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Mailbag: “Are We There Yet?” Edition

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AKA the “Where’s Brad?” edition

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: MAY 01 Washington Spring Game Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Are these going to Brad? Because that greatly affects the types of questions I ask. - Not Rhaego

Sadly, no these questions aren’t going to Brad. When great athletes feel they’re losing a step they’ll often retire early to save themselves the disgrace of no longer being able to live up to expectations. Fortunately that doesn’t happen to bloggers. We never slip. Brad is just too important to deal with all of us anymore. He’s ascended to a higher plane of being and we should congratulate him for that.

Do you really think you can replace me? - Brad Johnson

Nope.

We aren’t there until we are there…in other words - the end of the season will tell us if we arrived. - Royb7

Also, define “there”. As in, if we attain an undefeated National championship? - rare to say the least - what are the goals that define, “Are we there yet?” - Husky57

Deep.

I think we were there under Chris Petersen. This season will be an indicator of whether we’re there under Jimmy Lake. Undoubtedly there are portions of the fanbase that would balk at those statements. I don’t think Washington is going to become Alabama or Ohio State or Clemson. Sorry. The argument from those portions is that we certainly won’t with that attitude. And that’s likely true. It just doesn’t really matter what I think (hey, where are you all going?)

It matters what the administration and the head coach and the boosters think. Are they willing to go full-on SEC the way that Oregon under Mario Cristobal seems to have? It doesn’t appear the answer is yes. That’s okay. Washington can still win Rose Bowls and the Pac-12 if the answer isn’t yes. We’ve seen that. Would it be easier to do that if the answer were yes? Yes, it would.

In my incredibly humble opinion the floor for Washington should be 3rd in the North in a rebuilding reloading year and at their ceiling winning the Pac-12 and competing for a CFP berth depending on what is happening around them. They’re currently in that range although again, we need this season’s results to tell whether they’re on the low end or the high end of it.

Why do the Dawgs never win as many games as I am hoping? - Dennis the peasant dawg

Your expectations. See above.

Which players will get the most reps in the Montana game - the starters or the backups? Which backup QB will be in the game 1st - O’Brien or Huard? - OsidePip

Definitely the starters. Even in the blowoutiest of blowouts the Huskies almost always have their starters out there until at least the back end of the 3rd quarter. Montana may be an FCS opponent but they’re a good one that is more than capable of giving Washington a bit of a surprise. If the Huskies are only up 7 at halftime it wouldn’t completely shock me. Yes, eventually the starters should get pulled in this one but if you’re expecting it to be 49-0 at halftime then you might want to re-calibrate.

I think Huard will get in the game before O’Brien mainly because the last time we saw O’Brien he wasn’t throwing. If both are healthy I think O’Brien would be a 60/40 favorite to get in the game first but since I don’t know about O’Brien’s availability right now I’d give Huard the 70/30 edge to take a snap first this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 09 Washington Spring Practice
Look at that locked-in lefty
Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How would you evaluate the play-calling last year? What if anything should change in play-calling for the team to improve this year? - Lake-believer

What do you expect the proportion of run to pass plays for the season? - GaryfromMI

I’m not doing this column justice if I don’t start with the caveat that it’s essentially impossible to tell from our vantage point whether or not the play caller is doing a good job. Certainly there are a few things that are obvious. On a related note sign my petition to cancel the goal line fade.

After rewatching all 4 games this summer I felt a little bit better about the play calling. It certainly seemed like Dylan Morris did a fair amount of changing plays at the line last year. Not as much as vintage Jake Browning but reasonably often. Those plays rarely seemed to result in big gains. It’s completely possible the offense looks better this year simply by virtue of Morris having more experience and either checking/not checking at more appropriate times.

My biggest issue with the offense isn’t about play calling but about formations. The Huskies last year did not utilize the entire width of the field. Even when they went to 3WR sets those receivers were often all in between the hashmarks. When that happens you could run into a 6-man box but still have the entire secondary in a position to help in run support since your receivers are so close. I’m sure the argument from Donovan would be that it also allows your receivers (who were good run blockers last year) to help block as well. But if you have 9 blockers for 9 defenders versus 6 blockers for 6 defenders that gives an extra 3 opportunities for a single bad block to doom the play.

Last season it rounded to 53/47 in favor of true run plays over the course of the year. The previous year it was basically flipped at 48/52 running the ball. This season Washington gets games against Montana and Arkansas State which I expect will be tilted closer to 70/30 running plays given the expected score in the 2nd half whereas last year there were no non-conference gimmes. In half the games they fell behind early and had to pass and in the other half they got out to a big lead early/played in a driving rainstorm which leant itself to running the ball so those mostly canceled out.

