are all very similar teams.  Flawed.  The ability to be good, but just too inconsistent.  I like that both of those games are at Husky Stadium.

Lucas Shannon:

Hey Brad, I don't have a quesion this week, just felt I should leave a PSA message regarding our head football coach. His name is Chris Petersen, not Peterson! Come on people, he's been here for nearly a year and a half, please Learn to spell his name right! One more time, just in case i'm not getting my point across, his last name is spelled in P-E-T-E-R-S-E-N.

UWDP: Thanks for the heads up, Lookis!!

UWdadVanc:

Do the Huskies need to get over 100 yards rushing to win this game?

UWDP: Good question.

Probably.  But I don't think one 80-yard run and 29 other carries that go for 48 yards is going to get it done.  It's more important that they show the ability to pick up 4 yards per carry without the benefit of one big play.  And when you look at how few plays the Huskies are running per game this year (just over 60, only 66 against Utah State), they might not wind up with all that many rushing plays.

I do think the Huskies will need to hit some big plays (and that Cal's defense will likely give a couple up).  If one comes in the running game, great.  But they need some consistency there more than anything.

There you have it.  Have a great game day, and GO DAWGS!!