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Coach’s Corner - Answering your Questions

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Time to fulfill your greatest desire: the gift of Husky football knowledge!

University of Washington Introduces Chris Petersen Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Happy Wednesday Dawg fans. Halfway to the weekend, and only 10 more days until Husky football is back. Thanks for all the responses to last week’s call for questions. I chose some of my favorites and will hopefully get a chance to answer the rest next week. In the meantime, feel free to reach out on twitter @Coach_808 with any further questions you have.

On to your questions!

Is there any reason to fear that Jimmy Lake won’t be able to maintain the high level recruiting that Coach Pete achieved?

Coincidentally, some of us on the UWDP staff were having a parallel conversation about teams trailing off after head coaching changes despite staff continuity. Our discussion was a back-and-forth on if Ohio State’s transition from Meyer to Day would fizzle out. In my opinion, OSU has the administrative infrastructure, talented & charismatic coaching staff, national brand, and track record to draw talent at the highest level, but those aren’t built-in advantages. Meyer was instrumental in building the infrastructure, assembling the staff, and bringing his coaching record to OSU. The brand was already there, but Ohio State doesn’t have the same talent footprint that Texas, Clemson, or the SEC schools posses as built-in advantages, so a few poor administrative or coaching decisions could derail the program. Out here on the West Coast, just look at the post-Carroll Trojans and post-Kelly Ducks who sought to maintain continuity only for a regression to program mean.

For Lake and UW, we are in a parallel situation, albeit on a different tier. In my opinion, UW’s program mean is somewhere between division contender and conference contender based on our regional recruiting footprint and the draw of our strong academic and athletic brand in the West. If that’s the floor, Coach Pete built a talented staff and administrative infrastructure to elevate our program ceiling into that NY6 contender tier (or maintain that status in recruiting). Additionally, Jimmy Lake’s early moves seem to be pointing us on an upward trajectory. We’re getting early returns from the Derham Cato hire, we’re getting a little more aggressive in building early class momentum, and we are making in-roads into Utah, Nevada, Texas, and California that should raise the upper ceiling of our recruiting potential. That being said, if our offense doesn’t improve under Donovan, or if we start to lose key staff like Kwiatkowski, Huff, Malloe, and Socha, there will be key decisions for Lake to make that will be more impactful to our long-term trajectory than the infrastructure Coach Pete left him.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Why is Oregon so highly rated when they lost so many players? Will they have a season like LSU is having?

I honestly have no idea. Well... that’s not entirely true. I can see why the national media wants to hype up Oregon, but I don’t really buy into it. Oregon returns a ridiculous amount of young talent and just enough star power to be a favorite in a conference that is devoid of established contenders. We are replacing an era-defining head coach, USC is in their on-going “will they or won’t they” rollercoaster with Helton, Utah is fighting a rocky off-season and several key departures, Stanford is stuck in the doldrums, the Chipster hasn’t found his footing in LA, and ASU is a ways out from having contender-level talent on their roster. Oregon is kind of the least bad option for the media to point the spotlight to and say “you’re it.”

What they neglect to point out is that Oregon lost their entire OL, a 1st round QB, and most of their touted secondary. Looking at our struggles replacing Jake Browning with all-world talent Jacob Eason, we already know that QB transitions are rarely smooth. Sound football in a simplified system generally helps to smoothen out transitions, and I think Oregon’s straight-forward run-based offense is conducive to that. Their DC, Andy Avalos, has also done a pretty good job of coaching up the defense and getting back to fundamentally sound football. While I definitely think that they are overhyped, I’ll concede that they have competent coaches that will likely let their roster talent shine through.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Oregon at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For someone who has never played football, the logistics of managing all those players and getting a play called, correct personnel on the field with only a few seconds to make these decisions, seems complicated. Can you walk us through what actually happens in detail between the press box, the sidelines coaches, the head coach and the players in those few seconds before a play?

It’s tough for me to speak in detail how UW and other collegiate programs run their sideline operations, but in my experience, its all about pregame preparation and delegating tasks. Generally speaking, outside of a few situational packages, rotations are set during the week, and position coaches manage in-game substitutions based on the rotations. Most of these rotations come between drives, which is why coordinators like to huddle up with their squads between series to know who they’re working with when calling plays. Mid-drive substitutions lean a little more on the players knowing the game plan and their rotations. It’s expected that players know when they are next-man-up, and they should know what packages/formations they are, and when they should expect to go in. This goes a long way in reducing chaos and execution miscues on game day.

