By now, you already know Chris Petersen will step down following Washington’s upcoming bowl game, and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will then become the Huskies’ head coach.
So … what’s next?
We tackle all that in another rousing edition of the UW Huskies football mailbag.
Make no mistake, the news conference Tuesday was about Petersen and Lake.
But, somewhere under the surface, a number of the stated questions also centered on Bush Hamdan.
While declining to dive into specifics, Lake said, “We’re going to have a different style on offense. We’re going to have a different style on our special teams. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to attack, and this place is ready to roll.”
He added, when asked how his experience on the defensive side might help him choose an offensive system, that “I know what I don’t like facing. I know what creates problems. I know what’s easy, from a defensive standpoint. We’ll continue to research what will be the best style, but I do know this: it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be bruising, it’s going to be attacking and it’s going to be aggressive.”
While much is clearly yet to be decided, Lake certainly seems unafraid to make significant philosophical and systematic offensive changes. But how will that affect Hamdan, UW’s oft-scrutinized second-year offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play-caller?
Under Hamdan’s watch, the Huskies ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (31.5 points a game) in the regular season, sixth in yards per carry (4.23), sixth in yards per pass attempt (7.8), seventh in pass efficiency rating (143.82), eighth in total offense (395.4 yards a game), ninth in passing offense (245.1 yards a game), ninth in red-zone touchdown percentage (58.33%) and dead last in third-down conversions (34.39%). Their 24 offensive plays of 30 yards or more slotted sixth in the conference as well. They averaged 39 points per game in wins and just 21 in losses, as well as 26 points a game against conference opponents and 48.0 against inferior nonc0nference competition.
So, in just about every significant offensive statistic, Washington has been mediocre — or worse. And that has to be deemed a disappointment, considering Hamdan’s offense featured arguably the most physically talented quarterback in program history (Jacob Eason), three talented running backs with skill sets that complemented each other (Salvon Ahmed, Richard Newton and Sean McGrew), two elite tight ends (Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton) and an offensive line with five experienced starters.
Moreover, Eason did not improve over the course of the season. The spectacularly gifted redshirt junior threw five of his eight interceptions in UW’s final four games. On the road against statistically scuffling defenses in Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado, he completed a combined 51.9% of his passes and threw for an average of 195.7 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. There were phenomenal offensive flashes, sure. But where was the sustained progress? In that area, at least, Washington fans are still waiting.
But it might not be as simple as replacing Hamdan, ripping off the band-aid and beginning to heal. Timing is a factor.
More on that below.
It’s delicate indeed. Consider that, of Washington’s nine four- or five-star commits (according to the 247Sports Composite), a whopping eight reside on the offensive side. The only exception is five-star Kennedy Catholic outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls. And those blue chip offensive prospects didn’t just commit to a program, or Petersen. They committed to a position coach and an offensive system as well.
Now? Because Lake said Tuesday that no personnel or systematic changes will be made before the bowl game (as well as early signing day Dec. 18), those players are essentially being asked to trust that any prospective changes will be in their best interest. That’s a big ask, especially when a player could just as easily step back, consider his options and sign in February.
That brings us to Ethan Garbers. The four-star Corona Del Mar (Calif.) quarterback and 2020 UW commit communicates most frequently with Hamdan, and he verbally committed in part because he said he believes in UW’s current pro-style attack. With such rampant uncertainty surrounding Washington’s future offense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Garbers explore other programs. And if he did, that would present an uncomfortable predicament for the Huskies. The only scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster are Eason — who might jump to the NFL draft — redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Dylan Morris.
Washington also will have to work to keep the commitments of four-star wide receivers Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze, though the continued presence of position coach Junior Adams should certainly help.
Lake’s insistence on waiting to make schematic/staffing changes until he officially takes the reins is certainly understandable, but it also presents some complications when it comes to the current recruiting class.
First, some context: Gerald Alexander is California’s third-year defensive backs coach. He played defensive back for Petersen at Boise State from 2003 to 2006. Then he went on to play for the Detroit Lions, where he learned from a young defensive backs coach named Jimmy Lake in 2008. Early in Alexander’s coaching career, all three reunited, when Alexander served as a graduate assistant defensive backs coach under Petersen and Lake in 2014.
Oh, and one more thing. Alexander now is viewed by many as a rising star in the profession. Cal ranked second nationally in interceptions (21) in 2018, as well as ninth in passing defense (175.1 yards a game), 11th in opponent pass efficiency rating (107.25) and 12th in opponent yards per attempt (5.9). Those numbers have predictably deflated this season, but Alexander’s reputation is pristine. He also has a keen understanding both of Lake’s coaching style and what has long made Petersen’s programs successful.
And suddenly, Lake has a spot to fill. It’s certainly conceivable he could hire Alexander and allow he and second-year UW assistant Will Harris coach the secondary together. But let’s not assume he has to hire another defensive backs coach at all. The Huskies’ 10th assistant could also focus full-time on special teams, as some programs have elected to do. He could also potentially hire an offensive coordinator who does not have a background with quarterbacks, which would necessitate a separate hire of a quarterbacks coach.
All that is to say that, yes, Alexander would certainly seem like an eligible option at Washington. But he isn’t the only option.
Wait, the season isn’t over?
A lot of it depends on where the rest of the Pac-12 goes, but my guess would be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27 against a Big Ten opponent. Should Utah and Oregon both land New Year’s Six bowl games, that would likely send USC to the Alamo Bowl, which would allow Washington to slide into the Holiday Bowl.
Other realistic options are the Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31, vs. ACC) and the Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif., Dec. 30, vs. Big Ten).
As for preference, it goes without saying that a certain unnamed Seattle Times sportswriter would rather not spend his New Year’s Eve in El Paso.