The bigger issue and part of the reason why it feels that Washington was so predictable was the run rate on 1st down. In 2020 it was 67% on 1st down compared to 57% the previous season. Donovan absolutely has to mix up his order of runs and passes a little bit more this season or at the very least make sure that the majority of those pass plays are play action. Still, I’m going to say it stays about the same at 51% run, 49% pass.

For obvious reasons (Michigan), I am expecting to see a VERY limited offense against Montana. BUT - there WILL be those who will watch the Montana game and come here screaming about how we ran too much and had only short, ugly pass routes, on and on...My question is: What’s your guess as to how many complaints you’re going to have to suffer through after the Montana game? LOL. - onewoodwhacker

They are out there. They walk among us. Disguised as sane and rational people but when you put a keyboard in front of them, something inside them snaps. I’m going to guess 87 complaints but made by 9 accounts written by 7 individuals.

How good is Dylan Morris? I say All Pac 12 caliber. What say you? - Mossyrock Fan

Well he was honorable mention all-conference last year as a redshirt freshman so that certainly suggests he can be that good. Obviously there are a tremendous amount of caveats around the 2020 season and a 4-game sample size isn’t much to go off of but I’m inclined to agree with you. If I were forced to make a prediction (or even if I’m not apparently since I’m giving one willingly now) I’d say that Morris ends up honorable mention again this year. I think there are at least 2 other quarterbacks in the conference that are either better or play in a system that will be easier to accumulate big numbers.

Pro Football Focus isn’t the be all and end all of assessment but Jake Browning as a true freshman scored an 82.8 while Dylan Morris as a redshirt freshman earned an 81.5. Eason in his only season with UW got an 84.3. At the very least I don’t think Morris is going to be a step down from the kind of QB play to which UW became accustomed in the Chris Petersen era. And if the receiver play takes a step up from the post-John Ross era? Even better.

It seems like most of the articles this summer indicate starters at safety will not be Turner or Williams. This surprised me a bit- especially regarding Turner. Did those two just not perform well during spring and fall practices or are the guys pushing them too good to sit? - Otis

Well when the depth chart was released yesterday it appeared to show Julius Irvin and Kamren Fabiculanan as the starters at safety. I only say “appeared to” because the positions are just listed as DB and the 5 players viewed as the primary competitors for the 2 safety spots are listed at 3 different positions. Williams was hot and cold as a true freshman and Turner was basically average in his first 2 years. The reports from camp indicate Williams took a step forward over the last month but both players missed a week of practice seemingly due to either injury or illness. If fully healthy all month maybe one of them is a clear cut starter. So a little bit of both. I still think we end up seeing both of them on the field this season but more of Williams.

What would be more satisfying - winning the conference, or defeating a major opponent in a NY6 bowl game? - ETNelson

This is tricky because it’s kind of hard to envision them doing the latter without first doing the former. Probably the most plausible scenario for that to happen this season is the Huskies finish the regular season 11-1 but lose to a similarly 11-1 USC team who get the 4th spot in the College Football Playoff. Instead the Huskies go to the Rose Bowl against let’s say a resurgent Penn State since Ohio State also made the CFP in this scenario.

Or another option is USC doesn’t make the CFP which knocks the Huskies down to the Fiesta Bowl and for it to qualify as a major opponent would probably mean Iowa State dethroned Oklahoma in the Big 12 and we play and defeat the Sooners.

At this point I would probably take a win in a New Year’s 6 bowl over a major opponent instead of a Pac-12 title because it means the Huskies almost certainly went at least 10-2 in the regular season. Although if you tell me that Oregon won the Pac-12 in place of us in that scenario then I take it back and would rather win the North over them and then lose a Rose Bowl.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual - Washington v Ohio State
I would have liked to have won this one, if I’m being honest
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Do you think the endgame of the “alliance” is a coast to coast league? Or just something to keep the dam from breaking? - El Chapo

Much more the latter than the former. If a coast to coast league happens it will mean the alliance didn’t work. In that circumstance the SEC manages to pry Clemson and Florida State from the ACC and there’s no choice but to join them or die. A super conference ends up getting formed with the best 2-4 teams from each currently existing conference joining on in their own premier league and FBS gets cut into 1/3rd as the Washington States and Georgia Techs are left outside in the cold as the super have-nots.

If the alliance does anything at all in football, and that’s questionable, it will mean preserving the current regional conference structure for another 5-10 years before the dam completely bursts.

