clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mailbag: “Lost in the Maize” Edition

Do you think anyone asked me about firing John Donovan?

Photo Credit: Tyler Carlton

Is McGrew hurt? I haven’t seen him play in 2 games what gives? - Coloradodawgfan

Jimmy Lake in his press conference on Monday suggested that the carries were based on performance in practice and that Newton and Davis have consistently been performing better there and so have gotten the reps. Some of you may remember a similar argument being used by Chris Petersen when asked why Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia were starting over Puka Nacua, Marquis Spiker, or Austin Osborne.

This appears to be the opposite issue where if there hasn’t been separation at practice then Lake is leaning towards the younger guys who still have eligibility remaining. On its face I don’t have a problem with that answer. If the coaching staff legitimately thinks that Newton and Davis are every bit as good as McGrew and Pleasant then it makes sense to let the young guys play and not risk them transferring out at year’s end.

But McGrew’s running style provides a contrast to what Newton and Davis have done so far and I would definitely like to see the team attack the edges more often and bring in McGrew to do that. Availability has been an issue for McGrew over his career but he’s always produced in limited opportunities in the past when given the chance and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to lose now. We’ll see at what point stubbornness gives way for Lake.

Can a football player enter the transfer portal at anytime during the calendar year? - Gary from MI

Absolutely. Of course they won’t be eligible to play until the following season if they do. It also is unlikely that other schools are in a position to accept transfer commitments until after the season and they get a better sense of who is leaving and who is staying. Also, for those that aren’t early NFL entrants there’s the concern over finishing out the quarter/semester in order to make sure they are closer to getting their degree. Unless there’s a completely egregious falling out between a player and the coaching staff that means you’re almost always going to see players hold off until after the season.

Should they consider tanking the remainder of their games to get first pick in recruiting? - Texas.Dawg

Even if this were a thing I don’t think it would work. Arizona is also 0-2 but lost by an even bigger margin than the UW-Michigan game when at home against San Diego State. Also unfortunately unlike the NFL if you bottom out then your players are all free to just transfer out so you have no guarantees the rest of your roster stays constant.

Houston actually tried to do something like this a few years ago with QB D’Eriq King where they realized it was a lost season and tried to keep him from playing more than 4 games so he could redshirt and have more eligibility left. The end result? King transferred to Miami.

I asked in a thread.. 08 dawgs scored about 159 points as a prop bet for 2021 if 159 is the over/under for UW total points scored which are you taking? - ColoradoDawgFan

Oh boy. This is an unfortunately legitimate question. Washington has 10 games remaining on their schedule. They have scored 17 so far. That means they would need to score 142 the rest of the way to hit that mark. Essentially, can they average 14 points per game with just one other outing over that total?

If you want to be a pessimist (and if you’re commenting on this site it suggests you probably do) then you could easily say that we haven’t hit 14 points in a game yet, how can we possibly do it on average over the course of an entire season? In the 2 seasons that John Donovan was the offensive coordinator at Penn State the Nittany Lions averaged 20.6 and 23.2 points per game before his firing. I maintain that this Husky team has better offensive talent than either of those Penn State teams. In the 2015/16 drafts there were 3 total PSU offensive players selected: 2nd round OL Donovan Smith, 2nd round QB Christian Hackenberg, and 5th round TE Jesse James. And Hackenberg only got drafted because of his HS pedigree since he was pretty routinely terrible under Donovan (hence the firing).

Arkansas State gave up 55 points to Memphis last week. They gave up 21 points the previous week to middling FCS school Central Arkansas. Despite what we’ve seen from UW’s offense so far this is far and away the worst defense the Huskies have played so far (Montana gave up 0 offensive points in week 2). Even just scoring 28 would be grounds for dismissal if we weren’t already there for Donovan. Let’s say that’s all we get there. Let’s also say we only score an average against 7 versus Oregon/UCLA/Arizona State even as the best 3 remaining teams on the schedule even if they don’t all have elite defenses.

