All the bliss that came with reaching their first Rose Bowl in 18 years had morphed into disappointment. You could see it on quarterback Jake Browning’s face. You could hear it in running back Myles Gaskin’s voice. You could feel it in that joyless postgame news conference.
The Huskies had just lost 28-23 to Ohio State, a game in which they scored just three points through the first three quarters. And though Washington hadn’t been stifled to that extent in 2018, the lethargic start and red-zone woes were hardly anomalies.
“I think we need to look at our offense really closely, no question,” UW coach Chris Petersen said after the loss. “The game was kind of similar to a lot of what went on this season.”
Fast forward to the spring, when there is no more Browning or Gaskin. Talent might be abundant among next season’s Huskies, but given that they finished 88th in the country in scoring last year, there is still uncertainty.
Did they discover anything during their deep examination of the offense over the past few months? Can fans expect a resurgence after Petersen’s least efficient O in his 13-year head-coaching career?
Those answers won’t come in full until the fall, but in his first media availability of 2019, Huskies offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan was asked to illuminate.
When you really broke things down in terms of offense last year, what stood out as far as things that went right and things that went wrong?
“I think it always comes down to execution, and for the most part put players in a position to do the things they do every single day over and over again,” he said. “So the number one thing we’re trying to get out of this spring camp is simplifying the process, simplifying what we’re doing around these guys to get muscle reps, if you will, over and over again.”
I interpreted that as, “I’m not revealing anything, but I’m a nice guy so I’ll give you a quote.” However, when asked what he learned about himself in his first season calling plays, Hamdan was more candid.
“There’s a game within the game. You play such good defense, and you definitely gotta be careful, you can start calling it sometimes not to win but to not lose,” Hamdan said. “These guys are college kids. I want them out here having fun. I want them taking chances. I gotta bring that by a lot of the plays we call.”
Hamdan recalled last year’s win over Utah in Salt Lake City as a game that might have been called too conservatively. The Huskies still managed to win behind a defense that finished sixth in the country in opponent scoring average, but the offense all but vanished in the last 20 minutes of the game.
There was similar stagnation in the 21-16 loss to Auburn, the 12-10 loss to Cal and the 10-3 win over Utah in the conference championship game. And that was with the record-setting duo of Browning and Gaskin.
So can the Huskies get better on that side of the ball in 2019?
Back is most of last year’s starting offensive line, including left tackle Trey Adams, who was considered a top-10 NFL draft pick before a back injury sidelined him for most of last season. Back is tight end Hunter Bryant, who averaged 21.6 yards per reception in the five games he was healthy, including a three-catch, 108-yard effort against Washington State.
Back is running back Salvon Ahmed, who has averaged 6 yards per carry in his two seasons at UW, and who racked up 608 yards on the ground last year. Back are receivers such as Aaron Fuller, who caught 58 passes for 874 yards last year, and Andrea Baccellia, who caught 12 for 109 against Ohio State.
And, of course, there is quarterback Jacob Eason, the five-star transfer from Georgia who some outlets have deemed a potential top-five pick in the 2020 draft.
Monday, Hamdan asserted that there is still a five-man battle for the starting QB job. He added that there is a battle for several jobs across the offense — and that’s a good thing.
“You’re more worried when you have a veteran group as far as competition and guys getting too complacent,” Hamdan said. “We have a lot of positions open.”
Lots of potential for the Huskies’ offense next season. Nobody will dispute that. But there was lots of potential last year, too. Question is if they can make it work.