Every season in August we like to take a look ahead at the upcoming football season and give our predictions about how the team will perform compared to the previous year with our Better/Worse/Neutral series. In the spirit of accountability, with the season concluded it's time to take a look back at those predictions and see how accurate they were. Next up is our look at the Husky pass defense.
Here's what we said
From our article back on August 16th, this was our conclusion:
The Verdict: Better
Honestly, a pretty easy pick. There's every reason to think the secondary will improve greatly in 2015. They spent most of the season without their best player, Marcus Peters, so the young players already got a taste for what 2015 would be like. The only thing that may hold them back, is the new front seven taking time to gel and get a consistent pass rush. If they're stuck on an island while the defensive line struggles to generate pressure, they'll struggle. They're probably another year away from being an elite secondary, but after an uneven season, they showed plenty of promise to indicate they'll be much better in 2015.
How did we do?
We got this one right, though as Jeff noted this was a pretty easy one to call. Last year was a trial-by-fire for much of the secondary; thanks to attrition, position changes and recruiting misses, Chris Petersen inherited a secondary that was very thin on experience. By game 3 last year you had two true frosh and a true sophomore starting in the secondary, and over the last four games another true sophomore - who had switched over mid-season from WR - rounding out the group. While there was certainly talent in that group, they were also young and inexperienced, and they took their lumps at times. They were helped out by a ferocious pass-rush up front that limited the amount of time quarterbacks had to exploit them and could do so by rushing just four and leaving seven in coverage, but even still their numbers were just OK. By pass efficiency they 102nd in the country, having allowed a 63.6% completion rate for a 7.4 yard average and 26 touchdowns vs. only 13 interceptions. S&P thought somewhat better of them ranking them 64th, but their performance over the entirity of the season was no better than mediocre. However you could see improvement as the season went on, and it wasn't difficult to project better results this year.
And better results is exactly what we saw. By passing efficiency they improved a great deal, moving up to 30th in that category this year as they allowed a 58.0% completion rate for a 6.7 yard average and only 11 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions. By S&P they improved to 25th in the country in pass defense. Budda Baker and Sidney Jones were no longer true freshmen, but experienced sophomores showing themselves to be worthy of All-Conference 1st team honors; true sophomore Kevin King moved back to CB after playing S and was a highly effective nickel, while vet Brian Clay held down duties at SS and another true sophomore Darren Gardenhire (who had gotten his feet wet the previous season) won the other CB job. Even with a somewhat less ferocious (though still rather effective) pass rush up front, this group played much more consistently and with better technique this season. We shouldn't forget the linebackers either - while Azeem Victor had some drops, he showed the length and athleticism to play an effective short middle zone, and Kieshawn Bierria has enough speed to be effective in his zone drops as well. Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton had the length and closing speed to disrupt swing passes and blow up inside screen plays.
With only Clay moving on from the secondary, this is another area where we should expect to see continued improvement next season. Jones is shaping up to be the next Husky CB drafted in the 1st round, and Baker is living up to his considerable recruiting hype. King and Gardenhire should continue to push each other as they battle for the other CB job, and there are good candidates to take over Clay's spot in JoJo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner.