To begin with, this mailbag will not be answering whether Jacob Eason will return to Washington in 2020.
Fortunately, there are plenty of less complicated questions surrounding coach Chris Petersen’s 6-4 program ahead of Saturday’s game at Colorado.
So, without further ado, let’s get into another edition of The Times’ UW football mailbag.
First things first: USC head coach Clay Helton has not been fired, so this could be a moot point.
But let’s say, for kicks, that Helton is indeed relieved of his duties after compiling a record of 39-21 — including 12-11 in his past two (still unfinished) seasons. Before being elevated to his position in 2015, Helton had never served as a head coach at any level. And in the nearly five seasons since, the 47-year-old from Gainesville, Fla., has failed to return the Trojans to the top of the college-football mountain.
So, would we really expect USC to hire someone with a similar resume?
Though he has excelled as Washington’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, Lake also has yet to serve as a head coach at any level. If he were to somehow land the USC job, it could be a perfect fit. The 42-year-old coordinator’s charisma, recruiting ability and defensive scheme might just work wonders in Los Angeles.
But that almost certainly won’t happen. USC’s boosters, fans and higher-ups will undoubtedly push for an established head coach with a documented track record on the Power Five (or NFL) level. Of course, that’s not a guarantee that Lake will remain on Montlake in 2020; UW’s enthusiastic assistant has been one of the most coveted coordinators in college football, and there’s no reason that would change. But he has worked under Petersen for going on eight seasons and clearly likes his situation. It would most likely require a legitimate college head-coaching gig, or maybe even an NFL defensive-coordinator opening, to possibly pull him away from UW. And even then, he could very realistically choose to stay.
So, to answer your original question: No, I don’t expect Lake to take over at USC.
And, in the undying words of Mark Wahlberg: say hello to your mother for me.
In some ways, I think UW has already done that. Don’t forget that junior running back Sean McGrew’s two 100-yard rushing performances this season have come in wins over BYU (when Salvon Ahmed did not play) and Arizona (when Richard Newton did not play). He has received an average of three carries in his other seven games this season.
The conclusion: When Ahmed and Newton are healthy, they’ve received the lion’s share of the work.
Even so, you can never have enough quality options at running back. Remember that Newton has missed three games this season with a foot injury, while Ahmed and McGrew have both missed one. That’s not an unfortunate fluke, either. At that position specifically, it is extremely difficult to stay healthy. UW touting Ahmed, Newton and McGrew (as well as Kamari Pleasant and Cameron Davis, if you want to take this even further) can’t be construed as anything but an asset.
And if a few of them have to sit more than they’d like, so be it. When the injury bug inevitably bites, the Huskies will still have attractive options.
Yeah, sure, any lingering Pac-12 title hopes are out the window. But Monday, Petersen called his team’s three remaining games “really, really important.” So don’t expect him to roll out an entire unit of true freshmen on defense.
Freshmen defensive linemen Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Saama Pa’ama, and linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala have all played in at least one game this season and could conceivably reach their four-game limit while still maintaining a redshirt. Of that group, it’s most likely that the 6-2, 224-pound Tuputala could contribute on a special-teams unit. (Freshman linebacker Daniel Heimuli dressed for the first time against Utah, but has not appeared in a game this season.)
It goes without saying that added experience in their freshman seasons would help those players — and, by extension, the Huskies — in 2020. But Petersen isn’t ready to risk a win to get a freshman some extra exposure.
Gordon should have a bright future, but it’s hard to say what that future’s going to look like. The 6-0, 190-pound redshirt freshman and Archbishop Murphy alum started the first three games opposite junior Keith Taylor at cornerback before being supplanted by standout freshman Trent McDuffie.
And, let me tell you something: Petersen loves McDuffie.
“Our season is not quite as long (as the NFL), but it’s different than the high-school season in the intensity and time commitment,” Petersen explained this week. “After a while, guys, they back down. It’s all great early on. Those that can persist and keep studying and and keep at it and keep practicing (excel).
“Certain guys can handle it. You never can tell. Certain guys just don’t get too balled up by the moment. That’s what I’ve said about Trent McDuffie. He played great football down there at Bosco and really well coached but we’ve had guys that have been in those situations before and it still takes more time.”
That was Petersen’s answer to a question about Edefuan Ulofoshio. He brought McDuffie up anyway, and for good reason.
Where does that leave Gordon? If junior cornerback Keith Taylor and nickel Elijah Molden return in 2020, as expected, there won’t be much room for Gordon to snatch a starting spot. Could he move to the back end and contend at safety alongside freshmen Asa Turner and Cameron Williams (as well as fellow redshirt sophomore Julius Irvin, if he ever reemerges)?
One thing is certain: It would be a disservice if Gordon doesn’t get on the field in some capacity. He’s arguably the program’s premier athlete; in last spring’s Husky Combine, he finished first on the team in the vertical jump (42.5 inches), second in the three-cone drill (6.52 seconds) and pro agility drill (3.87 seconds) and third in the broad jump (10 feet, five inches). He also has proven to be a reliable tackler in his redshirt freshman season, while rebounding from early penalties.
As for Williams and Turner, why does there only need to be one “safety of the future?” With senior Myles Bryant out of eligibility next season, the pair of true sophomores could realistically start side-by-side.