Ok everybody, let’s start the bye week roundtable. I’m going to do a total of four questions, but I’m going to ask them one at a time so we don’t jumble up our answers. Question number one: who is the offensive MVP of the first “half?”
Jacob Eason. For an offense that has been better than a lot of fans might think (they rank 7th in SP+) he’s been the skill guy that has stood out the most. He hasn’t been perfect, but his game against Oregon was his best showing yet against a strong defense and he’s the guy that opposing defenses have to fear the most.
I don’t think it can be anyone other than Jacob Eason. I had my doubts about Eason coming into the season based on the fact he would have to dramatically improve his performance from his freshman year at Georgia. But he has for the most part answered the call. There have been significant struggles when facing pressure but it’s not exactly worse than what we saw from Jake Browning outside of 2016. Eason is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt despite his primary two wide receivers combining for just 2 plays with 20+ YAC. I could buy arguments for Hunter Bryant or Salvon Ahmed but Bryant’s disastrous Stanford performance and Ahmed’s one missed game mean I think this is fairly clear cut.
Andrew- Even if his missed game largely rules him out for the award, I think it’s worth noting how good Salvon Ahmed has been this season. There were questions before the year about whether he would be able to handle a more arduous workload than he endured as Myles Gaskin’s understudy. He has increased his contribution from 7.4 to 16.3 rushes per game and maintained his prolific 5.8 yards/carry average. Five of Ahmed’s seven touchdowns have come in the crucible of the red zone, which has been a crucial component of improved collective execution in that area. Finally, Ahmed has played his best against the most stringent opposition; against Cal, USC, and Oregon, Ahmed has averaged 137 yards and almost 2 TDs per contest.
Yah, I know this is about the time in a roundtable where someone comes in with a dissenting opinion, but you have to go with Eason, and Ahmed as a second. For what it’s worth, the improvement Ahmed has shown with his patience and vision have really allowed him to grow into a true running back this season instead of just an athlete who happens to line up there -- and I was really worried about whether we’d have something like that this year or whether Myles Gaskin was actually being underappreciated this offseason.
Andrew- On a per play basis, who can beat Jake Westover? That guy is pure productivity. And Jordan Chin’s 43.5 yards/catch say hello.
Gabey- Lol you’re pressing. An honorable mention I’d go with Peyton Henry just cuz it is so hard to turn things around as a kicker and he went from the most average kicker ever (which, in college, an “average kicker” is pretty darn bad) to perfect. While obviously Eason and Ahmed are the most impactful, Henry does deserve some love for sure.
Andrew Ok, question #2. You can probably guess where this one is going. Defensive MVP.
Kirk- That’s a harder one. I’ll go with Myles Bryant over Levi Onwuzurike mainly because the DL rotation means Levi isn’t out there nearly as much of the time. Bryant has been solid in his move to safety and a steady presence back there. Levi has done a lot of dirty work that doesn’t show up on the stat sheets (PFF loves him) but hasn’t had enough of the flashy plays to compensate for less playing time.
Max- I’m not sure anyone on this defense warrants 1st team all-conference status but if anyone does then it’s Myles Bryant. He hasn’t been Taylor Rapp but similar to Rapp he has been UW’s best pass rusher when he does go after the QB (20.6% pressure rate) and leads the team in defeats with 11 (stops on 3rd/4th down, turnovers, TFLs, or pass breakups). My runner up would go to Levi Onwuzurike for the reasons Kirk just listed. He hasn’t been Greg Gaines but he’s been solid playing a role on the defense generally manned by someone 20-30 pounds heavier.
Andrew- There’s a statistical case to be made for Elijah Molden. He has 10 of the team’s 23 pass defenses. Kyler Gordon has the second most with four. Molden has also forced 2 fumbles. He has an interception and about a dozen near interceptions that he couldn’t hold. He’s somehow second on the team in tackles as a nickel corner (does any team in FBS have a pair of leading tacklers that weighs less than Bryant and Molden?). The argument against Molden is that the nickel corner position simply doesn’t have the same impact as Bryant’s safety spot or a defensive lineman. He rarely matches up with the opponent’s best receiver. For those reasons, I will also vote for Bryant, but Molden has been a revelation in exactly the right spot for him.
Max- Molden has been the boom/bust player on the defense for sure. He’s right behind Bryant with 10 defeats but he has been prone to getting beat downfield. Opponents have a 176 college passer rating when throwing at Molden at least 15 yards downfield and a passer rating of 113 on shorter passes. There have been a few too many instances where a bigger slot receiver either gets behind him in the intermediate range or is able to out jump him to quite earn that honor (although I think I’d vote him 3rd).
Kirk- He’s not currently playing enough to merit MVP consideration, but you have to like what Tuli Letuligasenoa brings to the table. He’s shown in his time this year he has the ability to be that next great 2-gap DT in the middle of the line for the Husky D. And on the offensive side it’s exciting to think about how Richard Newton as the next generation stud at RB.
Gabey- Yah. I think on defense there isn’t one true MVP because this year’s so much about seeing the seeds for the future, like Tuli, Turner, etc. Which is exciting, but not the same.
Andrew- Last question for now. Out of the players not mentioned in this part of the discussion, who do you think is most likely to enter the offensive or defensive MVP debate for the remainder of the season?
Max- The only realistic option on offense would seem to be Puka Nacua given we’ve already discussed Eason and Ahmed. If Fuller is out longer term and/or he passes Andre Baccellia on the depth chart then it wouldn’t be hard to see him feast on the very tasty Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon State secondaries. On defense the most likely addition for me would be Joe Tryon. He leads all front 7 players in pressure % and looked dominant against Arizona before being stonewalled against Oregon. A multi-sack effort or two in the last few games of the year would certainly get him into the conversation.
Kirk- I think we’ve probably mentioned all the likeliest candidates. Echoing what Max said, on defense I think the best chance for someone to enter the conversation is an edge guy that racks up a bunch of sacks and pressures in the 2nd half of the season. I suppose Laiatu Latu is a possibility, but while I think he’s got a bright future I haven’t yet seen him show that he’s ready to be a pass-rush terror. I suppose Sean McGrew could enter the conversation on the offensive side of things, but that would likely require some bad things to happen to other players that I don’t really want to consider (injuries to Eason and Ahmed).
Andrew- I don’t think we have discussed Hunter Bryant. He certainly has the physical talent to be the most productive offensive player. However, college tight ends rarely dominate offensive production to the degree that the cream of the TE crop does in the professional ranks. Moreover, this coaching staff has shown an inclination to use tight ends in a blocking capacity more than many pass-first offenses, which further depresses pass catching opportunities. Bryant has nonetheless had a big impact on the Husky offense whenever he has been healthy. It’s simply unrealistic to think any tight end would be the single most valuable contributor to a Petersen offense.