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Mailbag: Perpetual Anticipation Edition

We’ve reached game week which means it’s time for the mailbag to ratchet back up

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Valero Alamo Bowl Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Perpetual anticipation is good for the soul but it’s bad for the heart.” -Stephen Sondheim


When do you feel Ryan Grubb will leave UW for a head coaching job and potential destinations? How does the move to the Big 10 impact this timeline, if at all. -Billy22

I don’t think Grubb would leave for just any job but I think it’s most likely that Grubb leaves after this season with slightly lower odds each subsequent year after that. If Washington’s offense has the kind of season they certainly seem capable of having then he’ll have 2 years of running a dynamic offense that produced a top-15 or better team. Kenny Dillingham got the Arizona State head coaching job after just one such season (although he’s an alumnus).

Realignment impacts things but mostly in the type of job that Grubb is likely to consider taking. Before the past month I would have said that Grubb accepts almost any head coaching job in the P5 except perhaps the dumpster fire at Northwestern right now. The Big Ten always seemed the biggest threat given his Midwest roots although the chance that he might get a Pac-12 job also was certainly possible.

Now though, the consideration for what a job worth leaving for looks like has changed. I don’t think that’s because UW now is even more important with their move to the Big Ten. The Huskies are already making Grubb one of the highest paid OCs in the country and aren’t going to get a huge raise immediately with their partial share. They just won’t suddenly drop way down.

I don’t think that WSU or OSU are going to open up after this year but those are jobs I don’t think Grubb even considers anymore were they to be offered. If Justin Wilcox flames out again at Cal and they want to bring in an offense-first coach, would Grubb leave to go there? I’m skeptical even if they get a partial share in the ACC.

There aren’t a ton of obvious head coaching openings in the Big Ten beyond the aforementioned Northwestern. Indiana would have to pay Tom Allen a massive buyout to get rid of him but I’m sure they’d love to bring in Grubb as a DeBoer disciple given how well DeBoer did as the OC there.

Assuming some games will have plenty of time for “mop up duty”, does DeBoer spilt that between Mack and Morris with an eye to the future ? Or just feature Morris as the clear No. 2 guy at this point? -VictoriaHusky

I don’t know that there will be as many opportunities for mop up duty as you might think. Washington doesn’t play an FCS opponent this year. I expect the Huskies will have some garbage time against Tulsa but it seems unlikely against Boise or Michigan State. In conference play you could say probably Stanford. Home against Arizona State is a possibility. But this schedule doesn’t have a ton of games where I feel confident UW will be up 28+ points in the 4th quarter even if they are a top-ten type team.

Regardless, I see Morris getting almost all of the backup snaps. I’m absolutely confident the plan is for Mack to redshirt unless there’s a catastrophic series of events. That does mean he could still play in up to 4 games of course. Maybe we see him get a series against Tulsa late in that game if UW is up 35+ points. Having him be as young as he is and not getting to be in-house for spring practices means I think they’d probably prefer to have him run the scout team and get reps that way before trying to compete for a job next spring.

Observers of preseason practices said Mack had flashes but that he got sacked a lot albeit with two-hand touch rules for practice. He needs time to work on his processing skills and it probably isn’t fair to Mack to have that come in a live game this year while he’s still 17 years old.

Colorado v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Defense in my mind was the only thing holding us back from being a truly elite team last year. In what areas do you expect defensive improvement and how much improved do they project to be? -bdawg

I mean, it was pretty clearly the defense holding UW back from being a CFP contender. You are correct about that.

To first try to look at the potential for the defense improving let’s look at some of the advanced numbers. Last year, Washington finished 14th on offense in SP+ and 48th on defense. The defensive rank probably seems better than you would think but the Huskies did play a number of very good offenses who scored points on a lot of teams. Really, the games against the Arizona teams were the only true outliers in terms of UW’s performance versus what most other teams gave up against them.

Now this year the Huskies are projected 7th on offense and 40th on defense. That’s a pretty mild improvement on both sides of the ball. Let’s look more specifically at the defensive differences though given that’s what you asked about.

The Huskies lost their top-two defenders in terms of snaps played from last year and 4 of the 8 leaders. If you wanted to be more optimistic you could say UW only lost 4 of the top 14 in snaps since they return numbers 9 through 14. The four missing pieces are: S Alex Cook, ED Jeremiah Martin, LB Cam Bright, and CB Jordan Perryman.

We’ll start at the back end of that list. Perryman struggled with injuries last year and the Huskies brought in Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad to replace him. Muhammad put up similar numbers to Perryman before coming over to Washington except he did it in the Big 12 rather than FCS. It seems easy to project that as an upgrade.

Bright came in with some previously impressive numbers at Pitt but never really fit in with UW’s defense system. His snaps will get redistributed behind a (hopefully) healthy Edefuan Ulofoshio plus USC transfer Ralen Goforth. Again, that projects as an upgrade right now.

