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Mailbag: Don’t Want That Smoke Edition

Your questions answered in the middle of Michigan State week

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Stanford at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What would a win against MSU mean for UW’s national reputation and in recruiting?- LockerStalker42

If the Huskies pull off this upset it would (should) instantly vault them into the top-25. Washington State didn’t move into that group after a road win at Wisconsin but they also almost lost to an FCS team in week 1. Getting it done against MSU would be against a higher profile opponent and come on the heels of covering consecutive 3+ TD point spreads. I don’t think the lead story on Sunday/Monday in the national CFB world would be all about Washington but there would definitely be some stories in the national ranks about how DeBoer has instantly turned things around for the Huskies.

When it comes to long-term reputation and recruiting this game is a useful tool but would be more along the lines of a step on the path. In order for DeBoer to be able to go into recruits’ homes and truthfully say the Huskies are right back to being Pac-12 contenders it probably requires a 9-3 finish this year. A win against the Spartans would go a long way towards making that happen. It would give him the ammunition to say we went against one of the best teams in the vaunted B1G and came away with a victory and the ceiling of the team is beating a near top-ten opponent.

Looking ahead to the class of 2024 in the state of Washington there are two phenomenally talented players at O’Dea. Not only a win but a decisive win with them either in attendance or watching at TV while Husky Stadium is rocking I would think would go a long ways towards erasing the bad taste of the last few years. And yes, I said that with a mostly straight face despite knowing that NIL and conference realignment uncertainty are still around.

How did UW go from DBU to having very little depth at the cornerback position?- GaryFromMI

I had an initial draft answer to this question that went player by player but decided to simplify things a little bit (sort of). The current members of the secondary stretch back to the 2017 recruiting class with S Alex Cook. That was the class that signed while Washington was awaiting their game versus Alabama in the College Football Playoff. I took the average 247 Sports Composite rating for the DB recruits in each class since as well as a production rating. The production rating is based on both defensive snaps and PFF grade that I made as part of my way too massive self-made database to answer questions like this. Here are some production scores from UW players to help provide some context around that number: Jake Browning 13.2, Nick Harris 10.6, Cade Otton 7.5, Tevis Bartlett 5.0, Chico McClatcher 2.5.

Class of 2017 (Cook, McKinney, Molden, Taylor): Average Recruiting- 0.904, Average Production- 4.65

Class of 2018 (Gordon, Irvin, Hampton): Average Recruiting- 0.907, Average Production- 5.33

Class of 2019 (McDuffie, Turner, Williams, Powell): Average Recruiting- 0.906, Average Production- 4.17

Class of 2020 (Covington, Jackson, Esteen, Smith): Average Recruiting- 0.883, Average Production- 0.03

Class of 2021 (Banks, Spears, McCutcheon, Nunley): Average Recruiting- 0.871, Average Production- 0.03

Class of 2022 (Dunn, Green): Average Recruiting: 0.865, Average Production- 0.03

Class of 2023 so far (Reed, Holmes, Bryant, Gordon): Average Recruiting- 0.889

As you can see there was a notable downturn in the recruiting during the 3 years where Jimmy Lake was in charge. Jacobe Covington was the only consensus 4-star during that period brought in as a recruit and he left for USC in the spring. Last year Bookie Radley-Hiles served as a stop gap at the nickel spot and this year Jordan Perryman was a grad transfer on the outside. But the homegrown highly rated guys like Taylor, Molden, McDuffie, and Gordon dried up more recently.

You’ll also notice the average production dropping off a cliff as well. That’s somewhat to be expected because the longer you’re in school the more chances you have to get on the field and the higher your production will be. Most players get the majority of their production in their 3rd, 4th, or 5th years in the program.

Still, the lack of high end talent is somewhat noticeable in the lack of production from the recent classes. Jacobe Covington probably would’ve been a backup corner had he stayed through the fall. Otherwise Davon Banks is the only member of the 2020-22 classes to play more than 20 snaps in a season so far after playing 28 in the first 2 games. Elijah Jackson has been banged up and will hopefully return soon while Nunley got praise from the coaching staff but suffered a season-ending injury last week. Those didn’t help but we haven’t seen someone in those position groupings show up and dominate from day one or even just season 3 like McDuffie, Molden, and Gordon did.

