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Mailbag: “Born of Frustration” Edition

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Washington v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Dawg Fan12: Shouldn’t we recruit some bigger DB’s so can match up with Stanford?

UWDP: Washington’s DB’s aren’t actually small. In general, they’re big, long guys, particularly at corner. The coaches ask a lot of the Huskies’ nickel backs and the boundary safety (the Rover) in terms of covering the bigger slot receivers. Myles Bryant isn’t a big guy, and neither is Elijah Molden. But they’re two of the better football players on the team, regardless of position. It’s just “the breaks.” We’ll have to see what happens moving forward. The Huskies have had a lot of success with smaller DBs under Chris Petersen.

Aaron: Bush Hamdan is a young coach. Will he grow into a first rate offensive coordinator? Or did Peterson make a mistake in hiring him?

UWDP: Odds are, overwhelmingly, that he won’t. But considering that he’s just sequencing plays from somebody else’s playbook, his role as “offensive coordinator” isn’t the same as it would be at a different school. His role as the QB coach is probably more important. It’s really difficult to assess that right now.

It’s funny, though - Jake Browning has become a better QB now that he’s no longer here, Jonathan Smith has become a better OC now that he’s no longer here...

Victoria Husky: Well the way I see it is there are basically two types of fans.

Those that are flummoxed, livid and crestfallen with this performance and this team overall.

The others who are easily triggered and with hubris and condescension are quick to condemn the passionate expressions of the first group.

This second group has self determined that their absence of vitriol, in essence makes them better fans.

Proclamations of loyalty and trust come what may is their trademark.

Why do some analysts and some fans alike feel so triggered and threatened by honest, passionate and well calibrated criticisms? What are they scared of?

Please don’t reference The TY era. That’s getting old.

UWDP: Everybody thinks their side is the one filled with reason, logic, truth, etc, and that the other one is full of a bunch of knee-jerk, stupid, insert-whatever-adjective-you’d-like people that just “don’t get it, no matter how obvious it is.” It’s just as true for me as it is for you.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. And the whole “the other side is full of idiots” mentality smacks of insecurity. Looks like you need to remember that just as much as I do.

GoDawgs: Eason looks like not quite ready for NFL, does he come back for year 2?

UWDP: Jacob Eason can’t do it by himself. But in terms of being ready for the NFL, he’s going to be 6’ 6” and 225 pounds, with a cannon for an arm and maybe the most beautiful delivery you could ever hope to see. The NFL draft is about potential, and Eason’s isn’t actually changing based on what’s happening on the field. He may come back, but his performance, which is actually very good all things considered, isn’t going to be the reason why.

Ragu: You stood me up on last week’s mailbag? Where’s my apology? How do I know you won’t hurt me again?

UWDP: It’s refreshing to see such perspective and understanding of one’s place in the universe.

Count on being hurt; that way, when you’re not, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Why: Peterson limits the number of offensive plays so they can excel at those plays. Doesn’t this help out opposing defenses when reviewing the plays on tape?

UWDP: This isn’t true at all. The offensive staff will select plays from the playbook most likely to work against a given defense, but it’s a very large number. The argument usually is that Washington’s playbook is too large and diverse, not the other way around.

Collene: Why the hell can’t we have nice things?

UWDP: Because we lose them or break them or leave them out in the rain.

It’s tempting to ask what “nice things” are relative to Washington’s football program, just so we can watch Vicky’s question about the “two types of fans” from above rage in the comments section (again).

Drew_D: The husky defense got pretty well worked over by a depleted Stanford offensive line and not for the first time. Does the UW scheme have a problem with heavy personnel?

Benno: After watching Stanford’s first drive, I was concerned that their style of play was a bad matchup against the Husky defense. To my eye, the Husky D keeps everything in front of them and forces an offense to take what is given, capitalized on mistakes by the offense. Stanford’s offense is designed to take what is given and capitalize on mistakes by the defense. Am I rationalizing a matchup issue, or am I seeing a potential issue developing with the defense? Or was the issue a young defense making mistakes that Stanford simply took advantage of?

UWDP: The base scheme - absolutely, unequivocally it does. Without a doubt. Especially this year, when the freshmen defensive linemen that bring the ruckus aren’t quite ready (as seen by the coaching staff) to get the lion’s share of the snaps up front.

Washington plays a light defensive box - usually no more than six men. When they do bring a seventh, he’s of the “180 pounds, soaking wet” variety. Washington will mix up what it does in terms of play calls defensively, but fundamentally, it relies on a few guys up front commanding (and defeating) double teams so the players behind them (the inside linebackers) are free to make lots and lots of tackles for minimal gain, and the secondary can put as many men as possible into coverage. Washington’s best defensive tackle right now (Levi Onwuzurike) is more in the Steve Emtman playmaking mold than the Vita Vea-Greg Gaines manmountain mold.

