Coach B's Take: The Evolution of the Husky Offense

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

A recent article by Bonefire03 titled Some Thoughts Regarding the Husky Offense got me thinking about the future of the Husky offense. It was a great read that really brought up a lot of good points regarding what our offense might look like in 2018 considering the departures of some top talent. I have no background in the analytics like some others do, but I have had a background in some of the schematics as a former high school coach, and these are some thoughts I had on where Coach Pete might steer the Huskies next year.

Personnel Changes Are Coming

Assuming everything shakes out like most fans can assume, these are the key loses we are losing next year:

  • Lavon Coleman, RB
  • Coleman Shelton, C
  • Andrew Kirkland, LG
  • Will Dissly, TE
  • Dante Pettis, WR

Also potential losses include:

  • Myles Gaskin, RB (Maybe an early NFLer?)
  • Jake Browning, QB (Also a potential NFLer, but less likely)
  • Trey Adams, LT (Even less likely to go to the draft, but also recovering from injury)
  • Kaleb McGary, RT (Draft eligible, but not likely to leave)

That being said, there are several role players that have shown the potential to replace these losses. Assuming we ignore all the incoming freshmen, here are the players I think could flourish next year with more snaps:

  • Salvon Ahmed, RB - With immediate snaps during his true freshman campaign at both KR and RB, Ahmed could grow into several roles in the off season depending on how spots on the depth chart open. Coleman was the RB2 this year behind Gaskin, and with his graduation, there is an opportunity for Ahmed to climb the depth chart. However, Coleman has a fundamentally different playing style considering he was more of a powerback compared to Ahmed's "lightning in a bottle" type of open field ability that is more similar to Gaskin. I'd think that Ahmed gains more snaps behind Gaskin, maintains his versatile gadget role that he took over from an injured McClatcher, and potentially develops more of a pass-catching role in order to make the most of his ability while Gaskin likely returns next year as the lead back.
  • Luke Wattenberg, LT/OL - Considering his extensive snaps in place on an injured Trey Adams ahead of several longer tenured Husky OL, the coaching staff must think highly of his ability, and it has shown with solid performances over the last month of the season. Assuming that the reports that Adams will return for his senior year are true, Wattenberg will likely have to relinquish the LT spot. However, Nick Harris' early playing time in spite of his non-prototypical size suggests that there is a path for young OL to earn a starting role. If he can add some mass over the off season, Wattenberg might be able to compete for Andrew Kirkland's LG spot. Considering that Coach Pete has favored extremely lengthy OTs in the 6'6"+ range, Wattenberg's size might fit more naturally inside anyways. Athleticism that could perform at LT would benefit any interior OL assuming they could pack on enough weight to handle DTs.
  • Hunter Bryant, TE/Offensive Skill - Bryant was a revelation for the offense by midseason. Bursting onto the scene with a 9 reception, 121 yard, 1 TD game against Cal, Bryant has shown truly game breaking talent at the TE position. While somewhat closer to WR size than prototypical TE size, Bryant's early receiving ability and top-end athleticism separate himself from the other young TEs on the roster. Considering Coach Pete's affinity for multi-TE formations, and the general lack in size at the top of the WR depth chart, its conceivable that Bryant becomes a featured target as soon as next year if he can come back for a full off season.
What is the 2017 Husky Offense?
I know that I skipped over several young players who contributed this year, but these are the ones who I think have the best chance at making big leaps next year and becoming long term fixtures for the Husky offense. Anyways, in order to see how the offense might evolve, we have to establish what it looked like this year.

The Huskies were predominantly an 11 or 12 personnel team, which is very similar to Coach Pete's preferred personnel packages at Boise St. The Huskies would occasionally trot out 3 TEs when that many were healthy, and they would frequently utilize 20 or 21 personnel with 2 RBs since Gaskin, Coleman, and Ahmed are a pretty deadly stable of RBs. What sets the Huskies offense apart is how they deploy these personnel packages.

