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Mailbag: “Friday Night Lights” Edition

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Utah at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

OlyDawg: The huskies are definitely soft in every aspect of the game. What changes do you honesty see being made to toughen up?

UWDP: I’m not entirely sure what people mean when they say a team is soft. Mentally? Physically? Emotionally? All three?

I think that too often, it’s just a catchall thing, akin to blaming play calling, halftime adjustments (or lack of), etc. Sort of all-encompassing, and non-specific.

I think the team lacks confidence. You can see the ability that they possess in jumping out to quick starts the last two weeks. But when the opposition punches back, on both sides of the ball, the Huskies don’t have the belief that they can answer. If that’s soft, then okay. I’m on board.

cityboy91: How do you feel about our Defense two years from now when all our new nine starters have more experience?

UWDP: Two years? I’m confident that the defense is going to be really good next year (and it’s still going to be young, with maybe only three seniors and six or more underclassmen starting). But I also don’t understand the massive crisis of confidence that Husky fans are suffering this season. It’s one thing to be disappointed about this year, but there’s a lot of recency bias at play in projecting trends.

WallaWallaHoot: It appeared to me the pick six in Oregon and Utah game Eason didn’t get much help from his receivers?

UWDP: Maybe I’m not understanding what you’re saying, but Jacob Eason didn’t throw any interceptions against Oregon, much less a pick six.

Aaron Fuller didn’t run a good route against Utah on the INT returned for a TD int hat one, but Eason also completely telegraphed the throw by never looking anywhere else on the field. The defensive back sat and watched Eason’s eyes the whole way.

Maybe Fuller could’ve done more to prevent the interception, but that one is on Eason.

Pescado Paul: I have always felt that good teams (and good coaches) find ways to win the majority of their close games. Under Chris Petersen the Huskies have not only struggled to win close games, they have lost the majority of their games determined by 10 points or less. To what do you attribute this?

UWDP: I think there are a lot of things that go into a statistic like that.

It means the Huskies typically play good teams close. When you’re the favored team and lose in an upset, it’s usually by only a few points. Fans like to create big trends out of small data sets. Stuff like that.

I don’t see a fundamental flaw in Chris Petersen that says his teams “regularly lose close games at a rate higher than other teams.” As fans, we don’t usually know as much about other teams as we do our own, so we tend to assume it’s better “over there.” Rick neuheisel’s Husky teams won lots of close games. They also were really good at creating close games out of matchups that shouldn’t have been competitive in the first place....

Otis: The crowd was alive in the first half. The air seemed to go out in the second half though- even prior to losing the lead. The student section seemed dead and had lots of empty seats. What’s going on? Where’s the atmosphere?

UWDP: Welcome to sports stadiums the whole country over, in this day and age.

southcounty253: Any confidence in even winning the Apple Cup at this point?

UWDP: You serious, Clark?

The Huskies now get to play three pretty bad defenses, after playing some really good ones. The last time that was the case, the team beat up on Arizona pretty good.

RoderaDawg: Is Pete gonna fire any of his assistant coaches, especially Hamdan.

UWDP: I know the answer, of course, but I promised I wouldn’t say anything.

Two things on this: one, it’s funny how quickly Bush Hamdan’s star has fallen; he enjoyed an offseason of being “the answer” to everything at Washington, to being the clear, obvious, biggest issue with the Huskies, and two, Washington’s offense is actually pretty good this year.

Husky in Oregon: Do you think UW’s recent hot starts in the 1st quarter could be due to a scripted package heavily influenced by Coach Petersen? Kind of the “Tedford effect” for Hamden? And then as the game progresses, it falls back to the guys in the booth? Has Petersen ever been the play caller while being a head coach? So odd to have the offense simply go cold.

fwdawg: It seemed to me that the Washington offensive line started off the game dominating, giving Eason plenty of time and protection to make his throws. What changed, so that once Eason started getting pressure, he started making some critical mistakes? Did the offensive line just become gassed? Is conditioning an issue for the offensive line? Should we have rotated in more offensive linemen? Or did the Utah defense just make some adjustments that our offensive line did not adjust to? And if so, what were those adjustments and what could we have done to counter them?

