In the swan song season of the Pac-12 as we know it, expectations of offensive fireworks have never been greater. The West Coast has become the cradle of QBs and offensive minds alike. Michael Penix, Bo Nix, and 2022 Heisman Winner Caleb Williams all return in the hopes of hoisting the trophy on the way to a Playoff berth. Even the quarterbacks for mid-tier conference opponents have the type of dynamic talent that could give their offenses a punchers chance of delivering an upset.
Typically, when we do this article for the annual 30-Day Countdown series, we’re usually looking at which of our opponents has the best combination of talent and coaching that’ll produce the best statistical performance this season. Generally, it disregards the specific match up against our team. For example, if we had scheduled a team like Navy, their offense probably wouldn’t be considered one of the best offenses we’d face, but it might be the toughest to deal with since we rarely see triple option offenses. This year I wanted to take a look at a few candidates for who the best offense and the toughest matchups will be this year. Let’s take a look at some of the top candidates.
*Teams organized by schedule order
Jedd Fisch’s offense got a huge boost last year with the addition of Jayden de Laura, and the former WSU QB returns for his second season as the team’s gunslinger down in the desert. Despite the Wildcats’ mediocre 5-7 record last season, their offense was deadly, and they have the core of that unit returning to do more damage.
In last season’s match up with Arizona, de Laura threw for 400 yards and 4 TDs for a team total offensive production of 526 yards and 39 points (the 3rd most points scored on the Huskies in 2022). de Laura’s chemistry with his talented WR corps was the key to the their success last season. Like UW, Arizona’s top 3 WRs posed a “pick your poison” challenge to opposing defenses with both Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer going for over 1,000 yards on the season. Singer transferred to USC this offseason, but last year’s WR3, former 5-star freshman Tetairoa McMillan, is poised to step up into a lead role in the offense. McMillan actually had the best performance against the Huskies of last year’s WR corps with 7 catches, 132 yards, and 2 TDs, so a repeat performance could pose issues for the Husky secondary. Given Arizona’s uncertain rushing situation, the Wildcats may be in contention for the best statistical passing game in the conference.
Up on the line, the Wildcat offensive line was young in spots last year, and our edge rush eventually wore down their OL last season. However, even a modest improvement over last season’s performance could neutralize our defense’s greatest strength, the pass rush. de Laura’s slippery dual threat mobility was a major thorn in the defense’ side breaking contain and running for a few key first downs in the last two meetings with him. The Husky defense, as currently configured, is designed to smother the quick game in coverage and let the pass rush take the deep ball off the table, but de Laura’s play-extending athleticism could make us susceptible to the quick strike passing game.
Much like Arizona, last year’s win over the Ducks felt like a “last team with the ball” affair. Unlike the Wildcats though, Oregon’s rushing attack is what consistently gashed our defense, to the tune of 313 yards on the ground. The combination of Oregon’s veteran offensive line, a dynamic backfield duo of Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington, and Bo Nix’s highly-efficient dual threat abilities dominated the Husky front all night long last year, and many of those players are coming back in 2023
Like UW, Oregon’s had to replace several of their veterans up front, but there shouldn’t be a big drop off in talent. Seattle native and former 5-star Josh Conerly and 4-star Rhode Island transfer Ajani Cornelius are projected to be the starting OTs for the Ducks this season. While there may be a few speed bumps early in the season, I expect this group to maintain last season’s road grading rushing attack.
Where we may see improvement is in the passing game. Oregon WR1, Troy Franklin, returns this season in the hopes of topping the 1,000 yard mark. He’s a dangerous deep threat for the Ducks, and in new OC Will Stein’s offense, he should be a focal point. At UTSA, Stein orchestrated a high-flying passing game with nearly two 1,000 yard receivers. It’s unclear how much of Oregon’s run-heavy RPO-based offense from last year will be retained under Stein, but his background seems to indicate a desire to expand the passing attack. Given Oregon’s on-paper talent advantage in the trenches over most of the conference, a ground-based attack with a turbo-charged passing game could be the recipe for their success this season, and like de Laura at Arizona, Nix’s ability to extend plays with his legs could further stress our defense by neutralizing our pass rush.
This season will be UW’s first match up against Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans and returning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. While on-paper the Trojans might not be as experienced as last season’s squad, they have all the pieces in place to be a top 10 offense nationally. USC lost Belitnikoff winner WR Jordan Addison and starting RB Travis Dye to the NFL, but they return Brenden Rice (son of Jerry Rice), Mario Williams, and added the aforementioned Arizona WR Dorian Singer. They are also replacing a number of offensive linemen, but this year’s projected unit will almost exclusively feature players in their 4th+ year.
Riley & his scheme is what could prove to be the X-factor for the Trojans. His unique marriage of power run schemes and Air Raid passing concepts while featuring Caleb Williams’ athleticism is an almost unstoppable combination. It’ll be interesting to see if the offensive line, featuring a couple of transfers, can gel quickly enough to master the various gaps schemes in Riley’s offense (which tend to be line adjustment-heavy) and if new starting RB Austin Jones can be the type of dynamic backfield receiving threat that Dye was last season.
Specific to the Huskies, the USC passing attack is also something to keep an eye on. Quarters-based defenses, like the one UW runs, was popular in the Big 12, and Riley’s offense put itself on the map with a creative slot-based vertical passing attack that feasted on mismatches with Quarters safeties. Riley has the dynamic slot receivers like Mario Williams and Dorian Singer to gash our secondary, so the USC game may be our most difficult schematic match up of the whole conference slate.
Coach B’s Picks:
Toughest Offense to Face: Oregon Ducks
Best Offense we’ll Face: USC Trojans
Which offense will be the toughest match up we’ll face in 2023?
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Who is the best offense we’ll face in 2023?
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