It’s been nearly seven months since national signing day. The Spring Preview on the Pac-12 Networks is but a distant memory; fall camp is in the can; and we are 24 hours from watching the Dawgs kick off their 2017 football season.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it. Welcome to the promised land that is college football season.
Though the Huskies begin their latest campaign on the road against a Power Five opponent, few expect the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University to put up much of a fight against the Huskies, demonstrated by sports betting outfit Bovada favoring the Dawgs by 27.5 points. So how does the UW Dawg Pound staff see tomorrow’s game unfolding?
As is Chris Petersen's mode of operation, the Husky offense will take what Rutgers is giving them. I don't imagine RU head coach Chris Ash likes his chances of stopping the run, so I expect a loaded box which likely means Jake Browning will air it out. I’m expecting an improved Rutgers team to take the field on Friday night, and the UW secondary will be tested early. The Scarlet Knights will be fired up and I foresee the environment being a hostile one. I like a closer game than last year with Rutgers having a better game plan to keep things interesting. Second half the Husky depth should prove to be too much for Rutgers and if the UW running game gets rolling the Huskies will take command. Four touchdowns is a HUGE spread for a road team in a Power-5 game. It’s quite possible for the Huskies to cover if the Dawgs win garbage time, but I don’t see that much of a blowout.
UW 35, Rutgers 16
In last year’s game between the Huskies and the Scarlet Knights, Washington jumped out to a dominant 24-0 first-quarter lead thanks to three long touchdown passes to John Ross and Chico McClatcher. With John Ross gone and the Rutgers secondary being regarded by some as the team’s best defensive unit, I doubt that the Huskies will exploit the long passing game in tomorrow’s game the same way they did last year. However, it seems clear that Washington still owns the overall talent advantage against the Rutgers passing defense. Instead, Washington’s running back tandem of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman should feast against a Rutgers defense that yielded 5.7 yards per carry last year, third-worst in the FBS behind only Nevada and California.
On defense, the Huskies are handicapped by the absence of preseason All-American middle linebacker Azeem Victor and cornerback Austin Joyner, but are otherwise at full strength. With Taylor Rapp and Jojo McIntosh as the only returning starters in the secondary, Rutgers coach Chris Ash and quarterback Kyle Bolin will surely look to test Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller at cornerback, making it all the more important that the defensive front seven produces consistent pressure the way it did early last season before Victor and Joe Mathis were sidelined with season-ending injuries.
Playing well in a season opener after traveling 2,500 miles and three time zones is never an easy task, but the Huskies own such a talent advantage over Rutgers that I find it hard to imagine that the Scarlet Knights will make this a competitive game for a full four quarters, even if the Dawgs show some early growing pains and go into the locker room at halftime with a closer than expected contest on their hands. Call it Washington 49, Rutgers 16, with the Huskies pulling their starters well before the start of the fourth quarter.
Here is what I feel really good about this week.
a) I feel really good about UW's offensive line and one-two punch of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman doing serious damage to the Rutgers front seven
b) I feel really good about UW's interior d-line controlling the LOS
c) I feel really good about Browning's command of the offense and his ability to make good choices when running the RPO
d) I feel really good about my victory bourbon selection
e) I feel really good about drinking my victory bourbon selection in the third quarter
UW 55, Rutgers 17.
Last season, Rutgers marched into Husky Stadium under first year head coach Chris Ash, and limped out after a 48-13 defeat. Their game plan was to sell out to stop the run, and put their DBs in one-on-one press coverage situations on the outside. That plan fell completely flat as the mismatches of John Ross and Chico McClatcher (cleverly put in the backfield before motioning out wide so a MLB would be forced to cover him downfield) tore them up deep. The first part of the plan actually worked all right - they kept the Huskies under 100 yards rushing for the 1st time in the 2016 season (it would only happen two other times in the season, against Alabama and USC).
I have a feeling Rutgers is going to employ a similar strategy, because the strength of their defense, and possibly entire team, is the secondary. Plus, John Ross isn't around to torch them and they must be feeling good about that. However, with what should be an even stronger running game than last season I can't see the Huskies struggling on the ground against what will likely be a bad run defense - they ranked 123rd or worse last year in yards per game and yards per carry. This is going to ultimately open up play action, and I doubt Rutgers will be able to counter.
When the Huskies are on defense, I imagine Rutgers will try to run their big 6-1, 235 pound back right up the gut into the space vacated by the suspended Azeem Victor and injured DJ Beavers. The Husky defense might not have quite the same physicality and bite without Victor, but it's not like they lack size without him, especially along the DL. Keishawn Bierria, BBK, and Brandon Wellington will man the middle of the linebacking corps and do fine.
Kyle Bolin might have his moments against a young secondary, maybe Janarion Grant gets loose, and no doubt Rutgers will be a much better team that last year, but this is a supremely talented and deep Husky team gunning for another playoff run and conference title. They might start slow because of the cross country trip and Friday night game, but the Huskies will control the game and come away with a W, 41-10.