The good news is that the recruiting class among the DBs for 2023 right now projects to be the best since that 2019 class. That is no guarantee of results. For all of Jimmy Lake’s faults there was no question he was a fantastic DB coach. We’ll see if the new coaching staff can do nearly as good of a job in development with the new influx of talent. They’ll need to after veteran guys like Cook, Turner, Williams, Perryman, Irvin, and Hampton all graduate either this year or next.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Arkansas State at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What gives UW a better chance of winning another national championship at some point: a) Staying in the PAC-[n] and presumably winning semi-regular conference championships which land us in the 12 team playoffs, or b) Taking the BIG-[n] money and banking on even better recruiting/coach salaries. Thoughts?- 2003HuskyGrad

If you’re actually talking about winning a national championship then I think the answer has to be the B1G. Although realistically I don’t think it has as much to do with the conference then it does with the Washington administration and donor set up. Chris Petersen was a top-5 coach in the country when he left UW and when everything went right he got Washington to be a top-3 team but realistically there was still a significant gap between the Huskies and Alabama or Clemson.

To put Washington in a position where they could actually win a title again it would require having a top-10 coach in the sport but also pair it with top-10 roster talent. That’s only going to happen if the Huskies can put a lot of money into the program specifically in recruiting. The approach that Washington is looking to take with regards to NIL strategy doesn’t seem to mesh with that very well.

In a given 10-year simulation I think UW ends up with more playoff appearances staying in a Pac-10 under the new system but the ceiling is higher by trying to move to the B1G.

In the first 2 games I have noticed a ton of different guys rotating in and out- mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Do you think the coaches were using these 2 games as an open competition to solidify the starters for this Saturday? Seems like a lot of guys are getting good looks and not just in garbage time.- Otis

I wouldn’t say that they’re still trying to solidify the starters. It wouldn’t surprise me though if there’s still some competition happening between the 2nd/3rd spots or 3rd/4th spots at several positions. This was the last game where UW was essentially guaranteed to have a large chunk of garbage time. The most important game of the DeBoer era (so far) is coming up on Saturday. This was a great chance to get a bunch of guys reps earlier than you might expect without worrying about losing the game and to help build up confidence heading into the offseason.

In the transfer portal era it’s more important than ever to let the guys further down the depth chart get time here and there to keep happy instead of just telling them to wait until next year.

Are we going to have to put up with dumbass quips about Penix seeming like the word penis all year? Honestly, grow the F up Husky Fans. Geez. It’s f-ing embarrassing.- MountainMan

It certainly seems like it. How else are we going to know how clever someone is if they don’t find a way to make an extremely obvious double entendre with Penix’s name? You’ll note I did not make one there and therefore I must not be exceedingly clever. A shame.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Kent State at Washington

Zero sacks given up versus the team leading the nation in sacks, your predicted outcome?- RockDawg

The very boring prediction that neither team will end up on the extreme end of where they’ve been so far. Michigan State so far this year has sent about 4.7 pass rushers on the average pass dropback. That shows they like to bring an extra linebacker a decent amount of the time but they aren’t an extreme blitz happy team like UCLA was last year. If Penix ends this game while still having not been sacked this season it likely means the Huskies won by quite a bit. Or that UW’s offense was reduced to nothing but quick outs to get the ball out of Penix’s hands.

We’ll see if it’s gamesmanship or not but Coach DeBoer made it sound like LT Jaxson Kirkland will be back on Saturday. If he steps in at a peak level right away while Fautanu plays just as well at LG as he did at LT then the offensive line gets that much better. I could also see there being a few miscommunications re-integrating Kirkland into the line as he plays his first game in about 10 months. Give me 3 Michigan State sacks with one of them being an intentional grounding.

Is the deep ball against our defense going to be a problem all year long?- Dawgmanic

It’s understandable that some Husky fans are feeling particularly skittish about giving up long passes after playing in a scheme designed to minimize them at the expense of all else for most of the last decade. I would have loved to see Washington run this defense which leaves corners on an island more often last year when McDuffie and Gordon were on the outside. But alas.

