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Mailbag: “.” Edition

Washington v California Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Straight to it.

Onewoodwhacker

How do we KNOW this offense (playbook/system) is “Pete’s”? Did we hire Hamden and then Pete walks up to him and say: “Here’s MY playbook, you run what’s in there”. Does the Hamden have his own playbook/system? And does his playbook fit the talent we currently have on the team? Has Pete EVER said: “We run MY offense at Washington” publicly?

UWDP: We have to take pretty much every coach who’s ever spoken about it at their word. Chris Petersen, Jonathan Smith, Bush Hamdan, Jeff Tedford, Keith Bhonapha, Chris Strausser, Scott Huff, and I’m sure there are others. Do you think a guy that’s been an offensive coordinator a grand total of one season (at Davidson) has his own playbook, and that Chris Petersen hired him to run it at the University of Washington? That could qualify as a fireable offense, in my opinion.

I don’t know if Petersen has used those words or not. I do know that Petersen’s offense has been his calling card as a coach for about 15 years now. I’m sure Bush Hamdan is asked for his input on the offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pistol was his influence.

What do you think, Onewood?

UW2016

Why do the huskies always seem to have a meltdown game the past couple of seasons against a team they really should beat?

UWDP: The majority of teams have one, the majority of seasons. Having one is far more normal than not.

philly boy

We Know Ahmed is great in open space, but it seems like he is afraid of direct contact and dances around a lot, often for a lot or no gain. He never hits the hole hard. Am I the only one seeing this?

UWDP: I don’t really agree that he doesn’t hit the hole hard, when the play calls for it. On a gap play (power play, with a pulling lineman), I don’t think it’s an issue. The Huskies run a lot of stretch this season (a very wide zone run play), and it’s one that requires more patience as a runner to let his blocking get out wide, and then develop a lane for him. I think one of the unique things about Salvon Ahmed is that even while he’s dancing, he’s still gaining ground, and that juking sideways run that looks like nothing somehow ends up being a gain of four.

I agree that he’s not a bruising runner, but I definitely think he’s a very complete back, that can pretty much run any type of play the Huskies have in the book, with a lot of success. I think he had some bad luck against Cal on a few plays, and he gets put into some boom-or-bust situations because he’s one of the very few explosive playmakers left on offense. I also wonder if he’s totally healthy right now.

I think he’s going to be a great back at Washington as the feature guy next season.

TopGunDawg79

After the dismal loss, what does this Husky team have to play for this season? The Offense seems to lack firepower and frankly lacks fire of any kind lately. Is this correctable or do we just pray for next season. Hate to see those hard working seniors go out in a bad way.

Good bye meaningful postseason

After the way this team has played recently, basically starting with the UCLA game, I see a very real 1-2 finish to the season. We haven’t seen a team with a pulse for a few weeks out there. Convince me that they can beat any of the remaining teams on our schedule.

UWDP: The Rose Bowl. Geez. This isn’t just directed at you TopGun, but fans need to realize that this team is contending for a conference-freaking-championship right now. If you don’t think that’s realistic, that’s fine. The odds aren’t exactly great. But that’s what’s on the table right now, and that is a fact.

If you (the general you out there) don’t like the team or the program or the direction of things, and a loss is a necessary evil to facilitate a coaching change, then sit around and be angry or depressed so you can pop in with an “I told you so” when the team is eliminated. Otherwise, you need to understand that each season is only partly related to previous and successive ones, and can’t actually do nearly as much on its own to change a trend line as people want to believe in the heat of the moment. And that’s for the good or the bad. I didn’t believe the 2000 season represented a run of dominance at Washington, did you? In my opinion, the overall trend of the program has been on a steady upward course since Chris Petersen took over. I don’t think this season changes that, even though it has a probability of ending up “disappointing.”

This is a good team that’s flawed. Some people bought into more than that. Some people think they deserve their money back. Welcome to college football, where you don’t always get what you paid for. Sometimes you get lucky and get more. Even if you’re an Alabama fan, though, you probably spend most of your time feeling like you got ripped off.

Husky fans used to say that this was the standard for a Husky season - to be playing for a conference championship into November. With the playoffs, there’s a bigger prize out there now, so maybe winning the conference isn’t good enough for you any more. If that’s the case, then you’re going to hate this team. A lot.