UWDP: I’m sure all of the offensive coaches have at least some say in the scripted first 15 plays of the game. I bet Hamdan discusses them with Chris Petersen. But if Chris Petersen has this positive impact on those plays, why would there be an assumption that he wouldn’t be able to impact the rest of the game? Do fans think that Hamdan cuts the cord for Petersen’s headset so he’ll just SHUT UP FOR ONCE? If the positive impact was Petersen, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t exert the same positive influence over the rest of the game. It doesn’t take his necessarily selecting plays, even.

Maybe Washington got tired, maybe Utah adjusted. Maybe two teams settled into “who they were” as a long game wore on.

I don’t think it’s actually odd at all. I’ve seen these last two Husky games play out dozens and dozens of times. Several each season. An underdog gets out to a quick start, the crowd is going crazy, and then slowly but surely, the favorite exerts itself. You can see the swing in momentum well before it manifests itself on the scoreboard, and that last touchdown, or defensive stop, is fait accompli by the time it actually plays out on the field.

Washington needs to “know” that they can win those kinds of games. They need some to earn that confidence, and they need some leadership from amongst the players.

SW-Husky: What ever happened to CP being this great coach that gets more out of lesser talent. Seemed to work at Boise. Now he is recruiting at his best level ever but the wins just aren’t there.

UWDP: Eh, don’t get caught up in the mythology. Chris Petersen’s record against Power 5 (or teams that are currently Power 5) while at Boise State was something like 12-8. That’s obviously good, and there were certainly some nice wins in there. Petersen had the more talented team the overwhelming majority of the games he coached at Boise.

727Dawg: How long a leash is Peterson & company on? Are the Huskies so soft because of the Peterson recruiting OKG’s? If so it’s time for a change.

UWDP: (this space intentionally left blank)

fwdawg: Put on your sports psychologist hat for a moment. I recall that after the Stanford debacle, our head coach with a background in psychology reportedly told the players over and over all week to be careful of a possible trap game. I recall former head coach Steve Sarkisian would warn his players in the same way, hoping that they don’t lay an egg against an inferior team they were to play. Often they would lay said egg. By bringing up such warnings of falling flat on their faces, isn’t Coach Pete introducing the Pygmalion Effect? Did the team self-fulfill their coach’s prophecy? Shouldn’t the coach express a solid confidence that would permeate his team? Or is making such dire warnings the right approach? What is the right approach? Thanks & go Dawgs!

UWDP: The simple answer is that the right approach is the one that works. Beyond that, the approach probably changes from season-to-season based on the team, and maybe even week-to-week as they progress.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the public presentation we get from Chris Petersen is a very small, almost insignificant, look into how and what he says to his team. What we get for public consumption may or may not be reflective of the overarching message to the team.

JT Wop: If Eason leaves after this season, will his transfer to Washington eventually be viewed as a net negative for the program? I believe that our record through nine games would be the same with a younger QB at the helm.

If/when we gain bowl eligibility, should Peterson start giving meaningful snaps to one of the younger QB’s?

UWDP: I don’t know why it would be a negative, no matter what the speculation is about other QBs. I mean, I can see how some fans would get to that point, I guess, but as a consensus opinion, no.

If Eason announces he’s going pro no matter what, then maybe consider giving snaps to someone else. Maybe. Until then, play the guys that give the team the best chance to win. Full stop.

Jay Burm125: Has Eason been instructed to step up in the pocket when the rush is coming, and if so why doesn’t he do it?

UWDP: Of course he has, it’s fundamental football. Petersen said recently that his pocket awareness is better than practice than it is in games, and that the coaches don’t see these looping scrambles except in games.

Why doesn’t he do it? Same reason he sometimes doesn’t look off defenders, or doesn’t audible out of bad plays, or drops snaps, or any other thing that he (and every player) does or doesn’t do that’s contrary to coaching: they aren’t robots, it’s a physical game, and no matter what you practice, sometimes instincts (like self-preservation) take over when the opposition is coming after you with bad intent.

