It’s a Bruener thing.
From 1991 to 1994, Mark Bruener recorded 90 catches for 1,012 yards and four touchdowns as a UW tight end — helping the Huskies to a national title in his freshman season. He was selected 27th overall in the 1995 NFL draft, before spending 14 pro seasons with the Steelers and Texans.
His wife went to Washington. Both of his daughters went to Washington.
In June 2019, his son — Carson — committed to play there, too.
And after failing to see the field in four games last fall, then being moved from inside to outside linebacker after All-American Zion Tupuola-Fetui’s Achilles tear last spring, Carson Bruener returned to his natural position this summer.
At which point, he began to make a name for himself.
“Carson’s just been making plays,” UW inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio said Aug. 21. “He was an outside backer in the spring, so I didn’t really get to see a lot of him. But when they moved him back inside, they just gave him free rein and he just started making plays.
“I don’t know. I think that’s just a Bruener thing. They just make plays here. It’s a big thing for them.”
It could also be a big thing for Washington. Last week, with Ulofoshio limited to six total snaps because of an apparent injury, inside linebacker Daniel Heimuli made his first career start next to Jackson Sirmon.
But Bruener — who posted eight tackles and a forced fumble in his first game in UW’s defensive rotation — made the most lasting impression among the linebackers.
“Carson started showing up during training camp, making plays on scout team first,” UW coach Jimmy Lake said Monday. “We’re running our kickoff return against a scout kickoff, and he’s on scout kickoff. All of a sudden we’re like, ‘Whoa, Carson is showing up.’ He’s showing up on scout punt return. He starts showing up on defense. So we’re like, ‘Hey, you know what? We need to start getting this guy on the field somewhere.’
“So now we start putting him on special teams. He was a huge factor on special teams this last game, had a couple tackles. Now he’s going to get more on defense. You saw what he was able to do on defense. He knows the calls, is running sideline to sideline, not making mistakes. So for a young guy, just seeing him blossoming is very nice to see.”
Especially considering who the Huskies are about to see next.
Against a physical California offense that ranks 10th nationally with 6.11 yards per carry, UW’s defensive front seven — which has been shaky, to say the least — must prove it can stop the run Saturday.
A healthier Ulofoshio should help in that regard, and Lake was also encouraged by Heimuli’s play in Washington’s 52-3 victory over Arkansas State.
“He played really well,” Lake said of Heimuli, who was credited with one tackle. “I’m so excited for him. He’s been banged up a little bit, battled back through some little setbacks here and there. He’s seen his game just reach another level.
“He’s another young man that has matured and watched more film now as an older player on our roster. He’s still not even that old. Very pleased with Dan, and you’re going to see him continue to play a bunch of football for us.”
The same can certainly be said of Bruener — a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker and Husky legacy.
Three decades after Mark Bruener won a national title at Washington, “Bruener things” continue to happen at Husky Stadium.
Heimuli was not the Huskies’ only surprise starter last Saturday. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele got the nod over sophomore Tuli Letuligasenoa, and he responded with two tackles and his first career sack and forced fumble.
Going forward, Lake said sophomore Sam “Taki” Taimani, Letuligasenoa and Tuitele will continue to share time on UW’s defensive line.
“Faatui’s been playing really well, and those three actually could all be starters. That’s the way we look at it,” Lake said. “So we put him out there, and sure enough he made a bunch of plays. He’s the one that caused the fumble that Bralen Trice was able to scoop and score.
“It’s been a joy to watch those three d-tackles — who we have talked about needing to take the next step in their game — playing better. Taki, Tuli and Faatui still have tons of room to grow and continue to develop, but I see all three of those guys as starters.”
Enter the RPO?
While Lake declined to share specific schematic changes the Huskies made on offense last weekend, he confirmed the coaching staff infused more run-pass option and play-action plays.
“Yeah, we definitely trickled some (RPO) stuff in there, and then some play-action stuff, which is different,” he said. “There was definitely a mixture of all of that. Some were run calls. Some they did have the option to throw it and some were fake-run calls where we threw it.”
Of course, run-pass option plays place more responsibility on the quarterback to diagnose defenses in real time. In that regard, Lake said UW quarterback Dylan Morris “handled it really well. Really well. Unfortunately one of the balls was tipped and got intercepted, which can happen when you’re running that type of offense. We see it when we go against it. But I think overall with the production and the points, I would say he handled it really well.”
Morris completed 23 of 39 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against Arkansas State.
- UW dropped five passes on Saturday, one of which should have been an easy touchdown to tight end Devin Culp. “You’re supposed to catch the football,” Lake said. “But this is part of the game, right? You see it yesterday in the NFL: guys drop the football. That’s what happens. Sometimes guys get too excited and they take their eyes off the ball. They want to get yards after the catch, and they forget the first thing is to catch the football. Some guys feel footsteps. Some guys think they’re going to get hit. Some guys want to dart up the field. I think there is a laundry list of (reasons) why it happens. We just have to continue (to teach) in practice … run your route, catch the football and then do step three after you catch the football, which is run after the catch.”
- Lake was asked why safety Dominique Hampton — who was called for a taunting penalty that extended a drive and led to a touchdown in the 31-10 loss at Michigan — did not play on defense against Arkansas State. “If we have some mental missteps with poise, there’s always going to be a price to pay,” Lake said. “And now you have to earn your trust back, and when that trust is earned back, then more playing time will be given.”
- With UW wide receivers Terrell Bynum and Jalen McMillan both back from injury, Lake was asked for a status update on second-year freshman Rome Odunze. His answer: “Week-to-week.”