Jega

Why have so many Dawgs, left our program, since hiring Coach Pete in December 2013?

UWDP: Graduation, Jega. Players only have a finite number of years of “eligibility,” which means the amount of time they’re allowed by rule to play football for the University of Washington. It’s four seasons of game action. Once that “eligibility” “expires,” they can no longer play for the Huskies.

GU2966

Okay what the $&@! Is going on with the offense? What is Hamdan’s role in the current malaise? I know you keep saying this is Petersen’s offense but why is this Petersen offense so ineffective compared to other Petersen offenses?

UWDP: Do you think being “A Chris Petersen Offense” has innate value?

It doesn’t. It’s a great tool, but only if the mechanics operating it know what they’re doing. Right now, the coaches and the players are struggling to make it work.

Football is a complicated game under the best of circumstances. The Huskies add a level of complexity with an offense that’s hard to operate well. The upside is that when it operates at a high level, it’s incredibly difficult to stop, because it requires the defense to have multiple answers at its disposal at the same time, as opposed to just one or two.

The offense right now is having to mitigate for multiple key cogs not operating correctly. It’s tough to get around that.

alpha1906

I speak at UW in November for a lecture. Do you think it would be prudent for me to begin with a Go Bears?

UWDP: Of course.

Anon

Now that we are a basketball school, what’s the over under on wins, and can we make it to the big dance?

UWDP: 21.5, and yes, they should.

Oregon Dawg

PAC 12 is Parity Assured Chaos time 12. This last weekend is proof as even the hapless OSU beavers pulled on an overtime win, and Cal and UA made Vegas odd makes look stupid.

In the NFL parity is desired. But in the limited college playoff based on popular vote, parity sucks; especially since some conferences have more parity than others. Would a 6-8 team playoff fix this assuming every power 5 conference had one team and you also had an additional spot for at least one non power 5 (highest ranked)

To do this you would have to add 2 more games played in mid to late December with the higher ranked teams playing at home (or flip a coin for which team is at home).

Thought?

UWDP: One of the biggest reasons I hear from people to keep the playoffs at four teams is that expanding it devalues the regular season. I’ve then heard these exact same people criticize this Husky team because they were supposed to be a playoff contender and they’re not, and the struggle for them to try and win the conference is a disappointment.

Frankly, I think a four team playoff is the worst of all worlds.

Go back to the bowl-and-poll system, or actually create a college football playoff like the FCS teams get. 24 teams, first round byes for conference champs, weekends of chaos and weekend after weekend of great college football.

Kitty Rainbow Laser

The computers still really like UW. S&P+ has UW at #7. Sagarin has ‘em at #11. Is this team actually better than my eyeballs are telling me?

I think it’s fair to say the offense is broken. (1) to your eyes, what are the root causes? (2) realistically, do you think the offense CAN be fixed for the stretch run and this season can be salvaged? (To me, a trip to the Rose Bowl would qualify as “salvaging the season.”)

UWDP: As much as I love the advanced stats, those are tough numbers to swallow. FEI has them at 26th (I think?) on offense, too. They’re down a fair bit to mediocre offensively in S&P, but those numbers actually make a little bit of sense - the Huskies aren’t great on a play-by-play basis, but can usually get a first down or two each drive. What typically happens then is that they hit two (or three) less-than-successful plays in a row over the course of a drive and end up having to punt.

Yes, they’re probably a bit better than what your eyeballs say, especially if you’re human and suffer from recency bias like most of us; Cal has an inordinate amount of weight. I can’t really abide by those numbers, though. It makes me feel like I’m lying to myself.

On the other hand, they also make me think that the offense is actually closer than it appears, and that the key is being able to create more plays that are 20+ yards. Yes it’s “broken,” but not it’s not a fundamental thing that’s endemic to the culture or scheme or coaching staff. The offense needs more guys that can make things happen within the context of the offense. Thing is, one explosive guy (like John Ross in 2016) doesn’t have an additive effect, it’s a multiplying one. The passing game requires a successful running game (and visa versa), so there’s an additional multiplying effect from those one or two personnel changes.