You can’t say that about the loss of Jeremiah Martin. Washington still hasn’t received clarity on whether Sioux Falls transfer Zach Durfee will be eligible this season. Even if he is, Martin was 1st team all-conference last season. Hopefully ZTF looks more like his 2020 self and Tunuufi moving to edge full-time will help that spot but the pass rush could certainly take a step back this year.

And finally, Alex Cook was somewhat indirectly replaced with CB Elijah Jackson due to the reshuffling of roles in the secondary. Cook got burned in coverage last year but was good when asked to be in run support. The hope is that Dom Hampton will be better in that spot, Powell will be better at the Husky than Hampton was, and Jackson will be better than whoever was asked to play corner in the middle of the season. It was a long list.

Overall, I’d say there’s a pretty clear net upgrade when looking at the departed and who is replacing them. That’s before you get to the fact that true freshman 3-star Jaivion Green was asked to play 70 snaps last year against Oregon because the team was otherwise just out of cornerbacks. The depth is hopefully better and they can withstand injuries if necessary.

When you look at the actual stats, UW was 108th in opposing passing yards per game at 268.3. With the improvements made to the secondary is it reasonable to think that drops to something like 82nd at 240? Points per game was 65th at 27.5. I think shaving off a field goal so something like an improvement to 44th at 24.5 seems reasonable. The big one is that UW was just 113th in takeaways at just 1.0 per game. It feels like simple regression to the mean with a few more lucky breaks might bump that up to t-64th at 1.4 per game on its own. That also means more short fields for the offense if it happens.

Receiver with the most targets at the end of the season, not named Odunze/McMillan? -Not Rhaego

It seems hard to think this isn’t going to be Ja’Lynn Polk unless injuries are involved. Last year Polk was 3rd at 68 targets and TE Jack Westover was next with 44 (and TE Devin Culp right behind him at 43). The Huskies have a deep receiving corps and young guys Germie Bernard and Denzel Boston are going to demand more playing time. But even Taj Davis who was fairly well established last year was 30 whole targets behind Polk.

If you want a darkhorse then I would throw out RB Dillon Johnson for consideration. He has a chance to secure the majority of the snaps with Cam Davis out for the season and was a prolific pass catcher for Mississippi State out of the backfield. Johnson had 52 targets last year and 78 the previous season. Of course, he played in the Mike Leach offense which features the running back more than the Huskies tend to do.

Colorado v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Huskies have gone from being the Hunter to being the Hunted in basically the span of 10 months. Are they mentally ready to go from the role of underdog to contender? How much does that change how a coach approaches his team? -nameViolation

Well based on the way the team has talked this offseason they at least certainly understand that they are the Hunted. This team has national title aspirations and a ton of confidence. Multiple Huskies have said publicly that they believe this is the best offense in the country. Whether that’s overconfidence or swagger will depend on the results and how we choose to overlay that talk with our own narratives.

It’s certainly a fine line to approach from the coaching staff. The hardest part for the staff though is done now. DeBoer and company had to come in to a program that had just had a major hit to their confidence. They preached that if the team followed DeBoer’s blueprint then they would instantly get back to being a conference title contender. They did that and followed through.

Now comes trying to make sure those experiences don’t create complacency. Yes, Washington was good last year. But they have to be even better this year. And that’s not going to happen without even more hard work than was put in the previous offseason.

It was easy to say in the 2021 season that Jimmy Lake hadn’t managed his team’s expectations when they lost to Montana. That Lake hadn’t properly prepared the Dawgs for the challenge that the Grizzlies could put up and so they looked past that particular opponent. As time went on, it became increasingly evident that the problem wasn’t about preparing mentally for the potential letdown game but instead about just general preparation in every facet of the offense.

The difference between a shot at the CFP and an Alamo Bowl placement last year was the loss at Arizona State. Yes, injuries at cornerback played a role in that game. But DeBoer has to make sure every player understands that one slip up is good enough to derail this team from their goals. They have to give 100% all of the time or they aren’t going to get to achieve what they want. Having that ASU game from last year to point to should help keep the team focused but it’s certainly still not an easy task keeping the swagger from turning into what Coach Romar used to call the “cool jackets”.

Are you really planning on writing your normal workload with a 2-week old baby at home? Is having the built in excuse of sleep deprivation worth it? -Your Wife

Thanks dear for the question. Yes, I’m going to have some other responsibilities this fall. And that means I’ll be slightly less helpful for diaper changes during a 3.5 hour block each Saturday. But the good news is that I’m extremely happy to do nothing but sit on the couch holding him for the rest of every Saturday. That’s a good thing, right?

Am I just including this question to have a built-in excuse the next time one of you notices a typo? Probably. But I’m very much looking forward to the future of being able to take my son to his first game at Husky Stadium once he’s old enough to notice there’s a game happening on the field.