Personnel-wise, Washington is in a tough spot right now. The guys they need to do what they want to do against Stanford are on the roster (Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam Taimaini), but they’re freshmen. The inside linebackers are unspectacular players. So the weaknesses are compounded against a team like Stanford (and unfortunately for Husky fans, Oregon). Stanford is also an exceptionally patient offense, that’s willing to take the three and four yard plays over and over again. Most teams aren’t.

It’s tough to be able to scheme for every eventuality as a football coach; there’s not enough time in the season nor bodies on the roster to be good at “everything” all at the same time. WSU’s Air Raid has success all year, but can’t do anything against Washington. The answers (on both sides of the ball) aren’t in the playbook, they’re in the players.

i8ntda1DWAG: How much of the problem is youth and inexperience,or the product of the system?

UWDP: Good question. I have my opinion, but obviously don’t know. For Washington, this question becomes the foundation of Vicky’s “two types of fans” debate - the “flummoxed” fans are mostly think the talent is fine (“Play the young guys!!”) and the coaches need to adapt, while the “condescending” ones say the system is fine but the talent (in the form of the younger players) isn’t quite ready to get the job done. Whatevs.

The Ghost of Coaches Past: What coach had the worst game? Was it Jimmy Lake playing soft and not adjusting to Stanford? Was it Bush Hamden and some truly atrocious play calling? Was it Chris Petersen for failing to have the team ready?

UWDP: I’ve said a number of times that I don’t have the ability to separate play calling from execution, so I’m not a huge proponent of trying to assess the calls (even though I do it anyway; it’s almost impossible not to). I think it’s on Petersen. If he didn’t like the defensive game plan - to play Stanford “small,” then it would’ve taken very little effort to have it changed. If he didn’t like the play calling, it takes no effort to make things different.

UWDAWG47: The lack of pressure on Stanford this week was embarrassing. Do you blame this on our defense’s lack of ability to win 1 v 1 against Stanford’s depleted true freshmen offensive line or the defensive play calling.

UWDP: Schematically, Washington just doesn’t invest much in terms of resources in rushing the passer. They rarely rush more than four players; even when a linebacker or defensive back rushes, it usually means that someone else (like one of the outside linebackers) is dropping into coverage. As much as fans like sacks, the coaches just don’t seem to value them enough to sacrifice bodies in coverage in order to get them.

No, the pass rush wasn’t good. Stanford used a lot of quick passes and screens, and heavy protection packages, to compensate for their injuries on the line as well.

ChicagoDog: Why did Husky fans have such high expectations for this season? Replacing 9/11 starters on defense and veteran leaders at RB and QB seems like an obvious recipe for regression. There are only 3 or 4 teams in the country that could weather those losses and still compete at the highest level. Do Husky fans believe their team has reached that echelon?

UWDP: Some do, yes. In some regards, they’re correct. This is one of the more talented teams in the country. But there’s a ton of that talent in the two youngest classes right now, and they aren’t ready to shine in Petersen’s system. Blame the system, blame the players, blame the fans, blame the weather. Whatever. My personal take is that, mistakes (mostly in recruiting) were made in the past, I think they’ve mostly been addressed, and unfortunately, we have to pay the price for those mistakes today if we believe the fundamentals of success exist withing the program. Which I do. I don’t enjoy losing, and yes, it’s year six, but since we have the right guy in place at the top for the first time since Don James, I’m willing to go through the growing pains. I obviously reserve the right to change my mind, but for the first time the talk about the light at the end of the tunnel (that serves to incite the debate about fans, systems, players, patience, logic, expectations, etc) isn’t a train.

USNRetired: 1. Why can’t the OC provide adequate protection to the QB. It was ugly how often the QB was rattled? Use more TE sets in my opinion for protection, provide better protection.

2. The receivers were over matched by the LB and CB, they couldn’t get separation. My opinion, the receivers need to get separation and have options in their routes, why don’t they?

UWDP: Your two questions here sort of epitomize the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect of failing to make plays.

Washington spent much of the last two seasons in max protection, with tight ends and running backs staying in to block, and fans complained that the reason Jake Browning was under pressure all the time was because he didn’t have enough bodies out in the routes to be able to find an open receiver. And after last season, and during this season, all of the fan talk was about having too many options, and the overly complex nature of the offense that keeps the young guys from seeing the field.

It’s funny, I say...