A Rose Bowl is salvaging the season? As in, “I’ll take it, but I won’t really be happy about it”? A Rose Bowl is a tremendous success, and arguing otherwise is grounds to just get the hell out of here.

jistephe

How did the Husky football recruiting class rank in 2014 and 2015?

UWDP: According to 247, 38th in 2014 and 26th in 2015. Thanks for allowing the mailbag the opportunity to be your personal google.

Atomic Dawg

Why did they think would happen inserting Haener? Who made the call?

UWDP: They probably thought, or at least hoped, that the team would get a pretty massive jolt out of seeing four year record-setting QB get benched (as in “no one person is sacred around here, you all need to get your !@#$ together”), and that the rest of the offense would rally around Jake Haener. I don’t know who’s idea it was, but there’s nobody but Chris Petersen who is actually allowing that to happen.

Liveinhoth

Benching startinf QB for a backup I’m ok with, even with the result. How about WR, those guys aren’t getting it done - how about getting spiker out there?

UWDP: Marquise Spiker, Austin Osbourne, Keenan Lowe, Alex Cook, Terrell Bynum....None of those guys has made a mark. I would’ve guessed that a talented true freshman could’ve made a mark in that group, and certainly that guys that have already used a redshirt would. Bynum and Cook are getting increased numbers of snaps, but they aren’t seeing the ball. That’s obviously not something in their control. But it’s a surprise.

I hope that in 2022, we sit around each week and say “Man, I am SO GLAD we redshirted those three back in 2018!”

Godawgs17!

How much healthier are the dawgs coming into Stanford this week? Adams, Gaskin, and Bryant back? If so I feel that would inject so much needed life into this offense.

UWDP: Trey Adams and Hunter Bryant haven’t played in a football game in almost a year. Even if they’re ready to go against Stanford, it’s unreasonable to expect them to be the difference, and anything they provide should just be viewed as a bonus. Myles Gaskin could be a huge addition. I don’t know if he’s going to be out there, but my money is that he will be. And if he is, I think he’s going to break out with something huge.

Is it time time to panic?

I think Petersen doesn’t cares for defensive kind of games. I think he panics at these types of games and goes back to a “Boise state kind of set”. An example of this thought process was in the 2014 Standford at Huskies Stadium. We lost because of an unsuccessful fake punt, (which we had no business doing; I think we were on our side of the field) Standford got the ball and was able to drive the ball for a win. I think we win that game if we didn’t go for a fake punt. Petersen didn’t trust defense in that game.

Recently, at the Cal game he didn’t trust his defense. He should have let the game play out. But during our last drive we ran that stupid triple reverse and the result was a 10 yard loss. Thankfully, Jake was able to make a good pass to Jones. But next play we run to the edge for no gain. Maybe that was on the RB, but why don’t we just run the ball down their throat? Running the ball is the best identity of a offense. I am tired of these stupid gadget plays! When are we going to become a power running team?!

Anyhow, back to my question regarding ‘panicking’ I think we have a championship defense. But our offense has regressed every year since 2016. We were great with Tedford’s help and with Sark’s seniors but now we look really bad. Do you see an upside of our offense? do we improve and how (Is it qb or receiver play )? When the other QB came into the Cal game we had some good runs up the middle but we didn’t continue to run?! Why is that?We didn’t even try short passing routes to get him into rhythm. I didn’t like the Hamdan hire and it has been an failure. (we should have hired a more season coordinator) My problem with him is that he doens’t stick with the run and he doesn’t call plays to his players abilities. Sadly, I don’t think Petersen will let him go. I think Petersen is too much invested in Hamdan since he brought him back as the OC/QB coach. I am worried that we’ll be beat again this year because of lack of play calling from Hamdan. Should I be worried or is Easton going to fix everything...

UWDP: I certainly didn’t love the fake punt against Stanford in 2014, but I’m not sure that is an argument that Petersen doesn’t trust his defense. I’d say it showed he didn’t trust his offense, because in a game where everyone knew the Huskies couldn’t move the ball, with time running down, Petersen used trickery instead of just keeping the O on the field (which is what he should’ve done).