Most teams would take these different personnel groupings and assume that the best way of deploying the players is at their defined positions (i.e. TEs line up outside the OL, RBs line up in the backfield, etc.), but Coach Pete has been known for his creative formations. It wasn't uncommon to see TEs line up next to the LT one play, motion into the backfield the next play, flex out into the slot the next, and be the iso receiver out wide the next. The multiplicity of these formations allowed the offense to feature their best players in a variety of ways. In the past, this would mean putting John Ross 1-on-1 without safety help, putting Dante Pettis in open space behind two TEs on a screen play, or motioning Chico McClatcher across the formation in Jet Motion to set up Lavon Coleman running a simple power play against a confused defense.

Obviously getting your best players the ball is the goal of every offense, but there are several other less common traits to the UW offense. One of these is Coach Pete's insistence on the ability to tailor the entire offensive scheme to different opponents. This could mean playing heavier 3 TE formations and running power all day one week, while still being able to go 4 or 5 wide against an opponent the next week. It helps to have versatile players that can fill several roles and blend these different schemes seamlessly. That's where these young players come in.

Schematic Implications and the Evolution of the Husky Offense
Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to the Huskies, but anyone can tell you that you can't have everything in life. That is why versatility in certain areas can make up for deficits in other areas. One example would be Myles Gaskin as a certified threat in the passing game. One would only have to watch his 50+ yard snag against the Utes this year to see he has some of the best hands on the team. Its not often you have a RB on the roster where he could lead the team in receiving one week and score 4 rushing TDs the next, but that's exactly what the Huskies have in Gaskin. While not a true hybrid RB/Receiver, Gaskin is definitely a threat.

Coleman was a decent pass threat out of the backfield as well, which allowed for a well balance passing game regardless of which back was on the field. Ahmed's progressively growing role this year has shown similar ability, thus allowing for continuity in that portion of our passing game.

Where I think the biggest difference will come from next year is the run game. Will Dissly was the starting TE for the 2017 Huskies, but he's more of a plodding 6'5" 265lbs rather than a true receiving threat. That's not to say he's got "stone-hands," but his forte is definitely in the run game where he is a proven threat to overzealous DEs who might've forgotten what turf tastes like. Pairing him with Drew Sample at the beginning of this past season gave a strong blocking duo in twin TE sets, but a rather weak vertical threat from two of the 5 eligible receivers. With the potential for both to move on, Bryant would be left as the only TE with significant experience this year, leaving the TE group noticeably weaker in the run game.

Combine the loss of Lavon Coleman, two strong run blocking TEs and interior OL Coleman Shelton and Andrew Kirkland, and our run game will look drastically different. With Wattenberg potentially trading size for athleticism/technique at one of the interior OL spots, Bryant offering more in the way of receiving than blocking, and Ahmed being unproven as a downhill runner, all signs point towards the 2018 offense shifting to a much more pass oriented scheme. That's not to say that Gaskin won't have a field day gashing Pac-12 defenses in a more zone-heavy scheme, but we might be lacking the option of utilizing a ball control, power run oriented game plan.

However, the offense as a whole might get more balanced with this transition. With Chico returning from injury to provide a deep threat out wide opposite of a big possession receiver like Ty Jones or Brayden Lenius, and Bryant bringing a credible deep threat over the middle of the field, Gaskin and Ahmed will likely see lighter boxes than at any time since John Ross roamed Montlake.

Not only will the overall speed of these players force certain coverages from defenses, but they will likely create automatic personnel mismatches. Ahmed and Bryant are almost certainly more athletic in space than any LB that they will have to match up against, and Lenius is actually bigger than Bryant even though he's designated as a WR and has proven his mettle as a blocker several times this year. If defenses decide to roll with a nickel or dime package in order to match up athletically with the Huskies, then there wouldn't be much to stop Coach Pete from running the ball against the smaller front all day. The inverse would be true as well. If teams want to stick to a base or big nickel defense in order to match up well against the run, then the players' versatility would allow the same 5 skill players to audible into an empty formation and space the defense without having to worry about weak pass protections due to Wattenberg lending more athleticism to the interior of the OL.

Coach Pete has never had this type of athletic flexibility before. While he figured out ways of standing toe to toe with Power 5 schools at Boise St. with execution and creative game planning, he finally has the personnel to actively make the drastic adjustments and varied looks between plays that most teams wouldn't be able to handle between whole games.

Versatility and multiplicity. Its the future.