Balanced but Thin among Pass Catchers
Coming into the season there was hope among many that some of the younger members of the wide receiving corps would supplant their older brethren. Early indications are that this isn’t going to be the case. Seniors Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller, and Chico McClatcher dominated the playing time at WR while the game was still in question. Puka Nacua and Austin Osborne each saw a single snap before the Huskies scored TD #6 and Terrell Bynum got on the field 4 times. That’s it.
From a production standpoint that wasn’t a bad thing. All 3 starters (plus TE Hunter Bryant) caught at least 5 balls for 57+ yards and a combined 4 TDs. If Washington is able to spread the ball out like that all season and get that kind of production then not having a true star won’t be an issue. But Ty Jones is reportedly going to miss a good chunk of the season and Quinten Pounds was a DNP. That leaves the Huskies with 3 primary WRs who are all below 6’0 tall. Maybe the younger, taller guys slowly take over playing time throughout the season but for now it appears those 3 will be getting almost all of the reps.
The injury to Jacob Kizer and suspension of Devin Culp left Washington with very few bodies to rotate through at the Tight End position. Bryant and Otton played almost all of the snaps there until the final few minutes of the game when walk-on Jack Westover and converted OL Corey Luciano played. Luciano also came in with ILB Jackson Sirmon in a heavy goal line package. Last season Washington had 3 TEs on about 7% of snaps but without Kizer or Culp available we didn’t see any of that. On the bright side, after speculation about Bryant’s knee he looked totally healthy in significant playing time. Unless both Kizer and Culp become available and look good I’ll hold my breath every time Hunter gets tackled low this year.
Not Running It Back
For the most part the depth charts that were put out before the Eastern game were actually pretty accurate. The one place where we might have seen a little bit of variation was at running back. Richard Newton was talked up by the coaching staff a significant bit this spring and summer but after Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew both got substantial playing time last year it seemed like Newton was in line to be the 4th back in the rotation. That might not be the case after a breakout performance in his Husky debut.
Newton carried the ball 12 times with a success rate of 58.3% and never got tackled in the backfield. Meanwhile, presumptive starter Salvon Ahmed carried the ball 15 times and had a success rate of 46.7%. There’s no denying that from a statistical perspective Newton had a much better game. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go right now.
The last several years Myles Gaskin got off to fairly slow starts and people questioned what was going on before rounding into form once Washington got into conference play. Until we get 3-4 straight games of Ahmed struggling I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But it’s not as if we’ve never seen a coup at the position before. In Myles Gaskin’s first year he got 5 carries for 5 yards in his first career game, broke out for 146 yards in his 2nd game against Sacramento State, and by game #5 had wrested away control as the lead back. Salvon Ahmed is better than Dwayne Washington was and has value as a pass catcher but if Newton has another game or two like this we could at least be looking at more of a time share down the road. It didn’t help that Ahmed completely whiffed on a pass bock attempt at a free rusher on 3rd down right at the end of the half which led to Eason getting thumped and an incompletion. For now we’re in the monitoring rather than the action stage.
EDIT 9/5/19: Since I’ve now finished my game charting. Here are some other comparison numbers for Newton and Ahmed.
Average Opponents in the Box: Ahmed- 7.47, Newton- 6.91
% of Carries Between the Tackles: Ahmed- 80%, Newton- 75%
Average Yards Before 1st Contact: Ahmed- 1.93, Newton- 6
% of Runs with 5+ Average Yards Before 1st Contact: Ahmed- 27%, Newton- 33%
Average Yards After Contact: Ahmed- 1, Newton- 1.58
You can probably place some of the blame on Ahmed dancing a bit behind the line of scrimmage and/or picking the wrong hold but it seems like Newton was running the ball in more favorable situations whether due to better blocking execution or with fewer men in the box.
The Kids Are All Right
Last season the Huskies infamously maintained the redshirts on every single one of their true freshman. Based on the playing time given out against Eastern Washington I would expect at least 5 true freshmen to see major playing time as well as a slew of the now redshirt freshmen from last year. Tim Horn and Cameron Williams have starting roles as the kickoff specialist and free safety. And Laiatu Latu, Trent McDuffie, and Asa Turner all got 15+ snaps running with the 2nd-team defense. One injury and it’s possible that any of those 3 could become starters as well.
Meanwhile, another 9 redshirt freshmen met that 15 snap threshold. Put it all together and one-third of the players who saw that much playing time are designated as freshman. This is the youngest team that Chris Petersen has had in a few years and while we learned that the coaching staff is going to play a lot of freshmen, the competition level means that we’re not sure yet how well they’re going to perform. Check back in this space next week for that.