In fact, I’d argue that the evidence people have used that Petersen doesn’t trust the defense (you mentioned Stanford in 2014, lots of people mentioned Cal) are the exact opposite; they’re entirely about trusting his defense to make stops. Against Stanford, he put his defense on the field with their backs against the wall, trusting they’d hold. They didn’t. Against Cal, he kicked a field goal late, thinking his defense was going to get the ball back. They didn’t. I don’t think the choice to trust the D was wrong in either case.

The handoff to Salvon Ahmed was an end around, not even a single reverse (much less a triple one). You’ll have to connect the dots as to how that’s not trusting the D. The toss sweep to Kamari Pleasant is actually a “run it down their throat” play. It’s a lead block play that’s right at the edge. The Huskies missed some blocks, and it got stuffed. But that’s not a “soft” or “finesse” play call.

You can criticize the play calling all you want, that’s fine. Lots of people do it. I’ve said this many times - people far smarter than me say they can’t differentiate between play calling and execution (I’m talking specifically about Hugh Millen and Mike Holmgren). I’m going to side with them on that.

Andrew M Smith

Is it possible that we underrated Jonathan Smith?

UWDP: You’re clearly related and obviously biased.

Maybe. How did you “rate” him?

jpearl

A mark of a well coached team is the improvement one sees week to week, although some young guys are getting playing time, I don’t see the team improving, why?

UWDP: I can’t ever recall seeing a team make anything close to linear progression over the course of a season. Certain aspects, maybe. Players, sure.

Travis

4th and goal kick a field goal with no gurantee to be in that spot again. Is Coach Pete the most conservative coach to ever be in charge of a Pac12 program?

UWDP: He’s definitely a very conservative coach, and he’s going to lean on his defense. A lot like Don James in both regards.

Husky2000

You commented after the Oregon game, ‘They needed to run against the Ducks’ heavy fronts instead of keeping in blockers and trying to pass, and they needed to flood routes with five receivers against Oregon’s coverage instead of trying to run against it.’ It also seems like that was how we allowed ASU to stay with us last year.

It reminded of the comment that Saban made after the Peach Bowl. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he mentioned that the UW was a ‘system team’ and once you figure out the system, it’s not a problem to beat them.

My question, is our offense so predictable (and when/how we audible), that opposing teams can dictate the plays we call and check into, based on the defense they initially align in? It seems like we’re reactin too much to the defenses alignment instead of imposing our will and focusing on what WE’RE good at...

UWDP: It’s possible this is correct, that the team needs to just do what it does well, and not worry so much. When you’re good at lots of things, like the 2016 team was, you have a lot more choices and a lot more margin for error. I don’t know if anyone can say two or three things this team consistently does well on offense. I think it’s done most things well at one time or another this year, which only adds to the frustration because they are in fact capable. Just not successful. Consistently.

Coach Pete Frowning

Is this game a signal that a shake-up in Petersen’s coaching staff may be warranted? Completely aside from the benching of Browning, how much blame do you put on the coaching staff for not being able to move the ball? I thought from where I was sitting that stretch run plays that turned into too many negative rushing plays was actually the biggest factor in us not being able to move the ball.

Darin Johnson

I thought Cal did a good job of stopping the stretch play in particular. What we’ve seen the Dawgs do to other teams -- including Utah -- we didn’t see Saturday. Did you spot anything in particular they did?

UWDP: All of the blame falls on the coaches, ultimately. On game days, their primary job is to elicit performance. They aren’t getting that done. It’s their job to develop the talent they need, or to recruit it.

Thing is, as much as we fans would love to see it, neither of those things are “snap your fingers and make it happen” corrections to make. Chris Petersen is very much a slow and steady coach that looks to build stability and continuity as opposed to an instant impact leader. At least in terms of the super visible impacts one might see with a recruiting dynamo, or a guy that raises the scoring average of an offense by 15 points in one year (even if the defense continues to struggle). It’s not who he is.

Nothing worked very well against Cal, stretch plays included. The passing game didn’t generate yards. Power plays got stuffed. It’s hard to make a relative comparison of the success of that play versus anything else - if you couldn’t answer “a play that works for positive yards,” then how would you respond to “what would’ve been better there?” Credit to Cal’s defense, they were really good.

sowletrain

Long-time reader, three-time writer.

