So, about the wildcat …
Or, wait. What are we calling it now? The Newton Cat? The Rich Cat? The Wild Rich? (Let’s keep it PG, people.)
Regardless, it’s been effective through three games for the Washington Huskies — and, more specifically, for redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton. After sitting out last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, the 6-foot, 210-pound tailback has piled up 162 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns in his first three games. Two of those scores have come as the result of direct snaps — a 23-yard scamper up the gut in the first drive of the season against Eastern Washington, and a spinning 5-yard surge last weekend against Hawaii.
It’s too early to call the Wild Newt — Newt Cat? Richard Cat? Bueller? — a bona fide success, but the early returns are promising.
Just don’t ask running backs coach Keith Bhonapha to board the hype train any time soon.
“It’s just another play,” Bhonapha said on Wednesday. “I think obviously everybody feels that they can do it, and you just kind of go through it and see who has a feel for it as you go through fall camp, through spring ball. We’ve been fortunate to have some backs who have a pretty good feel for it.
“Obviously there is some coaching and teaching that goes into it, just like everything. But that’s just another play.”
It’s possible, however, that Newton isn’t just another player. The Palmdale (Calif.) High School product added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, which he has immediately used to bully opposing linebackers and become a legitimate red-zone weapon. Though the Huskies ran the same play with senior Myles Gaskin last season, Newton brings a more physical dimension to a familiar offensive look.
“You just knew (Gaskin) was going to figure it out (in the wildcat),” Bhonapha said. “I think Rich is pretty savvy too, just with the games that he’s had. I think the difference is we didn’t start Myles as a freshman doing this. Now, with Rich doing it as a freshman and being so smooth and having a good feel, it’s exciting.”
It’s likely less exciting for the BYU Cougars (2-1), who host No. 22 Washington (2-1) inside LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. Through three games, BYU ranks 119th nationally in rushing defense (225 yards per game) and 101st in opponent yards per carry (4.75). For comparison’s sake, the Cougars surrendered 262 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry in a season-opening loss to rival Utah on Aug. 29.
In hostile territory, the Huskies’ running back rotation — which has primarily featured Newton and juniors Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew — could carry the load for the UW offense.
Just don’t expect Newton to take a snap out of the wildcat — sorry, Rich Cat — and attempt a pass.
“If you ask (the running backs), all of them can throw,” Bhonapha said. “But trust me: I catch balls with them pre-practice and they don’t throw as well as me, and I throw really bad. So hopefully we won’t be doing that anytime soon.”