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Mailbag: If A Tree Falls Edition

Answering questions on injuries, the depth chart in the secondary, Michael Penix Jr.’s future and more!

Stanford v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

What are your thoughts on some sportswriters putting UW as contenders in the CFB Playoff race? -Lockerstalker 46

They’re an undefeated team from a power conference that is in the top-15 of the AP Poll one-third of the way through the season. Their name kind of has to be brought up as a fringe contender even if not a serious one. ESPN has their playoff predictor based on simulations using FPI and each team’s remaining schedule and they have UW making the CFP 3.8% of the time. That’s probably slightly high but not too far off.

Provided that Washington keeps winning, the only game they’re likely to be an underdog in the rest of the way is at Oregon. Had the Cougars not Coug’d it on Saturday you could say the Apple Cup as well. A few games will be more difficult and a few will be easier but if Washington had a 75% chance in each of the non-Oregon games then there’s a 13.3% chance they get through that undefeated. Throw in a 40% chance of beating Oregon and it drops to 5.4%. Then at that point we’ll call it 50/50 in the Pac-12 title game and you get to 2.6%. And that’s to go undefeated. There are chaos scenarios where a 1-loss Pac-12 team makes it again like UW did in 2016.

Of course each successive game that Washington beats the spread the odds improve both because there are fewer chances to mess up remaining and it makes the metrics like the Huskies even more. If Washington had USC and Utah on their schedule in place of Arizona and Colorado then it would be impossible to even fantasize about a CFP berth. And I still very highly caution against anyone doing so unless you love disappointment.

With all that said it definitely seems like the Huskies are in the 12-15 teams that still have a shot at it. Let’s hope we can still say that come Saturday morning.

Would you please share a list of injured players with a brief blurb on their injury status and when are they expected back in the line up? -Mountain Man

This is of course based on comments from Coach Kalen DeBoer who seems to have a pretty liberal concept of time.

CB Jordan Perryman- Suffered a lower leg injury in-game during week 1. It looked substantial at the time but DeBoer said he might play in week 2. Each of the last 2 weeks he went through warm-ups and DeBoer said he thought Jordan would play but hasn’t. Once again he’s probable/questionable against UCLA.

CB Mishael Powell- Injured late against Michigan State. Already has been ruled out this weekend and based on that you can probably expect him to miss another week or two after that.

CB Julius Irvin- Didn’t notice an injury during the game but didn’t come back in the game after the first drive of the 2nd half. DeBoer didn’t mention him during his press conference so hopefully they just played it super safe since UW was up 20+ points in the 2nd half at that point.

S Asa Turner- Injured during practice between weeks 2 and 3. DeBoer made it sound like 50/50 he plays this week but since he has been overly optimistic with regard to injuries so far this year I would call him doubtful.

LB Edefuan Ulofoshio- Suffered a serious knee injury early in the offseason. DeBoer said he thinks he’ll play this year but not in the next month which means we’re looking at a November return if he does come back.

RB Cam Davis- DeBoer said post-game that they went with “the healthiest guys” in playing Taulapapa, Nixon, Newton, and Adams on Saturday but that Davis was available. Sounds like he may have been slightly banged up but presumably will be back and is still listed as #2 on the depth chart.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Michigan State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chip has been at UCLA long enough to recruit his players and fully install his system. Yet, he is not as successful as he was in Eugene. Has college football adapted? And is his system longer special? How will UW’s defense perform against Chip’s UCLA offense? -Oregondawg

It’s definitely the case that the revolutionary style he brought to Oregon is no longer novel. The proliferation of spread, up-tempo, and the zone read have penetrated every part of college football. You can find pieces of it in just about every team’s playbook.

The Chip Kelly hire by UCLA really depended on hoping that he had another trick up his sleeve. While UCLA’s offense has generally been good under Kelly it’s a stretch to call it revolutionary. He used an extremely funky formation to scheme a touchdown against UW last year. That was cool from a neutral observer’s perspective. But he hasn’t been able to come up with an entire system that exploits the vast majority of defenses beyond just “DTR run around really fast when everything collapses around you”.

Unfortunately for UCLA, Kelly doesn’t care enough about the non-scheme stuff like, say, “recruiting” to make up for the lack of additional innovation. It’s really rare in this world to have one industry-changing innovation. Asking for a second one was always going to be difficult and Kelly will still be remembered fondly by the average college football fan for his time at Oregon even if he wasn’t able to re-capture the magic with the Bruins.

What’s the whole depth chart at DB? I’m guessing no one is redshirting at this point? I saw a tweet about an open tryout, maybe see if someone on the track team wants to play DB? -FirstWorldProblems

If you want me to take you literally, you can find UW’s depth chart this week here. It’s been tough to figure out what it is in practicality since it seems like we lose at leasat one starter during a game every single week in the secondary. My best guess at the order at the outside cornerback spots right now (if fully healthy) are: Jordan Perryman, Mishael Powell/Julius Irvin, Davon Banks, Jaivion Green, Elijah Jackson, and Dyson McCutcheon.

Based on performance in game this season I think Irvin deserves to have passed Powell. We’ll see once Powell is healthy again whether he’s able to recapture the starting spot he held at the beginning of the season.