Topgundawg79: How should a die hard Husky fan react to the missteps of this Husky team? Piling on over the loss seems fruitless. Next game, bury the last game, is my philosophy. But I am concerned about not only the execution, but the hart and will of this team. “Everyone has a plan until they are hit in the face”. It’s what you do after that which determines the outcome of the fight. Is it the team, coaching, or both that needs a hard look in the mirror? What do we do to improve going forward?

UWDP: I don’t think there’s any single position group, player, coach, etc. that can look in the mirror and honestly believe he’s doing everything he needs to do in order to win. I also don’t think anyone on the team believes that. I don’t think there’s dissension in the ranks, or finger pointing, or anything like that right now.

Everyone. Everyone needs to get better. Copout, yes. True, yes.

I think this team needs someone to step up and be a leader.

Brilliant Shining Star of Brilliant Brilliance: How much better would the Huskies be if Coach Pete would just follow the advice of fans? Undefeated I think!

UWDP; I have personally produced a winning game plan on both sides of the ball the Monday following each game for decades now. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri: Pro tip: I prefer flourocarbon leaders. Now you know.

UWDP: For nymphing or surface action? What if you want to swing a soft hackle through a riffle right at the beginning of a hatch, greased-line style?

Dawgfan247: Obviously, the linebacker play has been suspect this year. What are your expectations for the linebacker core next year given how young we are at that position? Are you concerned that we will likely have two RS sophs backed up by freshman? It seems this position could be a significant issue next year as well.

UWDP: Yes, it certainly could be a weakness next season. The good news is that Jackson Sirmon and MJ Tafisi are getting some good experience this year. By 2020, they’re probably going to have as much as Kyler Manu and Brandon Wellington had coming in to this season.

Angry Ragu: I’ve heard the “miscommunication” excuse multiple times over the last few weeks from CP, including the failed FG at BYU and the 4th down against Stanford. Is this a lazy excuse for a play/decision gone wrong?

UWDP: No, it’s coach speak for “This is the only answer you’re going to get. I’m not telling you what happened. If you want to ask the same stupid question again next week, you’re going to get the same answer. I don’t actually care if you like it or not, you are bad at your job and ask uninteresting questions that you know I’m not going to answer.”

purplereign4ever: I understand that we got out-played and out-coached but it just seems like this team lacks grit and perhaps even leadership. When face adversity, good teams pull themselves together and keep fighting to win. I’m scared whenever we don’t start hot or have a comfortable (10+ points) lead because I’m not sure if this team is build for a comeback. There was a shot of Nick Harris’ face when offense came onto the field in the 3rd quarter, and he just looked like we already lost. Out of anyone, I would not have expected that from him (being a senior and awesome personality). Do you think this team have lack of grit/leadership issues?

UWDP: Yes, I think there’s a lack of leadership, and it’s sort of tough for guys that have never been leaders to suddenly step forward and take that role. You can’t teach leadership, not really.

On the other hand, we like to foist the characteristics we want to see on good teams - “they won because they had grit and leadership.” Maybe. Maybe they won because they were more talented.

Purplereign4ever: Why do we abandon the run game so fast whenever we’re (barely) down on the scoreboard? I want to give Bush Hamdon the benefit of doubt but he really planned/called for a horrific game on Saturday. I understand some of issue are execution related but I really believe that we should stick to the run a little more, especially having 3 (now 2 I miss Newton already) awesome backs. What do you think? Do you think anything will change as the season goes on?

UWDP: Chris Petersen has been the coach here now long enough that it’s very clear that he believes the Huskies need to be able to throw the ball in order to win. So as much as we might want to blame Bush Hamdan for the play calling, it just wouldn’t take any effort for Petersen to change things during the course of a game. By not speaking up, at the very least Petersen is complicit (and I actually think he’s fine with the ratio).

Sure, I’d like to run more. But all I really want is for the team to score more points. That’s all that really matters. There’s a certain amount of arrogance in suggesting I know best how to do it, from the comfort of my throne....

RockDawg: Brad, your thoughts on having an offense that requires card carrying MENSA WR’s regardless of their athletic abilities?

UWDP: I think that this is definitely the narrative that fans like best, but we don’t actually know what’s going on, no matter how much we want to believe we do.

Are the young guys actually better? Is the problem that the play book is “too hard?” Anyone that attempts to speak definitively is full of crap. We just don’t know near as much as we’d like to believe.

We know the seniors are struggling, and the young guys had really high recruiting rankings. We also know that Petersen will play freshmen receivers in large roles. Beyond that, it’s a lot of speculation, and the fact that three guys (who might be being held back by the coaches, or who might not be as good as their recruiting rankings, or.....) aren’t seeing the field right now.