People have been doing their best to throw water on those expecting a complete blowout but I'm not buying it. The only thing that is keeping me from going too far overboard is the idea that UW struggled with what should have been a completely overmatched Arizona squad in last year's road opener. Rutgers is clearly a better team than last year but I believe that UW is as well. The new corners in Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy are being asked to dive right in but I don’t think Rutgers is the team to take advantage of their inexperience. This should be a nice chance for them to get their feet wet and ramp up to the challenge of the Colorado wide receivers in week 4. Meanwhile, Rutgers’ secondary is their defensive strength so I wouldn’t be shocked if UW tries a bit of their game plan from the Colorado contest and runs it straight down their throats. Gaskin and Coleman are going to wash right over the Scarlet Knights’ defense like a tsunami. So I’m putting on my floaties and wandering into the deep end. War by the shore? Not quite. Rutgers is going to be seasick in New Brunswick. Washington 45 – Rutgers 14.
Huskies football is back, folks.
The Huskies kick off the 2017 season with a trip East, where they will face Chris Ash's Scarlet Knights. As we all remember, the Huskies trounced the Knights and spoiled Ash's head coaching debut, with a 48-13 drubbing on Montlake last season.
It's hard to take a ton from last season's result, since the Knights are a very different team from a year ago, particularly on offense. They've brought in graduate transfer Kyle Bolin to start at quarterback, as well as fellow graduate transfer Gus Edwards to start at running back.
Both players are clear upgrades over what the Knights had at those respective positions last season. Rutgers also upgraded at offensive coordinator, replacing Drew Mehringer with former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.
Ash has made full use of the graduate transfer rule, and the Scarlet Knights should be a much improved team than what Huskies fans saw last year because of that. That should come as welcome news to Rutgers fans, since they were one of the worst teams in all of college football last season.
Still, I don't envision this being much of a contest. I think the Huskies will score early and often Friday. While it may make sense for the Huskies to come out and run the ball early and test the Scarlet Knights defensive line and linebackers - two groups that will likely be a weakness for the Scarlet Knights again this year - that's not really Coach Pete's style. I think he will want to pass the ball early in the first half, and then pound it on the ground in the second half.
This is likely what Ash would want the Huskies to do, since Rutgers secondary is the clear strength of his defense. However, Ash loves to play an aggressive, press coverage, which doesn't work without a sufficient pass rush. I don't think the Rutgers defensive line and linebackers are good enough to get consistent pressure against a veteran Huskies offensive line. I think the big men up front for the Huskies will be able to provide a clean pocket for Jake Browning, which will allow the junior signal caller to dissect the Rutgers secondary all game, particularly in the first half.
I don't think the Huskies cover the spread, and I do think Bolin will have some success against our rebuilding secondary, but I still think the Huskies secure a comfortable win Friday.
Final Score: UW: 45 Rutgers: 20.
The Huskies scored a lot of points against Rutgers in 2016, but I wonder if fans forget the angst around the offense in that game. Three explosive plays in the passing game and a John Ross kickoff return for a touchdown put the game out of reach by halftime, and the defense was very, very good all game. But even discounting sacks, the team averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry on the ground, and nobody with more than a single carry averaged even 4 ypc.
Washington will look to pass the ball first, as Chris Petersen always does, but I'm hopeful that the running game can show more - a lot more, in fact - than it has in any of the three previous openers under Chris Petersen.
Defensively, the Dawgs will probably play very basic looks, and try to protect two first-time starters at cornerback. Even without Azeem Victor, the defense is stout and experienced enough to contain a mostly unknown Rutgers offense with a vanilla scheme.
Rutgers should be better this season than last, but probably not enough to pull off the upset. Dawgs take it, 35-14.
45-13 Huskies. This Rutgers team should be a bit better than last year, and the opening East Coast road game is a notable factor. But another thing to remember: for as well as last year's season opener went, almost all of the damaging chunk plays against the Scarlet Knights D came in the first quarter. I say Rutgers hangs in there early somewhat better, but the result ends up looking similar.
I don't know if Washington covers the spread (probably not, going all the way across the country plus Petersen will put in, like, 7th string guys if it were to get to that point) but I think it should be a pretty easy break-in for the Dawgs and the new-ish secondary to get the season rolling.
I'm excited to see what Rutgers can do with Kyle Bolin at QB, who by all accounts is much better than last year's QB, Chris Laviano who—fun fact—just transferred yesterday from SDSU, where he was a grad transfer, to go play college lacrosse. I think Bolin should be able to put a bit more pressure through the air so the game starts out much less of a clobber-fest than it was last year where it became clear quite quickly that the Rutgers offense wouldn't really be able to do much against the Huskies. It'll be interesting to see Rutgers' press-man tendency too now that they don't have a 4.22 runner to burn them in that scheme, especially given that their secondary is their strength. Still though, I expect the passing game to be a bit of the Huskies saying they don't need a guy stretching the field like Ross did to still be successful in the air.
If I have to put money on it I'd go 41 - 17, a similar score to last year, but with Rutgers showing more signs of life than they did in 2016.