I had been a little bit surprised that Kamren Fabiculanan replaced Asa Turner at the safety spot once Turner got hurt. It seems though that KamFab is viewed as the #2 guy at both the Husky spot and at safety. If Hampton were to miss any time with Turner already out my guess is KamFab would shift to the Husky spot and Cam Williams would come in as the 4th safety to start there. But somewhat surprisingly Alex Cook, Hampton, and KamFab are the top-3 defensive players in snaps so far this season for UW. If Turner is fully healthy against UCLA I think they’ll still rotate KamFab in based on his play so far.

In the past 8 years we’ve had trouble playing teams that had a bye the week before. But we handled Stanford well, and makes me even more excited for this team. Do we play any other teams coming off a bye? -StoutishDawg

The short answer is yes we do. Although it’s dubious whether you want to count it because both Washington and Oregon State have a bye before they play one another on Friday, November 4th. This week neither UW nor UCLA gets time off before the short week but they had mercy on the Dawgs and Beavs later in the year.

After this week we play the Arizona schools in consecutive weeks. For both teams Washington is the last team they play before getting a bye. Although I don’t think that really means much. If the Sun Devils hadn’t already fired Herm Edwards you might’ve thought that could mean UW had a chance to officially end his tenure with a blowout win. But that’s a moot point now.

Technically though the Huskies are the only team in the conference to play multiple teams coming off a bye this conference season. Everyone else has only one except for Arizona State. I would still rather have that and avoid USC and Utah from a schedule favorability standpoint.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Stanford at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking ahead if Penix stays healthy and continues to perform he will most certainly go into the draft. Do the Huskies look to Morris or Huard to take the reins or do they check out the portal? -GU1966

There’s a lot of ifs in that statement to just move on past. Obviously given Penix’s injury history it’s tough to just say “if he’s healthy” and feel like that’s a reasonable assumption to make *knocks on wood furiously*. The biggest reason why it might feel safe to assume good health is because of how well Penix has been protected so far this season. The credit for that is shared between Penix’s masterful pocket management and the o-line itself but Penix has never had this much time in the pocket.

So far this season Penix has been sacked 0 times (that’s 0.0% for you liberal arts majors) and pressured on 17.8% of dropbacks per Pro Football Focus. Over the last 3 seasons when Penix had more dropbacks than he has so far this year the lowest pressure rate he saw was 23.0% and the lowest sack rate was 0.6%. Both times were the one year when DeBoer was his offensive coordinator in 2019. In the season after DeBoer left his pressure rate jumped to 40.7% and the sack rate rose to 3.0%. If UW’s line continues to protect Penix like this even as the schedule jumps up in difficulty then there’s a chance he does in fact stay healthy.

Let’s say that Penix does play in every game this year and puts up stats that keep him at least in the running for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. He probably does try to jump to the NFL although I have no idea what his value would be in the draft given his injury history even with a standout healthy year this season. If I were him I probably wouldn’t risk coming back but maybe he is able to parlay the success into a ton of NIL money and decides to return to UW for his 6th season in college.

Again we’ll go with your hypothetical and say he decides to move on. The only people who know what Washington is going to do are Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb. If they truly feel that with one more offseason Morris and/or Huard will be able to put up similar numbers in this offense to Jake Haener and Michael Penix Jr and know that neither will transfer then they’ll likely call it good. I just can’t see both Morris and Huard staying to compete against one another for a third year though. And if either of them leave then you have to go to the portal for reinforcements even if you feel comfortable with the other one starting.

My guess is that DeBoer goes swinging for the best grad transfer he can find and that Morris leaves so that UW goes into the spring with grad transfer X battling Huard with Kienholz as the 3rd QB. But trying to guess what a quarterback will do in the transfer portal era is a bit of a fool’s errand.

I’ve noticed that early in the first four games we use a lot of pre-snap motion/ formation shifts but by the fourth quarter we are down to a single or no shifts, do you agree with my observation and do you have a rational? -RockDawg

First let’s figure out whether your anecdotal observations are right or not. I looked up data from Sports Info Solutions which doesn’t have their charting completed for the Stanford game yet. But it’s still 3 games worth of data about motion. This doesn’t differentiate between the times when we only have one guy shift versus all 5 skill position players like we do at times. Nonetheless.

% Plays With Motion by Quarter

1st- Pass 27%, Run 32%

2nd- Pass 34%, Run 25%

3rd- Pass 27%, Run 50%

4th- Pass 7%, Run 33%

It does seem like you are correct that we tend to run less pre-snap motion in the 4th quarter at least when we throw the ball. I used percentages because my initial theory for why this might be comes down the point of using motion. Beyond just confusing the defense the primary reason to have pre-snap motion is that it tells the QB how the defense will react to different formations and makes it easier to identify the coverage. Washington hasn’t needed to throw the ball very much in the 4th quarter which makes identifying whether or not the outside corners are playing man or zone less relevant.

Even on a percentage basis though it looks like we’re running less motion when we do choose to pass the ball. I don’t really have an answer for why that may be.

When we do have pre-snap motion while running the ball it’s at a minimum a jet/fly sweep action about 40% of the time. That seems to vibe with my eye test.