Now we just need to average 16 points the rest of the way against Cal/Stanford/Colorado/Oregon State/Wazzu/Arizona. Right now those teams are ranked 46, 72, 87, 103, 107, 114th in FBS. As bad as things have looked I have to think that from a combination of getting guys back from injury and changes that would have to be made from us underperforming that threshold that we make it.

How many games do you now think the Huskies will win this year? - Berry Dingle

This mostly ties into the defensive rankings I just listed in the previous answer. At this point you can’t say there’s a game on the schedule that is un-loseable. At the same time there are a number of ones that they still should win. I think the Huskies are still going to be sizable favorites against Arkansas State, Arizona, and Washington State. I also think they are either going to be favorites or slight underdogs in the games against Cal, Oregon State, and Colorado. Despite what Stanford did to USC this week getting Clay Helton fired, if Tanner McKee is hurt for that game then the Cardinal’s offense is just as bad as our own.

And while I think the Huskies will be substantial underdogs against the trio of Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona State those game will be at home and I’m guessing the math will say there’s a 50/50 shot of winning one of them. Right this second I’ll say 7-5 with the expectation that the ship rights somewhat against Arkansas State this weekend. If the Dawgs barely scrape out that game or lose it then we can start getting all women and children to the life boats.

I have to say this week I’ve been thinking a lot about the movie Fight Club with regards to my expectations for this season. Specifically the scene when Brad Pitt has Ed Norton let go of the wheel and slowly veer off the road at high speed. “LET GO!!!” is what the darkest portion of my soul has been screaming at my brain the last 2 weeks when I’m clinging to the concept of regression to the mean.

We have now entered the John Donovan Zone

We ran one screen yesterday and it worked great. I don’t recall a single draw or play action pass (at least in the first half). Why do you think Donovan didn’t expand the offense after seeing how predictable it was in week 1? - Sdhuskyfan

Well unfortunately I can think of one explanation that likely follows Murphy’s law. I’m not charting every single play this year but per Sports Info Solutions Morris had 3 play action drop backs in the 1st half against Michigan and was 2 of 3 for 29 yards. However they also only averaged 6 air yards per attempt so even when we ran play action it resulted in check down throws.

There are 2 possible explanations other than incompetence. The first is that we just didn’t have the ball in the 1st half because Michigan was so successful running it and we went 3 and out pretty much the entire 1st quarter. The second is that Michigan had so many players in the backfield on every snap that we felt we had to leave our running back in to block to have any shot whatsoever getting off the throw. Which is extra unfortunate because Michigan only rushed 4 on 12 of 17 drop backs in the 1st half and yet managed to get pressure on 40% of them.

Looking objectively at the game tape for 2020 and 2021’s first two games so far, what is the cause(s) for 1) the failure to stop the run and 2) the struggles on offense? Is it a failure of execution, or coaching, or both, and what can be done to correct? Thank you. - see of purple

No, thank you. It’s almost always a mix of both and I don’t think it’s any different here. On offense the schemes both from an OL blocking standpoint and a play call standpoint have been incredibly subpar. At the same time there have seemingly been several plays where the players on the field are unable to identify where rushers are coming from and allow the play any chance at success. I’m inclined to put it more towards an 80/20 mix in favor of the coaching but there also haven’t been many instances of players overcoming the scheme to make great individual plays.

On defense I think it’s largely the reverse. You can certainly argue that when Washington went to their 3 DT looks against Michigan that they should have done so by taking one of the DBs off the field more often rather than another ILB. I’m more inclined though to put the problem of missed tackles and bad angles on the players rather than the defensive scheme.

