Do you know the story about Merkle’s boner?
Perhaps you just did a double-take at the first successful use of the term “boner” in a legitimate article on the UWDP. Or, perhaps, you are aware that Merkle’s boner is a real thing.
You see, in 1908, New York Giants infielder Fred Merkle was standing on first base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game against the Chicago Cubs. The next hitter, Al Bridwell, promptly drilled a single into center field that scored Moose McCormick from third base to give the Giants the game-winning run. But, here is what made the term “Merkle’s boner” a headline: Merkle never touched second base on Bridwell’s hit.
The story goes that Merkle was overwhelmed by the immediate flooding of the field by raucous fans excited about the Giants pennant. When he saw the fans, he was struck with terror and retreated back to the dugout. A heady Cubs second baseman noticed that Merkle never made it to second and tagged the base. Merkle was called out and the game declared a tie. The Giants would not win the pennant, after all.
What happened? In short, Merkle panicked.
It’s a familiar sensation among sports fans. Admittedly, it is not exactly the same kind of sensation that one feels when they see a car cross into a lane of oncoming traffic or when they show up to class surprised to find that it is exam day. But sports panic is a real thing. Fans of many teams across many sports know the feeling. If something can go wrong, it most certainly will go wrong.
Having experienced that panic on many occasions, most fans are conditioned to expect the worst. Think of it as a control mechanism to compensate for the panic before the panic occurs. This form of psychological conditioning often presents itself as cynicism or, sometimes, pessimism. For some, the effects are greater than for others.
But there can be little doubt that just about everybody is affected to one degree or another. We all know that disaster is looming. That our favorite team is on a one-way track heading right over a cliff with nobody in the engine room available to pull the brakes. It is inevitable. The worst is coming. We all know it.
So, what are UW’s greatest pending disasters in the 2016 season? With just 10 days until kickoff, it is time we address this situation.
Option 1: The Offense is Going to Suck
Despite boasting record-setting true freshmen performances by both their QB and their RB in 2016, there remains much skepticism among the mass market of college football as to UW’s prospects on offense. After all, the Huskies were not exactly stellar on offense as a unit a year ago. In addition, most programs in the PAC seem to both be in a better starting state and on at least as good a trajectory. UW fans find themselves asking many core questions just as these other teams seem to be taking off: is our offensive coordinator qualified? Is our wide receiving corps more than a liability? Are our offensive linemen experienced enough? Is our RB unit deep enough? Is there a playmaker out there who can bail us out those five or six times in a season when those situations arise?
Many UW fans had high expectations that Chris Petersen - himself a former QB coach and offensive coordinator - would have an instant impact on the offensive side of the ball. Now into his third year, I sense that expectations have tempered. Proponents argue that just when those expectations plateau is exactly when the breakout occurs. Husky fans certainly hope so. It’s all panic until then.
Option 2: Offensive Line Recruits Hate UW
It’s always one thing or another when it comes to the recruiting deficiencies of Chris Petersen and his staff.
First, it was that he couldn’t close the deal on Sark’s best recruits. Then it was all about how well Petersen would fare attracting high-level four- and five-star recruits. Once that ceased being an issue, we started debating whether or not he could land high-level out-of-state recruits. Then it was about a lack of interest among wide receivers, specifically.
The latest flavor of the month? “Where’s the beef?”
UW has whiffed on some high-level offensive line recruits early in the 2017 recruiting cycle and will likely head into the start of the season with no commitments in any of the three position groups. Exactly how concerning this ought to be remains an open question. Most would agree that, at the very least, “hysterical panic” is warranted.
There is good news for UW. For example, UW only loses two scholarship linemen after this season: OG Jake Eldrenkamp and OG Shane Brostek (both expected to be starters/regulars in 2016). Also, UW is still in the mix for a couple of highly regarded prospects, including the top OT prospect in the nation in Foster Sarrell and a highly rated OG prospect in Henry Bainivalu.
But why should anybody take solace in the good news? Inconsolable consternation and untreatable bewilderment are better ways to go.
Option 3: Jake Browning Can’t Hit the Deep Ball
By any measure, Browning had a wonderful true freshman season. Not only did he set new freshman marks for the program, but he was the most statistically accomplished of all true freshman QBs in the nation. Yes, including Josh Rosen. In fact, Browning was better than Rosen in some of the most important passing categories including completion %, Pass-to-TD ratio, yards per attempt and quarterback rating.
The one area where Browning failed to impress was with the deep ball. While Jake didn’t necessarily have the best playmaking wide receiving crew to work with, it can’t be claimed that he showed well when it came to balls that had to travel more than 20 yards in the air. Jake’s arm strength isn’t great to begin with, he struggled with his balance, and was often short with the ball even when his receivers had broken open.
A Chris Petersen offense, contrary to many beliefs, can be quite aggressive about taking its shots. Obviously, a higher percentage need to be converted than what UW hit a year ago. Browning hit on just 17 passes over 20 yards - ahead of only Anu Solomon (16), Sefo Liufau (12), and Seth Collins in the PAC. That number needs to be in the high 20s for UW to be the offense it wants to be.
But can Browning do it? Reporters are writing that Browning looks to have built up his base and is throwing with better balance. The return of John Ross and the maturation of guys like Darrell Daniels and Dante Pettis bodes well. Still, until we see it, we should all panic about it.
The Offense is Going to Suck
Let’s be clear. I do not - I repeat, I DO NOT believe that the offense is going to suck. I’m simply selecting it as the greatest pending disaster for this tongue-in-cheek 30-day countdown piece because, let’s be honest, it is the one dark fear that has rooted itself in the deepest nooks and crannies of the typical Husky fan’s brain.
There aren’t many good reasons to believe that UW’s offense is going to outright tank. They are pretty much returning every major contributor from a 2015 season that saw UW put up a better-than-average total statistical package (at least by way of any number of efficiency stats). Given that the key pieces are all back - Browning, Gaskin, the offensive line, Pettis, and Daniels - one would expect overall progress even if one or two of those pieces don’t take huge steps forward.
Nevertheless, there are enough worries to justify having a stash of pharmaceuticals handy at Husky Stadium. Jonathan Smith has been an underwhelming OC and is clearly on notice, the wide receiver situation is unsettled, the o-line is still young and, compared to the rest of the PAC, it is hard to see UW being a top-half offense even at its best.
Thus, my pick for the biggest pending disaster that ought to have Husky fans curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs and begging for their mothers to leave the hallway light on is the state of the UW offense.