Even in the best of times you’ll see teams shift what they do across the course of a season. Sometimes it’s because of injuries. Sometimes it’s because a freshman really starts to click as the season goes on. Sometimes the coaching staff realizes they made a mistake.
With the Huskies on a bye this week it finally gives us a chance to catch our breath and evaluate the trends that have become apparent over the course of the season when we take a step back.
The performance of the team to this point has clearly been a disappointment. But the back end of the schedule gives Washington a chance to go 3-1 or 4-0 if they can use the bye to get healthy and to make corrections where they’re needed.
In part one of the midseason chart review we’re going to focus solely on playing time rather than on performance. Although the two are obviously related and we’ll point out where that appears to be the case. Let’s go position by position starting with the offense. I’m skipping quarterback and offensive line because in both cases the only time there’s any rotation is due to injury or a blowout.
2019 Running Back Snap Counts
Injuries have been the biggest reason for change in the playing time at running back. The three headed monster of Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew, and Richard Newton have all missed at least one full game now. Unfortunately, last week against Oregon the team was down both McGrew and Newton which meant the most action for Kamari Pleasant since the opener where he played in the 4th quarter of a blowout. We’ll get more into performance in later additions but the 3 main backs all have a success rate of at least 54%. Pleasant’s is 15.4%. Not ideal.
The hope is obviously that Sean McGrew at least will be able to return following the bye week. When Newton got hurt I thought for sure it was season ending. We haven’t gotten an official diagnosis but if they weren’t willing to rule him out for the season it means the expected recovery time was less than 10 weeks (which would be the approximate time until UW’s bowl game). If the injury was more along the lines of a 4-6 week recovery then it would mean Newton could be back for the Apple Cup plus the bowl. Otherwise I think Salvon Ahmed proved on Saturday to everyone that he can carry the load if needed. As long as Hamdan scraps the wildcat package minus Newton.
2019 Wide Receiver Snap Counts
Here’s where things really get interesting. In the first 3 games the seniors Fuller, Baccellia, and McClatcher received 84% of the playing time at receiver. This was not exactly a complete shock given their time in the system and the ability that they had shown in the past to be successful at times. The hope was that under Junior Adams we might see a marked leap in technique which would take them to another level. As approximately 1,346,287 posts on Husky twitter can tell you, that didn’t really happen.
Terrell Bynum was the 4th option at receiver and his playing time has been fairly consistent, receiving double digits snaps in every game, outside of spikes against BYU and Oregon. Since the Cal game he has had at least as many snaps as Chico McClatcher in every game and after McClatcher was injured against Oregon it would not be a surprise to see Bynum be the starting slot receiver the rest of the way.
Puka Nacua meanwhile was unable to crack the double digit snap mark until two weeks ago at Arizona. His breakout performance in the second half of that game showed that the coaching staff finally felt he was ready to become a regular contributor but the injury to Aaron Fuller likely accelerated that plan. Nacua led the receivers in snaps against Oregon and also led the team in targets.
Nacua is listed as the backup for Andre Baccellia on the depth chart but when Fuller went down it was Nacua who stepped up rather than Fuller’s listed backup Osborne. If Fuller is able to come back fully healthy against Utah then it will be interesting to see if Nacua takes away equal snaps from Fuller and Baccellia or just from Baccellia.
The extra wrinkle in all of this is the Ty Jones situation. Jones is reportedly healthy but has decided to redshirt this season meaning that he can appear in up to 4 games. Including a bowl game there are 5 games left. If he plays in 4 of those 5 games and Fuller is finally healthy, who sits more? Without hope for a division title it is likely in the long-term best interest of the program to see more of Jones, Nacua, Bynum, and Spiker and less of Fuller, Baccellia, and McClatcher.
2019 Tight End Snap Counts
The two constants in this offense are of course the presence of Cade Otton and Hunter Bryant. Coming into the season there were concerns about Bryant’s health but he has never looked the least bit vulnerable. The lack of usage in the Cal game is perplexing in hindsight as the team went with more Chico McClatcher and less Hunter Bryant. Other than that though we’ve seen both getting as many snaps as the receivers.
The real change over the season has come after those two. At the beginning of the season LB Jackson Sirmon was brought over from the defense to play fullback while converted OL Corey Luciano was the 3rd tight end. Once Devin Culp came back from suspension he was given the opportunity to lock down that role but it appears that walk-on Jack Westover has seized it since the BYU game. Most of his play has come as the fullback in I formation looks so it might just be that he’s viewed as the primary FB and not the 3rd TE.
