Entering Saturday’s showdown at No. 10 Stanford, here’s how the Huskies have graded out at each position group so far this season.
The largest Husky Stadium crowd in nearly two years — 69,285 strong — turned out for the Huskies’ rivalry game against Oregon on Saturday night, creating the sort of atmosphere that coach Chris Petersen is confident will become common as Washington’s rebuilding project gains more steam.
“We’re going to get this program back where we’re winning enough that everyone wants to come out,” Petersen said Monday. “That’s the Husky Stadium that I’d always been so used to back in the day when that place was loud and packed like that.”
Coming off a stunning upset of No. 17 USC nine days earlier, the Huskies lost to the Ducks, 26-20, in the sort of two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance that Petersen has said is to be expected this season. And as one would expect from a team with a roster that features 52 freshmen, 24 sophomores and just 13 seniors, the Huskies (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have produced mixed results midway through the season.
Entering Saturday’s showdown at No. 10 Stanford, here’s how the Huskies have graded out at each position group so far this season:
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Quarterback: Those with a glass-half-full outlook on the Huskies’ future can make a strong case around the development of Jake Browning. The first true freshman to ever start a season at QB for UW, Browning hasn’t been perfect: He has six TD passes, five interceptions and a QB rating of 129.99 that ranks ninth in the Pac-12. But he’s also been sacked 15 times, and forced to scramble more often than he should, while throwing to a receiving corps that lacks a consistent big-play threat. Browning’s status this week is uncertain after suffering what appeared to be a minor right-shoulder injury late Saturday. Long term, the offense is being rebuilt around his strengths.
Running back: The Huskies have been almost perfectly balanced on offense this season: 186 rushes, 184 passes. Those 370 plays are the fewest among any Power 5 conference team, and the 50-50 run-pass balance is suboptimal for the ball-control style the Huskies are trying to run. UW ran the ball 60 percent of the time last season — more than anyone in the Pac-12 — and appeared equipped to do so again this season with Dwayne Washington leading a deep running back corps. Instead, UW struggled to establish the run early on before true freshman Myles Gaskin, a shifty, patient runner, emerged as the most consistent back. Gaskin has posted consecutive 100-yard games against USC and Oregon and is averaging 6.3 yards with five TDs on his 79 carries. Overall, though, UW is averaging just 3.99 yards per carry, 11th in the Pac-12.
Offensive line: The Huskies have the youngest offense in school history, with left tackle Trey Adams joining Browning and Gaskin as true-freshman starters. Four redshirt freshmen and four sophomores have also started at least once on offense. The offensive line remains a work in progress, in part because of injuries and in part because of ineffectiveness. Already, nine different linemen have started for the Huskies, with three different starters at right tackle through six games.
Wide receivers/tight ends: Senior TE Joshua Perkins has emerged as a top target for Browning, and senior WR Jaydon Mickens has a team-high 22 catches. But there hasn’t been a receiver who creates consistent plays on his own.
Defensive line: After losing its entire line from last season, this group has been a pleasant surprise, and no one has characterized that more than senior end Taniela Tupou, nearly cast off the team by UW’s previous coaching staff. In the middle, Elijah Qualls has replaced the enormous void left by Danny Shelton, and UW’s line has taken on the necessary blocks to free up UW’s linebackers.
Linebackers: A lot to like here. Seniors Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton have been versatile outside, and first-year starters Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria have emerged as two of the defense’s most valuable players on the inside. The group has set the tone for a defense that continues to lead the Pac-12 in yards allowed (345.3) and scoring defense (16.8 points).
Secondary: Free safety Budda Baker, despite missing two games with an ankle injury, has been all over the field again this season. Cornerbacks Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Darren Gardenhire have played at a high level — never more so than while silencing the Heisman buzz of USC’s Cody Kessler — and first-year starter Brian Clay has been steady at strong safety. The only minor complaint here: UW has forced just 10 turnovers through six games after ranking second in the Pac-12 last season with 29 takeaways.
Special teams: Dante Pettis returned a long punt for a TD in the opener at Boise. Since then, UW’s return game has been only so-so, and the kick-coverage unit gave up a 96-yard return vs. Oregon. UW has gotten mostly positive contributions from the right legs of Cameron Van Winkle, Korey Durkee and Tristan Vizcaino.