A few months ago in the Auburn mailbag edition, I lamented that something just was not “right” about this team and that I could see four losses... GD it, I hate being correct (we have at least one more loss in-conference coming). I am so disappointed in this season.

Unfortunately, I am now firmly in the “Browning is not good” camp. I really appreciate that he chose to come to the UW during a regime change, and that he has been a four-year starter. I am happy that he helped raise the bar for this program from the Seven-Win-Sark era. That being said, I am ready to move on at QB.

UWDP: For better or worse, you’re going to get your wish in a few weeks.

KRL

This team often looks flat, frustrated, and/or possibly disinterested. Now there was the debacle with benching Browning and they yet again lost a very winnable game. Is there any way to find out the vibe in the locker room? Is Petersen losing this team’s confidence?

UWDP: We’ll see if Petersen is losing the confidence of the team or not. It’s a real possibility. It’s a test of his leadership abilities, and of the leaders on the team. It’s a real possibility, though. Teams can fall apart in situations like this. I don’t see it happening, and I think life looks a lot better with a good win.

brothelmaster

I have watched Husky football since the 1950’s. This is the most disappointing team I have ever experienced.

UWDP: Noted. I appreciate you sharing your recency bias with us.

I think 1985 was the most disappointing season I can remember. I was 10 though, so I can’t say for sure how much of that is due to the preseason rating from Sports Illustrated, then getting killed by BYU, play into that.

Darin Johnson

People have been calling for Petersen to bench Browning and put in Haener for weeks now. Nobody ever calls on the coach to bench the offensive line and put in the backups. Why is that?

UWDP: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s probably part of the same discussion as Browning’s career trajectory - I wonder why there aren’t articles with hundreds of comments about Kaleb McGary’s?

Darin Johnson

Pick one: Trey Adams or Hunter Bryant.

UWDP: If I pick Hunter Bryant, do I get Jared Hilbers back?

I’m going with Myles Gaskin. I don’t know if clogging one hole does enough on the offensive line, and the Huskies can get a lot of what Bryant brings with Ty Jones, if they tried. I think Ahmed is limited, that Gaskin is great, and getting him on the field would feel like a bigger boost to the offense than anything else.

sanity check

I’m of the opinion that Coach Pete will land Washington among the college football elite--in a few (5 at the earliest) years. Am I delusional, leaning delusional, leaning reasonable, or reasonable?

UWDP: I think that’s reasonable. I don’t think it’s a guarantee, but I think it’s reasonable.

Darin Johnson

The line for Saturday is Dawgs -6.5. What would it have been if we’d beaten Cal by two touchdowns?

UWDP: I don’t think it would’ve been different at all. Maybe it would’ve gone as high as -7.5.

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UWDP: asdfasdf

Darin Johnson

Who do you think has more right to be annoyed about the way the QB thing went down -- Browning or Haener?

UWDP: Jake, of course.

Haener. And I don’t think it’s even close.

Darin Johnson

Is Petersen an elite coach?

What’s your answer if elite means only Urban Meyer and Nick Saban?

UWDP: No. Yes. Maybe, I don’t know.

Is Saban elite, simply because he can attract the talent that Alabama is able to get?

Frankly, I think it’s one of the less-interesting sports debates out there. Some people love it. I’m not one of them.

NorthwestPurple

4th/Goal: Go for a touchdown or kick for 3, like we did?

UWDP: It’s 4th and goal from the 9, and the Huskies had had very little success running the ball all day. There’s no threat of a run at that point, and the strength of Cal’s D is the secondary, which has a small field to defend. Washington has a good defense that’s likely to stop the Bears and get the ball back, but probably not without giving up a few of the five minutes left on the clock. The offense hasn’t had a great drive since the opening one.

I’d kick the field goal there. I think it probably doubles the opportunity to win versus a do-or-(most likely) die play from nine yards out, but I don’t think it was actually all that high either way.

Benno

Home/Road performance has been a big problem for this team the past two years. for the life of me I can’t put my finger on why. But if we look at the number, the offence is not very good on the road. Going into this season I thought it would be minimized due to the experience of the players, and a nice reliance on the run. Any ideas on what is happening, or how to get the team up for playing on the road?

