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Weekly Roundtable: New Kids on the Block-ing

Welcome, interior linemen.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Eastern Washington at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to this week’s roundtable. Let’s skip the formalities and get things started:

One thing that’s been mentioned by both fans and us but has always been a bit on the peripheral coming into this season is the fact that UW’s replacing three offensive linemen from a team last year whose passing success can be seriously credited to that unit, given Penix’s first complete season and dramatic uptick in general awesomeness. I think most of us have that as a slight question mark but are generally far more confident in the guys who’ll slide into those spots since they’re all much more experienced than you usually get in these scenarios, plus the line’s overall improvement under DeBoer vs Lake and Pete.

But my question is:

Say this transition isn’t as seamless as we’re expecting-ish — how do you think things are most likely to go “wrong” in this timeline, and how does that affect in your view the floor and ceiling for this team?

Max Vrooman: BRB. Going to go knock on all the wood surfaces in my house, lay down a salt circle, and put up some magic protection talismans before the discussion gets started.

Gabey: I take full responsibility if the team does anything worse than 12-0.

Max: As long as we’re clear that all readers of this article will get a full refund on their site membership directly from you then we’re good to proceed.

Gabey: Every reader will get a full refund from their Very Exorbitant and Existent Subscription Fee directly from me, yes.

Max: So with that said, the obvious one which we will afterwards refer to as Scenario Who Must Not Be Named is that someone misses an assignment against Boise State leading to a mostly free rusher that dives at Penix’s knees and leads to a season ending injury. Wince. That’s the worst case which drastically lowers the ceiling.

But let’s focus on the ones that don’t directly lead to injury because they’re a little more worthy of discussion. Your Heisman candidate QB getting hurt is bad. Breaking news.

Bill Connelly had an article about 4th downs last week and it was interesting that UW was one of the most aggressive teams in the country on 4th down but actually were less aggressive than average in traditional “go for it” scenarios. When we were in 4th and short last year in opponent’s territory outside of garbage time we were conservative.

Early in the season I kept noting that on 3rd/4th and short near the goal line we ran the ball 95%+ of the time. It was if once we got to less than 2 years we completely forgot that play action existed. That resulted in UW getting stuffed a bunch more than you’d expect and I think over time led to UW not going for it as often in obvious scenarios.

I bring that up to say that having the interior of the offensive line fail to live up to expectations isn’t going to ruin an otherwise unstoppable offense on 4th and 1. We already weren’t very good running it up the middle when we needed a yard even with that experienced set of guards and center.

That means what would be more devastating is the inability to protect on 3rd/4th and long. So many times Penix would drop back on 3rd and 11 or 4th and 6 and have all day to wait for receivers to get open and rifle it for a 1st down. To me, if the OL’s performance affects the team it will be that on those clear passing downs Penix is scrambling for his life and either has to throw it away or throw it before a receiver has had time to complete their route and dump it down short of the sticks. Losing two long conversions like that per game is probably a hit of an average of ~5 points per game in my mind and lowers the ceiling from a top-5 offense in the country to maybe 15th and kills any of the Pac-12 title/CFP dreams. (Again, we’re talking about what happens if the bad scenario happens, not guaranteeing it will).

Gabey: I’m pickin’ up all you’re putting down. Not to massage your ego too much or anything but feels like a pretty spot on assessment. Okay wrap it up everyone we figured this out bye bye!

*hours later*

Mark Schafer: With the full hope that the Scenario that Must Not Be Named doesn’t happen, I would assume that if it does, we get by Boise, Tulsa and MSU but we really take a beating in conference play, especially in the gauntlet that is November. But even if the pass protection regresses just a tiny bit, I would hope that the run game would make up for it. I’m an optimist so I won’t allow the worst case scenario to cause worry!

But even if the line regresses, I do have faith that the experience of the existing talent, coupled with the raw ability of the incoming guys should help keep Penix healthy enough. If he goes down though, the Huskies go from a team that can win 11+ games again to maybe 8 wins? I don’t want this to happen obviously because it’s a worst case scenario, which is why I just knocked on wood.

What struck me about the receivers last year was how well they were able to advance the ball upfield without the benefit of the offensive line, just playing one on one. Granted, the more time you give a quarterback to throw the better throws he’ll make but sometimes the line just needs to give the quarterback enough time to deliver one on target and let the receivers do the rest so I truly don’t know how to predict this accurately.

Gabey: Damn my main thinking for this wasn’t supposed to be “What happens if Mike goes down” but you guys took it there.

FWIW, I really do think Max is on to something. To me, what feels most likely knowing the history of the guys who are most likely taking over in the middle, their experience and relatively high-but-not-exceptional floors at this point means I feel like if they don’t slide in seamlessly, the most likely dropoff is at a level where it’s less “oh no this team is screwed” and more “ah dang they aren’t gonna take that next step” for many of the reasons you mentioned.

That is, even if there are some hiccups, with the offensive line room’s player pool depth and experience I don’t imagine they’d be catastrophic in pass protection, more just “meh.” And in that scenario — while it would bump down the offensive passing effectiveness and presumably point totals somewhat like Max mentioned — it’s not like Penix is some scrub when it comes to buying space and time or throwing on the run. My gut is like you said, that it’s more of the same crappy short-yardage run results albeit even worse — which really doesn’t change that much in those scenarios. “Oh, we’re getting zero yards instead of half-a-yard on 3rd and 2? The horror!”

All this to say yeah, I agree with Max. A couple less third- or fourth-and-long conversions per game, a couple less extended drives, probably about five points difference... isn’t it great when someone (me) just says words just to say them? (To clarify I’m not talking just cuz I like the sound of my own voice. I’m talking cuz we should probably hit a higher word count with more than just Mark and Max contributing. So HA.)

Andrew Berg: I’m not going to directly answer the question, but when I think about the offensive development from last year to this year, it’s hard for me to imagine we’re going to be meaningfully better in any of the key areas — points per play, turnovers, success rate, etc. But the defense struggled so much in so many ways that I don’t think the offense has to be better for the team to improve. Even just forcing an average number of turnovers is going to have a positive effect on the offense by creating some better field position and easier scoring opportunities.

I do wonder if the run game will look somewhat different. Wayne out and two new transfers in plus the line turnover. That could mean better or worse performance. It could mean different schemes. Healthy Penix is more of a known commodity, but how we approach and execute in the run game are very much open questions.

Mark: The run game did frustrate me sometimes because they couldn’t just bowl straight ahead into the defense very well. I don’t know if that’s blocking scheme or what. Gabey’s right, Mike is more than just some average college quarterback, he has the instincts to buy time in the pocket when protection breaks down, so it’s not like he’s screwed if that happens. I think we’ll be fine even if the line doesn’t start out very well. Plus there’s always room for improvement during the season.

Gabey: I can’t elaborate why, but Mark’s unconditional optimism frightens me.

Do good things, don't do bad things, and bow down to Washington.