Jacob Kizer was expected to play a significant part in the offense once he returned from injury but he has barely been out there. It’s unclear whether he’s still not quite 100% or if he has been passed by others.
2019 Defensive Line Snap Counts
There isn’t anything totally shocking about the usage along the defensive line. The staff likes to rotate bodies through this spot and with John Clark out for the season and a desire to redshirt the true freshmen, there has been a spot for 5 players. The three veterans have gotten the majority of the snaps while the two redshirt freshmen have mostly been backups.
Against Oregon Tuli Letuligasenoa vastly outsnapped Sam Taimani for the first time this season and one of the interesting story lines of the second half will be whether that trend continues. The redshirt frosh has certainly been impressive and is the kind of two gapping nose tackle that this defense has missed after the string of Danny Shelton, Vita Vea, and Greg Gaines.
The Huskies will be young at this spot again next season after Bronson and Potoa’e graduate. Levi Onwuzurike has graded out per PFF as one of the better defensive linemen in the conference despite not accumulating much in the way of counting stats. It will be a huge boost for next year’s team if he decides to come back so the team isn’t forced to go exclusively with underclassmen.
2019 Linebacker Snap Counts
I mixed the linebackers together because from an alignment standpoint the team will often have one of the ILBs on the outside of the formation. I also could’ve been justified in putting the OLBs with the DL because they often play as defensive ends with their hand on the ground but this is the route I went, so there.
Brandon Wellington has been the one constant at the primary inside spot and his playing time has only increased as the competition has gotten tougher. Redshirt freshmen Jackson Sirmon and MJ Tafisi have had their playing time mostly cut over the last month although obviously Tafisi hasn’t played in recent weeks due to a very scary stinger suffered against Arizona.
Kyler Manu was receiving nearly equal playing time to Wellington until the Stanford game but particularly the last two weeks he has only been playing roughly 1/3rd of the snaps. Part of that is the willingness of the staff to play Ariel Ngata inside after starting the year exclusively on the edge. Another part is the staff went to a 3 DL look for most of the game against Oregon. I get the feeling that was more about a loss of confidence in any of the other ILBs (Manu foremost) than them viewing it as a strategic edge since Manu was twice badly burned on play action.
Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman have been the steady starters at OLB and each have missed a little time during the season. The broadcast made little mention of it but Bowman clearly got hurt in the first half against Oregon and only played about two series. Meanwhile, Joe Tryon was suspended for essentially a full game due to targeting.
Behind the two of them there has been a clear shift. Myles Rice and Ariel Ngata were the primary backups at OLB to start the year and their playing time at that spot has slowly diminished. Ngata as mentioned above has found second life playing inside but Rice looks to have been passed on the depth chart by both ZTF and Laiatu Latu. It would not be shocking to see him grad transfer after the season with no other OLBs graduating and Sav’ell Smalls coming in.
Latu is now the surefire backup to Bowman and in his absence played almost the entire second half against Oregon. If Bowman is healthy after the break then Latu’s snap count totals will decrease but he is clearly the 3rd guy at that spot as a true freshman.
2019 Defensive Backs Snap Counts
This has been the spot with the most shakeup during the course of the year but unlike some of the other positions it hasn’t been gradual. Kyler Gordon started the first 3 games as the outside corner opposite Keith Taylor. But then true freshman Trent McDuffie was inserted in his place and that was that.
Similarly, Cameron Williams had the second safety spot next to Myles Bryant on lockdown up until he blew a coverage in consecutive weeks leading to a long TD pass. The next week Asa Turner was out there in his place and has not had his playing time questioned.
The coaching staff rarely rotates guys in the secondary except in garbage time so more than anywhere else you see the top 5 in the nickel defense playing nearly every snap. The extra playing time from the reserves instead comes when the defense switches to a 6 or 7 DB look instead of directly replacing those in front.
It’s not impossible that Turner is replaced at some point during the rest of the year either for Williams again or for Brandon McKinney. But more than likely you’ll see the current 5 starters entrenched with Kyler Gordon and Brandon McKinney coming in as the 6th or 7th DB as needed (although Gordon may start against Washington State’s air raid).
Over the next week we’ll also look in depth at the offense and defense in terms of the formations used, their success, and some advanced stats for individual players.