That’s it.

Texas.Dawg: I personally have three superpowers: 1) dogs look wherever I point 2) I can hear in the dark, and 3) I can immediately tell if somebody has moved the driver’s seat in my car.

My question is: what superpower could Coach Pete use to make us all happy again?

UWDP: I can only imagine how wealthy and well-respected you are. Wow.

There isn’t one, not universally. Well, maybe “winning every game by 50 points.” But that’s it. Even “winning” wouldn’t be enough, it would only be a matter of time until I got mailbag questions that said “We’ve been undefeated for 16 years, but we still only beat Oregon State by 1 freaking point?!?!?!? Fire (insert coordinator name here)!!!!!!!”

Mountain Man: Over or under? K. Tate puts up 400 yards rushing plus passing this Saturday? Extra credit... will UW’s total team offense be more or less than Tate’s total offense?

UWDP: Tate is averaging like 315 combined yards per game. Under.

More.

Perspective.

Mountain Man: If UW continues to crap the bed like this, how much damage could it do to a potentially epic 2021 class? I’m deeply concerned that they’ve picked a real bad season to flop and it could hurt this upcoming class. Are these fears legitimate or does one season not hold that much sway?

UWDP: The fear is legitimate; it’s always nerve-wracking when a portion of your job is managing the egos, whims, expectations, etc. of impressionable 17 year-old kids for months at a time until they can finally sign. Losing doesn’t help, for sure. But I think there’s probably more that goes into a decision than a single game or a single season, namely the relationships the kids (and their parents) have with a coaching staff.

There’s also a lot of football left to be played. I get that you’re down on the team, but I’d maybe take a look at Chris Petersen’s track record, even when his teams struggle.

GU1966: Is it time for CP to do a critical and in depth self- examination of his staff and seriously consider if changes might be beneficial. Hamden’s game plan and play calling were a major factor in the poor performance and for the second time there apparently was a miscommunication on a fourth down. Saturday was simply pathetic against an undermanned opponent.

UWDP: Sure, of course. I think it’s something he does every year regardless.

Do you think he’s sitting around feeling satisfied right now?

Mountain Man: Time for a dose of reality? Sometimes in sports the whole is less (or more) than the sum of the parts -- coaching, chemistry, “fit”, etc. all play a part. I’m worried that’s the case with UW. Maybe, as a collective, they are just less than what the parts would suggest. With this in mind, is it perhaps time to just admit that the 2019 Huskies are simply a crappy team?

UWDP: Something is not working properly, for sure. It could be something major, and it could be minor. As much as we’d like to believe there’s science behind making the determination, it rarely is. Sure, right now, I think the sum is less than the parts.

Crappy, though? Seriously?

Mountain Man: I’m at a loss trying to understand what the Husky offense is trying to be. (I understand whatever it is, they aren’t executing. So, maybe that’s why it’s hard for me to even see what they are trying to accomplish. Run first? Pass first? Develop pass off the run?) But, in simple, general terms, can you please explain what exactly they are TRYING to accomplish out there? What is their intended identity? And, any fixes you might suggest from your armchair? (simplify it? different personnel? Scrap it all together?) It’s been a failure against good competition for at least a couple of years, so is it time to change course, whatever that means?

UWDP: Balanced, versatile, multiple. It’s sort of a catch-all type offense that wants to be able to run on running downs as well as passing downs, and pass on running downs as well as passing downs. The running attack is mostly zone (inside, outside, and stretch), and power. There’s a bit of counter thrown in. The passing attack is a lot of mesh, crossing routes, flood...mostly pro-style concepts. The whole offense uses different formations and motion to force the defense to tip off its coverages, or to create mismatches.

It’s mostly pretty timeless stuff. It’s been around football for decades. The difference in offenses is mostly emphases (like run vs. pass) or utilities (like a running QB, or pass-catching tight end), not totally different “plays.” There are definitely teams that have less complicated offenses that are geared more toward precise execution of a few plays or concepts.

I think right now the biggest struggle the offense is having is inconsistency, and that’s keeping it from finding strengths in complimentary plays (running plays that set up passing plays and visa versa). The balance isn’t there. As I said above, unless you have strong reasons to want a different offensive scheme and playbook (which aren’t something like “Look how good Ohio State’s offense is!!! We should do that!!!” when “that” is built around one of the most talented rosters in the country.....), then fine. While I like Petersen’s offense because it fits Washington’s recruiting base well, I’m mostly indifferent to scheme in these conversations - I think the answers are more likely to be found in things like personnel and execution within a scheme, not the playbook.

All for this week.