We’ll find out hopefully starting on Saturday whether Jordan Perryman can return to health and look more like the player he was during preseason camp. That version of Perryman has the chance to mostly lock down one side of the field and then what deep safety help Grubb wants to use can shade towards the other corner.

Regardless of Perryman’s health we’ll end up seeing more deep passes completed against the Huskies this season. The trade off is hopefully that the Huskies will have more turnovers forced and/or sacks than they did a year ago. We need some higher power offenses to face up against in order to tell whether that will indeed be the case.

Have you watched any of Michigan State this year? Do they actually look like a top-15 team to you?- George RR Tolkien’s Dragon

I watched about the first 8 minutes of their opening game against Western Michigan which concluded with former Husky commit Germie Bernard catching a slant and taking it 44 yards for a touchdown. It’s probably more instructive to look at what some of the leading computer models think about Michigan State than ask me for my impressions.

FPI 11th, SP+ 13th, FEI 22nd, Sagarin 25th

That’s an average of 17.8 overall for their ranking. It suggests that having them in the top-15 might be just the tiniest bit ambitious but it’s unlikely that they’re secretly the 40th ranked team in the country completely masquerading as a better team because of last year. There’s a good chance this is the best team to come to Husky Stadium since Utah in 2019 given the way Oregon ended up closing out last season despite getting up to #4 in the polls.

Just to be able to make a fair comparison let’s see how Washington fares in those various computer metrics.

FPI 25th , SP+ 47th, FEI 35th, Sagarin 21st

That’s an average of 32nd overall for the Huskies. Both FPI and Sagarin think this is a matchup of top-25 overall teams, SP+ has Michigan State heavily favored, and FEI is lower on both teams than the average.

If you had to pick one place though where you’d want to hold an advantage it would of course be at the quarterback position. So far this season Michael Penix Jr. has been lights out for Washington while Payton Thorne has looked extremely mediocre. I would say that Michigan State has had the slightly tougher overall schedule so far but neither has faced a top-100 opponent per FPI. Penix’s stats could regress against better competition and still look pretty good. If it turns out that Thorne has nowhere to go but down versus a better defense then the Spartans will be in serious trouble.

Akron v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

What’s your take on the Defensive Line play so far? Does the rotation continue against better opponents? I guess the real question is, will they stop the run the rest of the way?- OmakFan

Early signs are encouraging so far. Kent State last year had one of the better rushing offenses in the country and Washington held its own in that contest. It’s fair to say there are still concerns about containing the quarterback when he decides to scramble but running backs haven’t seen much success. Kent State’s 3 main running backs had a combined 31 carries for 100 yards on the ground for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. The 2 primary backs for PSU had 70 yards on 20 carries for 3.5 YPC.

The best comparison from this year to last one is to look at the Montana and Arkansas State games. Against the Grizzlies UW gave up 109 yards on 24 carries for a 4.5 YPC mark. Versus the Red Wolves it was 10 carries for 26 yards at 2.6 YPC.

All of that is to say that until we play Michigan State this week we don’t know for sure how well it’s going to go. Game script went heavily in Washington’s favor in both the early games where the opponent couldn’t keep running the ball and hope to have enough time for a comeback. Doing that again versus MSU is probably the best run defense the Huskies have. The Spartans have 3 backs averaging better than 5 yards per carry on at least 8 rushes so far this season and will be by far the best running team we’ve faced.

The good news? Quarterback Payton Thorne isn’t much of a run threat. He has 2 runs of 30+ yards in his career so he’s not a statue but expect more along the lines of 2-3 scrambles per game rather than 6-8 like we saw in the first few games.

As far as the rotation goes it seems clear that Tuli Letuligasenoa is firmly entrenched as our primary defensive lineman. Faatui Tuitele has gotten the most snaps next to him but Ulumoo Ale was the presumptive starter before a leg injury in camp. It’s unclear whether the coaching staff was being extra cautious easing him back in or whether the absence allowed Tuitele to win that job in the end despite what the published depth chart says. Pro Football Focus isn’t the final word but of the 6 primary DL players so far, Kuao Peihopa has been by far the worst in PFF’s grading. If one of them falls out of the rotation it might be him.


Go Dawgs!