OregonDawg: Oregon and Utah are good teams that beat us because of our own mistakes. Cal and Stanford beat us because they simply wanted it more (especially 4th qrt). Yes other things contributed but that’s the 30,000 foot level looking down. We seem to have most of the right parts but lack something. I thought it was experience but we’re late into the season and these players have experience now. So what’s the number one thing missing: drive? Cohesiveness? Coaching? Qb play, line play?, RB play?something else? Please pick the top thing regardless if all parts of this team are culpable.

UWDP: I’m going to cheat and give you three.

Overall, I think the team misses player leadership. Motivators, calming influences, guys that inspire confidence.

On defense, it’s experience. Yes, they’ve played lots of snaps this season, but it’s frequently tough to build on the things you’re learning in the heat of the moment, and in the grind of weekly game preparation. Lots of times, it takes stepping away from the live fire to rely get everything you know to sink in and take effect; that’s a big part of the reason you see massive improvement from one season to the next. As much as we can hope to see the progress within the season, it just doesn’t work out conveniently all the time.

On offense, the team needs playmakers. At receiver, and at running back.

i8ntda1DAWG: With the senior leadership we have on both sides of the O&Dline this year,i think the experience there next year again will be our strength.WR and LB room will be young and hungry with players ready to prove and show what we were waiting to see.The whole DB room returns a young group with a new attitude and with a year under their belts.If Jacob returns,where do you see the weakness of this team next year?

UWDP: I mostly agree. I think the weaknesses are mostly in the form of question marks. On defense we don’t know what the answer will actually be at inside linebacker. It’s not obvious. On offense, there are three starters to replace on the offensive line. That’s a lot. Outside of Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary, I think you have to go back to Senio Kelemete to find a good offensive tackle, and it’s tough to remember when they had two at the same time....

I’m nervous about that. The recruiting has been good the last couple of years. But I think we need some young linemen to grow up reeeeeaaaaallly quickly this spring.

TropicalDawg: I have no doubt Hamdan is a smart guy, but I’m wondering if he’s just not one of those guys that can think decisively on the fly and call the right plays given what the opponent’s D is showing and the trends/flow of the game. Do you think that beyond his first X number of scripted plays that his effectiveness as a play caller drops off dramatically? Or is this not even an issue at all?

On a related note, do you think the Husky offense is too complex and that in trying to keep a defense off balance we just end up fooling ourselves and make mistakes? Perhaps this was needed at Boise St. but at UW, maybe it’s preventing our guys from playing “fast”?

UWDP: One thing to point out first: the Huskies get well beyond the first 15 plays before they start to slow down. Well into the second half. I’m not going to try to separate the play call from the execution, because I don’t have the ability to do so (and lots of very smart football people say the same thing). But the fact that we’ve seen the offense continue to play well is evidence that perhaps there are issues larger than the selection of plays that bog down the offense.

Maybe the offense is too complicated. Maybe overall, maybe just for this group of players. I think this is another one of those things that fans talk about because it sounds good, but don’t necessarily know how or why the offense is complex, or if it’s been simplified year over year, etc. But it sounds good.

The new king?: Do you think that Utah and Oregon are going to be the new top teams of the PAC? Are both of these teams young or older? I hope older so possibly next year there’s a decline for both teams. What’s UW age wise compared to other teams too. I believe our offense is filled with juniors and seniors while the defense is younger but I don’t know.

