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Midseason All-Conference Candidates

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Which Dawgs look destined for some hardware at the end of the season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I know, I know. It feels weird to call this the midseason. But Washington is scheduled to play 6 games before the bowl this year and they’ve played 3 already so what else am I supposed to call it? Despite the fact that Arizona State has still only played a single game.

When the preseason all-conference teams came out (somehow less than a month ago) there were 2 Huskies on the 1st team, 3 on the 2nd team, and 2 honorable mention. Given that Washington is one of 3 undefeated teams in the conference can we expect them to exceed that mark? Let’s find out.

Quarterback

Preseason 1st team: Kedon Slovis, USC. 2nd team: Jayden Daniels, ASU.

Dylan Morris has a signature moment with his game-winning TD drive at the end of the 4th quarter against Utah but the stats have been pretty pedestrian. If you just look at players with at least 50 attempts then he’s 5th in yards per attempt at 7.6 and 10th in completion percentage at 58.9%. His 3 interceptions are tied for 3rd most in the conference although one of them was on a hail mary at the end of the 1st half. Morris does rank 5th in the conference in overall PFF grade but it’s hard to envision an end to the season that puts him in the top 3 to 4 spots.

Tyler Shough at Oregon (1,119 yds, 10 TDs), Kedon Slovis at USC (961 yds, 5 TDs), and Sam Noyer at Colorado (650 yds, 9 total TDs) appear to be the most likely candidates to finish with the hardware based off their sheer counting stats.

Prediction: No UW all-conference candidate

Running Back

Preseason 1st team: CJ Verdell, Oregon. Max Borghi, WSU. 2nd team: Jermar Jefferson, OSU. Chris Brown, Cal. Honorable Mention: Alex Fontenot, Colorado.

If you were able to nominate the Washington running backs as a collective then maybe they’d have a shot as it but this has been way too much of a committee to realistically warrant selection for any one player. Richard Newton seemingly fell out of the rotation this week with Kamari Pleasant mostly absorbing his snaps but even if he became the bell cow over the next 3 games it seems far fetched to think he could get there with 160 total yards and 3 total TDs through the first 3 contests.

Jermar Jefferson (675 yds, 7 TDs) is a lock to be 1st team all-conference and UCLA’s Demetric Felton (537 yds, 4 TDs) has broken out and will probably join him there. A different Colorado back, Jarek Broussard, is also likely to be on the 2nd team with a drop for CJ Verdell.

Prediction: No UW all-conference candidate

Wide Receiver

Preseason 1st team: Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns, USC. 2nd team: Frank Darby, ASU. Johnny Johnson, Oregon. Honorable Mention: KD Nixon, Colorado. Britain Covey, Utah.

Washington finally saw some separation as the trio of Ty Jones, Terrell Bynum, and Puka Nacua took almost all of the wide receiver snaps against Utah. Bynum left the game late with a seeming wrist injury of unknown severity but hopefully he’ll be fine to return. He would as of right now be the best candidate with his extra 70 rushing yards added to his receiving totals but Puka Nacua would be the leader in the clubhouse for UW solely based on receptions if it weren’t for his 3 drops. If Bynum missed significant time and Nacua took on his workload then maybe he’d have a shot to get in the fray but it seems unlikely.

From a yardage standpoint Drake London has replaced Tyler Vaughns as USC’s #2 receiver so he and St. Brown could end up the 1st team combo as envisaged. Devon Williams has ended up surpassing Johnny Johnson as the primary target at receiver for Oregon and should also hear his name mentioned.

Prediction: No UW all-conference candidate

Tight End

Preseason 1st team: Brant Kuithe, Utah. 2nd team: Cade Otton, Washington.

These two faced off on Saturday and I think it was clear to essentially all parties that the order from the preseason should be reversed. Kuithe had exactly 4 catches for 23 yards in each of his first 2 games. Meanwhile, Cade Otton had 100+ yards and a TD in each of his last 2 games. UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich actually has 72 more receiving yards than Otton in one extra game but hasn’t graded out as well as a blocker and also has been targeted on a pair of interceptions. Otton has the highest PFF grade of any tight end in the conference with more than 8 total targets.

Prediction: Cade Otton- 1st team.

Offensive Line

I’m not going to list out all 17 players who made at least honorable mention preseason all-conference along the line but coming into the year Jaxson Kirkland was 1st team and Luke Wattenberg was honorable mention as the returning members.

I’m going to let PFF do the heavy lifting here since I don’t focus too heavily on the offensive line in my game charting. There’s a lot of name recognition that goes into the O-line awards so Kirkland has a good chance to stay near the top regardless of performance. He’s currently 9th among tackles in PFF grade from among those who have played at least 60 snaps. That’s actually behind Victor Curne who is 3rd in that regard. Both tackles have a chance to be 1st team alongside USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker who seems a lock.

The Huskies rank near the top at guard as well despite neither one getting pre-season hype since each was a new starter. Henry Bainivalu is 3rd in the Pac-12 in PFF grade while Ulumoo Ale is 6th. Considering the lack of hype going in I’m guessing one of them makes 2nd team and the other honorable mention with it depending on the performance over the next few games.

Luke Wattenberg is 6th in PFF grade at center so honorable mention may be his peak unless he really steps things up.

Prediction: Jaxson Kirkland- 1st team. Victor Curne- 2nd team. Henry Bainivalu- 2nd team. Ulumoo Ale- Honorable mention. Luke Wattenberg- Honorable mention.