In addition to managing rotations, assistants on the staffs I was a part were also tasked with managing position-specific adjustments. I coached OL, so I was looking for protection adjustments and which run plays might work against the fronts we were seeing. Adjustments were then relayed over to the coordinators, who would then make the decision on play calling adjustments. This is why it’s not always 100% on the coordinators when teams struggle with halftime adjustments.

For play calling, the game plan dictates much of the play calling ahead of time as well. Teams know what they’re good at regardless of the opponent, so those plays and formations will make up a large chunk of plays called (thus simplifying the play-call decision making). Then there are the scripted plays that a lot of coaches utilize in the first couple of series to inform their later play calling. These are designed to probe the opponent for weaknesses that you identify in film study, and coaching staffs usually go into games with a pretty clear “if-then” game plan that is based off the opponent’s reaction to the scripted plays.

At the end of the day, most of these sideline operations are practiced during the week, especially in walkthroughs, and it takes some time to get the process dialed in.

Penn State spring football game Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I’ve seen a lot of people expressing concern over Coach Donovan’s hire. Can you give us some reasons why we should be less concerned?

Boiling it down to a couple points, I’m anticipating Donovan’s hire to work out for the following reasons:

  • He has a solid track record of identifying playmakers on the roster and featuring them in the offense
  • He isn’t afraid of sticking with what works on game day (K.I.S.S. mindset)
  • He has a diverse background with a mix of schematic and philosophic influences that should help him adapt to personnel

I could go into more detail but........ oh wait, I have! The really long answer to your question can be found in a couple pieces I wrote this summer on Donovan’s offense & background (part 1 & part 2).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Oregon at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From their play last year, can you project the pairings of DL that we might see together on the field and their rotation %?

It’ll be interesting to see how Coach K and Coach Malloe build their rotation this year given all of our talent. My guess is that we’ll see the top 4 on the interior shake out as Bronson, Letuligasenoa, Taimani, and Tuitele in that order. Consulting the Chart (shout out Max), Bronson’s 411 returning snaps leads the room by 170 (Tuli was second), so I’d imagine that he will continue to lead or be near the top of the snap count next year. Tuli and Taki are the two with the next most returning snaps. They usually rotated in as a pair, so I’d like to think that there’s a degree of chemistry and complementary skill sets that the coaches may want to keep together. My impression of the two during their HS recruitment was that Tuli was the NT and Taki was the more dynamic one of the two, but it sounds like the roles have reversed after further college development. That would put Taki in a position to be paired with Bronson if the Tuli-Taki combo were to be split up (Bronson is a bit better suited to 1-gap alongside a NT like Taki).

Where things may get interesting is at that fourth spot in the rotation. We’ve historically been a 2-4-5 team with 3-4 principles (big 2-gap DTs anchoring the interior), but Coach K has mixed in 3-3-5 and 3-2-6 packages in the past (think back to the Vea-Gaines-Qualls fronts). I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little less 2-NT fronts and more 3-DL fronts next year to get guys like Tuitele and Ngalu into the rotation without forcing Bandes into too many snaps as the likely 2nd string pure-NT

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl - Washington v Boise State Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

What do you expect to be the most obvious offensive scheme change under Donovan that will stand out in contrast to the Petersen era?

I think we’ll see a lot more from the running backs in the passing game. Coach Pete tended to be a bit old school when it came to countering pressure. Donovan’s Jacksonville running backs were leaned-on heavily as check down receivers, and Fournette led the team in many receiving categories in 2019. Rather than trying to coach up the RBs in pass protection (a skill that is rarely coached well in HS), Donovan will likely try to leverage their talents as offensive weapons. McGrew should be a beneficiary of this approach as he’s shown promise in this area in the past.

What do you think will be the Huskies’ first offensive play in the game against Cal?

21/12 Personnel, Gun Bunch Tight Right, HULU (H-Back return motion left then right), PA Boot Slice, Y-Sneak Wheel

(For the record, I have no idea what the first play might be, but that’d be a doozy)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Hawaii at Washington

Where is the best place on Oahu to watch the Dawgs?

Unfortunately, I never quite figured that one out. It kind of sucked being back home and being surrounded by Oregon & USC fans if you went out to watch Pac-12 football. I usually end up doing my own backyard tailgate with my UW friends & family, but nothing quite matches game day on Montlake anyways. If you got suggestions, let me know!

That’s all for this week’s mailbag. Until next time, Go Dawgs!