UWDP: The big thing (for fans that need the other top teams in the conference to fall back instead of the Huskies just beating them) is that both lose their quarterbacks, and as it stands right now, Justin Herbert and Tyler Huntley are probably your first and second-team all conference QBs, with one likely the conference offensive player of the year to boot. That’s been an achilles’ heel for the Utes, but Oregon seems to have more in the pipeline. The Ducks lose almost their entire offensive line, but they’ve recruited well there and with a former offensive lineman as a head coach, Husky fans should expect them to be solid at worst. The Oregon defense loses a lot at linebacker, and there was some thought they may lose a DB to early entry in the NFL, but I don’t know either way. Utah’s offense doesn’t appear to lose much on the offensive line, but loses both Huntley and RB Zach Moss. The Utes, though have had this wild run of huge, very fast running backs that seem to come from nowhere, so I’d expect them to be able to run the ball next season. The defensive is going to lose seven starters, but D is also coach Whittingham’s calling card, so expect the Utes to reload....

Overall, I’d say both teams lose more than do the Huskies, even if Jacob Eason leaves for the NFL. The difference isn’t necessarily huge. Washington needs to get better.

Why cannot we be a pound it out team: All of our losses are from teams that their philosophy is to run the ball. They all are considered physical teams. Who would thought that Oregon would be a physical team. It seems to me that our OC coordinator tries to be too cute with gadget plays. It’s frustrating to watch games because our offense looks bad. Why don’t we just run the ball more. When Oregon ran the ball on 4th down at our 30 yard line; I have to admit that I really liked that play call so much because the coach trusted his players to get that first down. It’s unlike UW coaches who called a gadget play during the Utah game on 4th down and the wide receiver couldn’t catch the ball. If the ball was caught I still wouldn’t have liked the call. Gadget/ scheming vs running. Now during the Utah game as well as the other games UW lost; huskies tried to run but UW’s OC gives up on the run but those other teams (Utah, Cal, Stanford, Oregon) stuck with the run and ended up wearing down UW’s defense. Why UW coaches are stubborn with their run game? Don’t they know that running the ball eventually wears out a team. What you think is better running or scheming? At least in running the ball it’s both physically and mentally taxing on the defensive because when it’s working the defense knows the play coming but there’s nothing that defense can do to stop it.

UWDP: A few things on this topic (that seems near and dear to a lot of Husky fans’ hearts): You can’t just be a power running team at certain times; it takes a commitment in recruiting (the right types of linemen and running backs) and practice.

Against Utah, with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter, the following is a list of healthy Husky running backs:

Kamari Pleasant (as far as we know)

That’s it.

Washington ran the ball really well against the Ducks. I don’t know what problem you have with that game. Stanford, okay. Cal, balanced attack. On the flip side, Cal won because UW’s defense was genuinely bad, not because Cal’s rushing attack wore the Huskies down. Stanford was similar; they built their lead because of the passing game, and the running success was a result of that, not the cause. You can definitely make the case Oregon won with its rushing attack. But Utah was about Huntley’s fantastic afternoon; Washington’s defense against the run was very good.

I’d love to be able to guarantee three yards on the ground, even when the D knows what’s coming. I also want a balanced attack. If I can only have one, I’d rather have balance.

That pass on 4th and 1 wasn’t a “gadget play,” it was a forward pass.

Dawg1988: Do you think Coach Pete is the type of coach who would fire say a loyal coach in Bush Hamdan to bring in someone who could help him win a National Championship?

UWDP: Yes, absolutely he would. But the idea that it’s one or the other is a total false dichotomy.

fwdawg: How do you account for the abysmal season we have seen thus far from the inside LBs? Missing DJ Beavers to medical retirement and Ale Kaho due to a “family emergency” does not seem to fully account for even the subpar play of the redshirt freshmen inside LB players, to my admittedly untrained eyes, not to mention the two senior ILBs. Is it fair to speculate that Bob Gregory, noting the progressively worsening special teams play ever since he took special teams coaching after the 2015 season, reallocated his energy to special teams (which is improved this season for the first time, quite remarkably), and is neglecting his ILB coaching duties this season? Or am I out of line and you think the ILB coaching is not an issue, merely the available talent and/or experience? Thanks!

UWDP: I suppose it’s fair to speculate that, but if you see how much time is spent at practice on individual and team defense (and offense) versus special teams, it’s not a very likely answer.