Defensive Line

The same goes for the defensive line as I’m not going to list all 9 candidates from the preseason team. There were no Huskies among that group. It seems clear that Levi Onwuzurike would have been a 1st team candidate had he not opted to head to the draft and there was enough uncertainty of the depth chart that it isn’t surprising that no Husky lineman made the cut.

Given UW’s inconsistencies at defensive tackle, it’s tough to say the voters were wrong there. Josiah Bronson has been the most frequent face, playing nearly 75% of the snaps so far but has been largely ineffective. He ranks 17th in the conference at PFF among DL who have played at least 50 snaps. Taki Taimani has been the next most frequent contributor and is just barely ahead of Bronson at 15th in their grading system. Conventional stats don’t help much. Out of 170 combined pass rush snaps from defensive linemen, I’ve charted the Huskies with 3 total pressures and 0 sacks (PFF is apparently much more generous than I am in the definition of pressure as they have it at 15). They also have gotten gashed in the run game in 2 of their 3 contests. There’s still hope this unit has a bright future especially with Tuli Letuligasenoa playing his way back into the rotation but it’s not at an all-conference level this year.

I’ll be honest that I’m not entirely sure how to handle Zion Tupuola-Fetui. Last season Ryan Bowman and Joe Tryon were listed as defensive linemen despite nominally getting called outside linebackers in the UW defense. Yet, this year Ryan Bowman was on the preseason 2nd team as a linebacker. But since ZTF has won 3 consecutive defensive linemen of the week awards I’m assuming he’ll end up on the defensive line.

And if ZTF were to sit out the rest of the year he’d likely still end up 1st team. He leads the conference in sacks and forced fumbles and is 2nd in overall pressures (but 1st in pressures per game). He has been a revelation and if he keeps up at anything close to his current pace he’s a strong contender for overall defensive player of the year.

Prediction: Zion Tupuola-Fetui- 1st team

Linebacker

As mentioned above, Ryan Bowman was listed 2nd team all-conference at linebacker this preseason and given he’s missed at least one game and hasn’t been as good as he was in past years he won’t get consideration at either DL or LB. However...Edefuan Ulofoshio definitely deserves to be in the conversation.

Ulofoshio is the highest graded linebacker in the country per PFF right now and is 2nd in the conference in tackles per game for those who like the raw statistics. If you applied his current stats to a typical 12-game season it would be 128 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. That’s definitely a 1st team type of resume.

Prediction: Edefuan Ulofoshio- 1st team

Defensive Back

Elijah Molden was a 1st team preseason all-conference selection while Trent McDuffie was honorable mention in a bit of an eyebrow raiser. So far this year the two of them have been among the dominant players in the conference. Molden is the top-rated corner in the country per PFF and has been a force while flowing to the ball and stopping quick passes for incredibly short gains. It might be a two-way battle between Elijah and ZTF for defensive player of the year in the conference when all is said and done.

Meanwhile, somehow Trent McDuffie might actually have been better. On 86 coverage snaps he has been the closest defender on just 5 throws so far this year and targeted in man coverage on just 3 of them. The end results? 3 catches for 10 yards and a game-clinching interception. McDuffie has essentially eliminated one side of the field and his raw stats are going to be suppressed because of it which hopefully doesn’t sway voters. He’s also been superb in run support including a play against Oregon State when he crossed the entire field to stop a reverse that otherwise would’ve gone for another 20+ yards. Add it all up and he’s 3rd among Pac-12 corners in PFF grading and second behind just Molden for those that have played at least 100 defensive snaps.

Keith Taylor is the other starting back and he’s been fine this season but hasn’t stepped his game up to another level. Kyler Gordon got increasing playing time in his place against Utah and we’ll see whether that becomes a trend or if they’re just trying to keep an 80/20 rotation at that spot.

Asa Turner is the final UW DB that potentially merits inclusion but he’s unlikely to get enough from either the counting stats or the advanced stats to merit inclusion. Turner so far this year has 12 tackles through 3 games plus a game-clinching interception on a deflection. The havoc plays just haven’t been there in large enough quantities though for Turner to be recognized like past UW safeties such as Budda Baker, Taylor Rapp, and Myles Bryant. Alex Cook has been passable but nothing special in his first year with playing time at the safety position.

Prediction: 1st team- Elijah Molden and Trent McDuffie.

Special Teams

Peyton Henry was 2nd team at kicker in the preseason after an exemplary sophomore season but it has been a rough start to his junior campaign. He missed a gimme 28-yarder against Oregon State and a pair of more understandable 40+ attempts. But his season long made kick is just 26 yards so far this year which is certainly not the stuff of which all-conference kickers are made.

After the opener against Oregon State I thought Trent McDuffie would have a good shot at meriting inclusion as a punt returner in addition to as a cornerback but he has had to fair catch every single punt in the two games since then. It wouldn’t shock me if he broke one for a touchdown and got back in the race but at the current pace it seems unlikely.

Prediction: No UW all-conference candidate

FINAL TALLY

Washington entered the season expected by the media to have 2 first teamers, 3 second teamers, and 2 honorable mention. Based on performance so far I am expecting those numbers to instead be 6 on the first team, 2 on the second team, and still 2 honorable mentions.

And I don’t think I blame the media for missing on the ones they missed. Trent McDuffie at honorable mention was ridiculous at the time. I would’ve argued for Cade Otton as 1st team instead of 2nd but it wasn’t crazy.

But no one thought ZTF was even going to start until an hour before the first game when we found out that Laiatu Latu was unavailable. Edefuan Ulofoshio was great in 4 games last year but it was a small sample size. Victor Curne and Henry Bainivalu got spot starts along the offensive line but didn’t have the track record to reasonably begin their first season as full-time starters on a preseason list.

Reload not rebuild.