A year ago, the Washington football team could barely do anything through the air without the help of Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. It seemed the Huskies couldn’t even breathe air without them.
Williams and Seferian-Jenkins combined for 54.9 percent of the receptions and 62.5 percent of the receiving yards. They caught 13 of Keith Price’s 19 touchdown passes. The Huskies were so dependent on the duo that coach Steve Sarkisian probably should’ve let them throw a few passes to each other.
The two stars and former mega-recruits handled the burden well, producing solid numbers as sophomores and handling the extra defensive attention as best they could. But while they impressed, the entire passing game was depressing. The trademark balance of Sarkisian’s offense vanished, the points per game decreased, and Price regressed. As good as Williams and Seferian-Jenkins are, Sarkisian went into the offseason declaring the offense couldn’t be so limited and predictable.
Now, two games into the Huskies’ new offensive Space Age, where up-tempo is the buzzword and cheetah-fast is the standard, it’s amazing how much Washington has accomplished without forcing the ball to its top two receiving targets. Of all the calculator-frying numbers the Huskies have amassed thus far — 603.5 yards per game, Bishop Sankey’s nation-leading 184.5 rushing yards per game, a 68 percent conversion rate on third down — it’s most impressive that they are doing it without overemphasizing Williams, who has still been quite productive; and Seferian-Jenkins, who missed the first game due to suspension and had been sidelined because of a broken pinkie finger that required surgery.
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Small sample size, you say? Well, yes. But it’s still one-sixth of the year, and in a college football season of only 12 games, everything is a small sample size. The larger point is that, last season, the Huskies seldom moved the ball against anyone, not even Portland State, without heavy doses of Williams and ASJ. This season, there are already significant signs that they’ll be balanced again, which will make the offense formidable and make their star receiver and star tight end more dangerous, even if their statistics dip.
“It’ll make them so much better for us,” Sarkisian said. “To their credit, Kasen and Austin get it. They understand that everyone playing well around them will make them better. They won’t have to deal with a lot of the pressure of double coverage and having coverages rolled their way.”
In the first two games, Williams and Seferian-Jenkins have combined for 134 of Price’s 666 passing yards, which is 20.1 percent. They have 10 of the team’s 51 receptions, or 19.6 percent. Those numbers are dramatic and misleading because ASJ missed a game and then looked rusty in last Saturday’s 34-24 victory over Illinois, catching three passes for just 8 yards. Williams has only seven catches right now, but his 126 yards (63 per game) is just under his pace from a year ago, when he averaged 67.5 receiving yards.
By season’s end, the two players figure to have sterling numbers because they’re elite talents. But that will only make the offense bigger. The Huskies aren’t hamstrung this season.
They’re better because Kevin Smith, who was recovering from a knee injury last season, is back. He’s currently leading the Huskies with 86.5 receiving yards per game. They’re better because young players such as sophomore Jaydon Mickens can handle more responsibility. Mickens caught 20 passes as a freshman; he already has 17 this season. He’s tied for ninth in the nation with 8.5 receptions per game. And they’re better because they have more depth, with freshman John Ross making an impact and leading a well-regarded freshman-receiver recruiting class, with tight end Joshua Perkins emerging as a threat and with DiAndre Campbell looking much improved.
“Last year, it was, ‘Oh, I hope I catch this ball,’ ” Mickens said. “This year, it’s, ‘Throw it here. I want it.’
“You see the Oregons and the Texas A&Ms giving a lot of people the ball, and they’re all making plays. That’s what we want to be. Whoever gets the ball, great. Whoever doesn’t, we’ll be blocking our tails off.”
If this keeps up in Pac-12 play, defenses will have to respect those secondary options, and as a result, Price can foresee more big plays from Williams and ASJ.
“It’s going to be easy for them because it’s going to be one-on-one coverage,” Price said. “Teams are playing us straight up now. They can’t really favor guys. One week, one guy will have 100 yards receiving. Next week, another guy will have 100 yards.”
The Huskies can breathe without Williams and Seferian-Jenkins now. Better yet, as we’ve seen, they can also give them a breather.
|Sharing the load|
|TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Kasen Williams aren’t dominating the UW receiving statistics like they did in 2012:|
|Sharing the load|
|TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Kasen Williams aren’t dominating the UW receiving statistics like they did in 20011:|
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com