I think the play of the inside linebackers has not been good. We know that there are holes on the roster due to misses in recruiting. Of those two, I think the recruiting is the most damning indictment, because I think we’ve seen Bob Gregory coach inside linebackers well at Washington.

The results are a problem this year. If that means Gregory is fired, so be it. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and I think the young guys that played this year or the young guys that redshirted this year are going to have to step up, big time.

TigerMtn: Do you think this Husky team could have done better this season or have they achieved at a level you would have expected?

UWDP: I think the record is at the extreme low end range of the team’s actual play on the field. By (admittedly imperfect) advanced metrics (like SRS, Sagarin, FPI, FEI), this is a 15-20 ish team, better than all of the teams in the country with three or more losses. That’s about what they look like to me. There are probably lots of factors involved in the discrepancy between results and metrics, with luck being the most overlooked.

Benno: I may be the optimist, but the last two games have given me a lot of optimism about the future of this team. Other than the hole at LB, we seem to have all the parts to rise back to the top next year. On offense, we have a group of talented WRs who are showing more than the seniors. Assuming Richard Newton comes back from injury, a solid group of RBs. Decent experience on the line. The QB is a big question mark, but watching Eason grow during the season I think the young guys can as well. On defense, we have a couple of good tackles and some young ends who can rush the passer. Lake has a track record with the DBs. LB is a concern, but I’m seeing some of the young guys starting to step up.

Am I misguided here, or is the rebuild in the final stages?

UWDP: I tend to be more optimistic about the future of the team than most, so no, I of course don’t think you’re misguided. As I mentioned above, I’m a little concerned about the offensive line as well, but I generally agree with you.

I also think the team is still in “build” stage. 2016 is a confounding factor in plotting the progress and trajectory, not a completed team.

OsidePup: The Huskies have lost 3 of their last 4 PAC 12 games. Oregon State has won 3 of their last 4. The Beaver’s offense seems to be on a roll and can score against any team. The Huskies offense seems very inconsistent, especially in the 2nd half. Where does UW’s strength overpower the Beavers and why should Husky fans assume UW is the better team and will be able to pull out a win against OSU at Corvallis?

UWDP: Even with the 7 points the Beavers scored in their 52-7 loss to Utah a few weeks ago, you’re right, they have a really good offense going down there. Washington’s is better than you seem to suggest, though. When Washington played the Ducks and the Utes, they scored the most points either team had allowed to that point. Oregon State’s offense is a whopping 8th in the country, but Washington’s isn’t all that far behind at 23 (by FEI)

Oregon State’s defense is absolutely putrid. One of the worst in the country (128th out of 130 by FEI). Washington’s offense has a massive advantage on this side of the ball, substantially greater than the one Oregon State’s offense has on Washington’s defense.

Mountain Man: Are teams starting to “crack the code” of UW’S defense? It seems the approach has been to make the other team be patient, limit explosive plays, and force them to drive the field. Eventually, a “mistake” or getting impatient will get them in a bad down and distancce and kill the drive. However, it seems teams are more willing to be patient, keep pounding, and the 1 to 3 yard gains early in the game are becoming 7 to 8 yard gains in the 2 half. Is this an accurate observation? Have teams adjusted to our scheme? Or, is our scheme fine, but just don’t have the horses, experience, etc. to effectively execute it?

UWDP: While it’s possible teams have “figured out” Washington’s defense, I don’t think that’s the most likely explanation, for two reasons: One, it isn’t a difficult concept to figure out. Two, there’s no “stopping things at 1-3 yards” this season. There’s no reason to change anything, because it’s all working, pretty much from the get-go.

Maybe the scheme needs to be tweaked, but to me, it seems the much more obvious problems are in execution.

Mountain Man: while the d-line position recruiting was great last year, it appears UW is potentially going to whiff in 2020. Understanding it’s not a bumper crop of DL’s out west this year, is it perhaps worth taking a “project” DL just so we don’t end up having a DL recruiting gap like the one we’re currently suffering through? (Maybe a high 2* or 3* late bloomer?) Usually not a fan of recruiting based upon hope and prayers, but it sure seems like getting a big body, even if just for depth, might be a wise move to try to avoid the jam we’re in now.