Concerning NIL and recruiting, what do you see as UW’s best competitive advantage? I have a hard time accepting a lot of big Seattle companies will line up as I imagine they don’t see college football fans as their primary market. Is it the Foster school and its player development? - Squatch347

They have to find some way to tap into all of the major corporations that make their home in Seattle. There are a ton of UW alumni in those institutions. You’re not going to see Amazon pay Dylan Morris $100k to be in a commercial. But there has to be some way to use existing tie-ins that the University has with those companies to earn some extra money for the players.

One way in which some of the small towns have an advantage is the boosters own say a car dealership and have complete control how much of the money comes from their pockets or from the company. That makes it pretty easy to funnel payments through an NIL opportunity instead of the old days of duffel bags and paper sacks. If a UW booster made all their money as an early investor at Microsoft they can’t really just single-handedly coordinate a sponsorship deal with Microsoft.

There’s way more cumulative disposable income in Seattle than in all but a few cities throughout the rest of the country. The athletic department isn’t doing their due diligence if they aren’t investigating how to make sure it trickles down to the players and trying to set it in motion behind the scenes even if they can’t directly arrange contracts. I don’t have the answers but it needs to be someone else’s full-time job to come up with them.

WOOF? - AUSSIE DOGGIE

Good dog. But no, I don’t think we’re getting a woof in the immediate future.

Overall bluechip ratio on a roster does seem to be a good indicator of likely success. Last I checked, UW and Oregon were within ~3% of each other (49 to 52, I believe), with UW skewing a little older with where the blue chips reside inside the classes. How would you assess overall roster talent between UW/UO this season (is it really that much different), and what recruiting level will we need to get this ratio back above 50% in the next several classes? - 2003 husky grad

Give us your non-homer, all objective take on the recruiting “issues” if you think there any, or more specifically the disparity between Oregon and UW, will ya? - Rhaego

I don’t think there’s that large of a talent disparity this season between Washington and Oregon. The Ducks clearly have more truly top shelf raw talent than the Dawgs (6 former top-100 recruits for UW and 13 for Oregon). But Washington’s lower rated players are also more proven than most of Oregon’s squad. There are still legitimate questions about Mario Cristobal and his staff’s development abilities but when you start out with those blocks of clay there’s a lot more lee way if you miss on a couple.

It seems pretty clear that Washington is going to take a further step back on blue chip ratio after this upcoming season unless something drastic happens with the class of 2022. It’s going to be another small class in 2023 given that the Huskies have built almost the whole plane out of freshmen due to the eligibility mulligan.

There are 5 in-state players in the top-250 for 2023. Go out and win the North while beating Oregon on the field along the way this year and it gives Jimmy Lake a pitch that’s so much harder to negatively recruit against.

As per the second question, right now it’s hard to argue there aren’t recruiting issues. Jimmy Lake spoke about applying an aggressive mindset to all aspects of the job when he took over but his definition of the word clearly isn’t the same as Mario Cristobal’s. Oregon’s staff spends seemingly their entire offseason doing nothing but calling recruits and staying in their ear at all times. Coach Lake isn’t doing that. Coach Petersen didn’t do that. But Pete was able to close and consistently land top-20 classes by the end of his tenure. Jimmy hasn’t shown he can do that with a similar approach.

If, as I mentioned above, the Huskies are able to win against Oregon and win the division then he can credibly say to recruits he has won the North every year he’s been head coach. That players are still getting developed just as well as when Petersen was here and the team is just as successful on the field. I honestly believe that would fix a lot of the current issues plaguing the staff.

It’s not hard to see what Oregon is able to argue in these head-to-head battles. UW’s offensive coordinator got fired from his last job due to an anemic offense, hasn’t shown any indication he fully understands modern spread football, and is hardly involved as a recruiter. UW’s defensive coordinator is replacing the mastermind of all their successes, was previously the position coach of the weakest position on the defense, and a large chunk of the fanbase wanted him fired rather than promoted. Jimmy Lake has just 4 games of experience as a head coach. Oregon is 14-2 in their last 16 against UW. And Oregon has all of the NIL tie-ins with Nike they could possibly want through Phil Knight.

Given all of that I can’t blame any recruit that doesn’t try hard enough to see all of the advantages that Washington has when UW gives their counter-argument. And an emphatic season would counter all of those arguments except the last one (which admittedly might be the most important for top level recruits these days).

With my background I generally watch out for small sample sizes and try not to get too high or too low. But in modern recruiting you can’t say just wait for it if you want to remain towards the upper echelon of the sport. This is a prove it year for Jimmy Lake. He has put himself in a position where in order to take 2 steps forward following the 2 steps back of the last several months he needs to win right away. It will add an extra sense of urgency to every snap this season that normally wouldn’t be there in games 5 through 16 of a coach’s career. But that’s where we’re at and Coach Lake has to find a way to get it done.