UWDP: The offense isn’t a whole lot better at home, at least in terms of scoring points.

I don’t think it’s a matter of being “up” or flat, motivation, etc. I think it’s harder to play on the road, period.

Golden Dawg

Who do you hold most accountable for our offensive struggles this year? Browning, and his extremely average play this year? Bush Hamdan and his, from time to time, extremely questionable play calling? Petersen, because it starts from the top? Or are we simply not as deep on offense as we all once thought? Combination of the above?

Island Husky

So which is it?

1- huskies are talented and the coaching and development is sorely lacking despite the ‘Peterson Messiah ‘ narrative.

2- huskies are very average ‘talent wise’ , the coaching and development are fine and the ceiling just isn’t what we hoped it would be and they really are a second or even third tier team on the national scene.

UWDP: Chris Petersen is the guy with the $4 million salary. He’s the head coach. The buck absolutely, positively, falls with him.

It’s a combination of all of that, plus the play at receiver and offensive line. There are injuries to some guys that could help a lot (which isn’t to suggest things are suddenly fixed). I personally expected contributions from a couple of guys that haven’t materialized, and that’s my fault, not theirs even remotely. In hindsight, it’s not actually all that tough to see this team struggling on offense. Not to this degree necessarily, but when you add it all up and mix in the notion that things aren’t necessarily as bad as they seem (or are at least easier to fix and aren’t fundamentally broken), it’s realistic.

RockDawg

Brad

Will this game be the most difficult and challenging of Coach Petersen’s career. What do you think he needs to do to get the team back focused on playing the football to beat Furd instead of thinking about the no confidence vote he had in Browning that ended up backfiring?

UWDP: I can’t answer that first part with any context for his time at Boise State, but I’d put it up there with any game since he’s been at Washington.

I don’t think the team “focusing on football” part is that difficult. The routine that he’s drummed into these guys for months and years pays off in this situation. I don’t really know about Jake Browning, especially in regards to his dynamics with Bush Hamdan. Brock Huard said something to the effect that there’s something wrong with the relationship between Browning, Hamdan and Petersen. I think that’s extremely possible, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there was something in all of that that played a part in benching Browning against Cal. I don’t know what to expect. I think Browning is extremely competitive, and he wants to win badly. I don’t think he would ever do anything to intentionally undermine the coaches or other players (even a guy that would replace him, like Jake Haener), but he’s also a brooder, and can potentially impact guys without trying.

I think he’s going to be fine, and the rest of the team is as well. I think the magnitude of the moment is big enough that everybody - coaches, players, fans, etc. - is going to be pulling in the same direction on Saturday.

KRL

In the grand scheme of things (Husky Football related), how important is it for this team to finish this season strong? (I’m thinking about everything from the legacy of this senior class, recruiting, faith that Petersen still has this program moving in the right direction, a gut check for this program when adversity sets in, fan interest/engagement, etc.)

UWDP: A strong finish will be great for the majority of the fan base, although unless it comes with an absolute offensive explosion due to a rampage of sacks and takeaways by the defense, there’s a segment of the fan base that isn’t going to enjoy it no matter what.

A weak finish is going to be painful for fans in the short term, and it’s going to hurt the perception of the seniors, and there may be a small impact in recruiting. But ultimately, the importance is only going to be seen in hindsight - either it’s a blip on the radar, or the beginning of the end for Petersen.

Fans are going to be enthusiastic and engaged in 2019 almost no matter what. We aren’t rational in our affection.

NevadaFan

Having the benefit of being able to look back over the entire Chris Petersen era, do you see a continuing upward progression toward UW becoming a national power (even if not an Alabama or an Ohio State) or do you maybe see that the program has reached its level as an occasional member of the national top 25 but also an occasional participant in the Heart of Dixie Bowl? Is UW football still on the rise or has it already risen?

UWDP: Until this week, the Huskies had been in the polls since like August of 2016. That’s a little more than “occasional,” right? Consistent, even?

Will the program have ups and downs? Of course. Are you asking if the playoff appearance in 2016 was a flukey one time thing? There’s nothing to suggest that whatsoever.

All for this week.