UWDP: Take a project, or hope to get a junior college transfer to backfill the roster. “Projects that pan out” and “transfers that pan out” are both equally rare unicorns, it seems. I don’t want to miss out again, but the Huskies are going to have seven underclassmen linemen for their two spots next year. That’s a lot. Obviously there will be attrition, but the talent and depth signed the last two seasons makes putting all your eggs in the transfer unicorn basket maybe more tolerable than the project unicorn basket. Regardless, this has to be a one-off. You cannot have this happen again.

Mountain Man: Who are some players you’re really excited to see next year who maybe aren’t getting lots of attention right now? Maybe some guys who aren’t being talked about this year much, but next year might be showing up big? Also, I’m hoping/expecting to see a huge jump in the play of the D-line next year as the younger Dawgs get another year in the strength and conditioning program plus another year of maturity. Your expectations for the play of the DL as a unit next year?

UWDP: The young linebackers are at the top of my list - Miki Ah You, Daniel Heimuli, Josh Calvert, and Alphonzo Tuputala (although I think Jackson Sirmon and MJ Tafisi are still the most immediate future at the positions).

Also, I’m not sure why no one mentions the youth at receiver - there have been some really good recruits that haven’t seen the field too much this season, even with the struggles of the vets - keep your eye out for names like Austin Osborne, Marquise Spiker, and Puka Nacua especially. He could be a really good one.

I am a huge fan of what Tuli Letuligasenoa in particular has shown this year. Sam Taimani as well. With those two, plus hopefully another season of Levi Onwuzurike, plus Jacob Bandes, plus Faatui Tuitele hopefully being healthy...I think we can see a defensive line start to emerge that’s as good or better than any we’ve seen in the Petersen era.

Darin Johnson: I recorded the Utah game but haven’t watched yet. Don’t tell me what happened.

UWDP: ‘kay.

RockDawg: Brad, would you consider this to be the first time in Coach Petersen’s career that he has a legitimate crisis and adversity on his hand? How do you think he should handle it versus how he will handle it.

UWDP: No, definitely not. In 2013, he implemented the HUNH offense, and promptly had his first four loss regular season, which included getting shellacked by the Huskies in week one, 38-6. Of course, he left before the bowl game (also a loss), but nobody knew that was going to happen at the time. That was probably the first one. It continued into 2014, when his presumptive starting QB got into a fight during the super bowl and was suspended for the offseason. Of course, the regular season was just not good, and included the clock management gaffe/handoff fumble to lose the Arizona game in almost unthinkable fashion....

This is the most recent one.

RockDawg: Brad, this is your MOST IMPORTANT question for the week, will you lead the petition to have the UW sports marketing branch promote and sell a Hunter Husky Holiday doll? You know an oversized 70’s troll doll with Hunter’s uniform and helmet that might just fit over that hair. I figure the proceeds might help Hunter to stay in school for his last year of eligibility.

UWDP: I will not lead it, because I’m pretty modest and shy, and my ego keeps me from seeking attention. I’m definitely not a fan of the spotlight.

I will support it financially, and behind the scenes.

Starrman: I know we have a few games left. I see us winning our last three and our bowl game. If it is not too early to ask, how do we think we will be views starting next year with or without Eason returning?

UWDP: I agree that the team will finish strong. I think that if Eason returns, the Huskies are going to be seen as one of the major movers heading in to 2020, the same way they were in 2016. If Eason leaves, I still think they’ll generate some hype due to the assumed improvement defensive and the solid recruiting base, but that will be a big question mark, obviously.

HuskyReceivers: Jordan Chin has played well in the past few games, had a really nice TD catch in the first quarter and never to be seen again. Why involve him in the game plan if you’re just gonna use him once? Politics behind the doors? If not, what is it then?

UWDP: That’s funny, I didn’t notice him either way after that play. No idea why he didn’t play, if he truly didn’t.

All for this week.