Yes, this scheme has been better in the past with a 1st round pick at nose tackle occupying blocks to let the linebackers better flow. Washington also had 5 different players that Pro Football Focus credited with multiple missed tackles. That also doesn’t include Kamren Fabiculanan taking a bad angle as the single high safety and never laying a finger on Blake Corum on his long TD run. We at least have a track record of the defense being at worst below average against the run rather than outright atrocious. The offense under John Donovan doesn’t get that benefit of the doubt.

Will UW be looking for a new football and basketball coach in the same year? - 206er

If by asking this question you mean replacing Jimmy Lake this fall and then Mike Hopkins next spring then I don’t think so. If you mean within the same 365 day period then that becomes more likely. I’m personally of the opinion that unless we literally see a 1-11 type season the rest of the way that Jimmy Lake is going to be the head coach next fall. Replacing some of the offseason staff and having him start 2022 on the hot seat just seems a way more likely scenario given all of the pieces at play.

Meanwhile if Hopkins once again finishes 11th or 12th in the Pac-12 with his revamped roster including a couple of 5th year transfers then Cohen absolutely has to pull the plug. What if he finishes in the middle of the conference though and scrapes into the NIT? Given the leash he’s already been given I could see that buying him another season. Now you’re entering 2022-23 once again completely relying on the transfer portal to fill the point guard spot. If things get worse after that the buyout is almost down to nothing and that makes 4 years without an NCAA tournament. Now it’s malpractice to not make the change (if it wasn’t already).

Put that all together and it seems pretty close to 50/50 that they end up getting replaced within a full calendar year of one another.

What does the offense have to show, going forward, for Donovan to keep his job? Is there a scenario that sees him being let go prior to season’s end? - Otis

I’m sure there is a large contingent of whoever among you made it this far screaming at your monitors or phones that the answers respectively are THERE’S NOTHING!!!! and DUH!!! I went through the Pollyanna scenario to some degree last week but we can do a modified version to answer what would need to happen for Donovan to save his job. It starts with the offense putting up 30+ points against Arkansas State this Saturday and their 116th ranked defense. From there the team needs to finish at least 7-3 the rest of the way and a bowl game victory to top it all off and sell the idea of momentum would help.

More specifically the offense would need to get back Rome Odunze and a fully integrated Jalen McMillan in time for conference play and immediately show that it can get the ball to playmakers and have them make high level plays. The resulting effect in this scenario is that teams can’t play so aggressively at the line of scrimmage and it opens up the running game to a degree. Along the way there have to be some clear trends toward more pre-snap motion, improved blocking, play calling creativity, and play action.

Oh, is that all?

And this is where I join the chorus of DUH!!! Yes, there’s a scenario where Donovan doesn’t make it through the entire season. If Washington’s offense were to only score say 7 points yet again versus Arkansas State then I don’t think there’s any way you can bring him back the following week. Donovan is helped by there not being an obvious person to take over play calling duties. Junior Adams has been a co-OC at Western Kentucky but I don’t think he actually called the plays. If you make that move it’s because you have to give the illusion of change to appease the fanbase rather than you truly think that Adams is suddenly going to put out the best called game we’ve ever seen.

There’s not going to be a magical new offense installed midseason if Donovan is let go. But making the move early would at least show that they’re trying something and maybe it gives the players more confidence if they had completely lost faith in JD.

Beyond the week 3 firing I see a few other potential spots. If Washington loses at Oregon State to Jonathan Smith because their defense completely stymies UW then Washington has a bye week after. From a pure practicality and timing standpoint that scenario makes the most sense if the team is 2-3 or 1-4. The other chance would be if Washington similarly scores 7 or fewer points at Arizona on a Friday night ESPN2 game.

If the Husky offense looks semi-competent through that stretch and the Huskies are 4-3 going into their at Stanford, Oregon, ASU gauntlet then I think Donovan survives the rest of the way and they make a change at the end of the season unless they absolutely have to move earlier to get their desired candidate.

Come on back next week when I will have somewhere between 50-95% ask me about firing either John Donovan or Jimmy Lake depending on how this Saturday’s game goes.