In Seattle, there is no football offseason — and that’s not just because the XFL’s Dragons have literally never lost at home.
It’s also because the conversation surrounding the Washington Huskies never truly stops. Like the Earth’s orbit, it’s ongoing. So let’s open our inboxes — as well as our hearts — and dive headfirst into another UW football mailbag.
Bet on primary RB? Newton = beast but injury prone. McGrew is reliable but undersized (bet you can’t tell him that though). Davis??? — Brad
I don’t think there’s really much of a conversation here. Chris Petersen and Co. believed in Richard Newton enough to give him his first career carry on fourth-and-two on the opening series of the season, resulting in a 23-yard touchdown up the gut out of the unanimously adored (italics for sarcasm) wildcat formation. The coaching staff believed in him enough to feed him 16 carries against Brigham Young, 17 against Oregon State and 15 in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State — all winning efforts.
That belief shouldn’t be shaken by the sudden appearance of a new offensive coordinator. Remember what first-year UW head coach Jimmy Lake says he wants from the Huskies’ offense going forward. He wants it to be physical. He wants it to be bruising. He wants it to enforce its will on overwhelmed opponents. He wants it to attack north and south.
In short, he wants the Huskies’ approach to match Newton’s attitude.
But the 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore’s injury issues certainly are a concern. He missed three games last season with a left foot injury and redshirted in 2018 following shoulder surgery. He missed parts of two high school seasons with injuries as well.
Still, there isn’t a program in the Pac-12 or anywhere else that prefers to roll with a single running back. The Huskies’ depth, in this case, is an unquestionable asset. Senior Sean McGrew proved his worth again last season, leading all scholarship running backs with 6.2 yards a carry while contributing a pair of 100-yard rushing games. Redshirt freshman Cameron Davis is likely in line for an elevated role as well. Newton is the assumed starter, but Washington needs more than one productive running back to win.
Would Jimmy Lake consider using Kyler Gordon on offense? Seems like you’d want to find a way to get your most athletic player on the field. — M. Lo
As M. Lo alluded to, Gordon — a 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore cornerback — is something of an athletic anomaly. In the Husky combine last spring, he finished first on the team in the vertical jump (42½ 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, 5 inches). As a child, he excelled both in competitive dance and kung fu. This is a different kind of athlete.
But Keith Taylor, Trent McDuffie and Elijah Molden are UW’s starters at cornerback and nickelback, and it’s improbable that will change between now and Sept. 5. That’s not to say Gordon won’t play, however. Lake loves to utilize a deep rotation of defensive backs, and Gordon came on late last season — finishing with 32 tackles and four passes defended while playing in all 13 games.
But is there more Gordon could do? In his senior season at Archbishop Murphy High School in 2017, he contributed the following: 517 rushing yards, 12.9 yards per carry, 32 catches, 841 receiving yards, an 88-yard touchdown pass, 44 tackles and five interceptions. So, essentially, he did whatever he wanted.
Don’t be surprised if Gordon is utilized as a returner this season, replacing departed wide receiver Aaron Fuller. It’s less likely he makes any consistent cameos on offense, especially considering the Huskies’ robust wide receiver room. But perhaps the UW coaching staff could sneak him into an occasional package for a bubble screen or a jet sweep.
Is there a team I could watch to get a feel for the new Husky offense? — Nathan K
Here’s the part where we get everybody’s hopes up. Apologies in advance.
On Andy Staples’ podcast for The Athletic last week, Lake described the evolution of offenses in college football thusly:
“I think in years past, you just had strictly pro-style (offenses). Then really during the Chip Kelly Oregon era everyone started doing the spread, and everybody wanted to do the spread and shotgun and all those things. And now it feels like it’s moving back toward some pro-style elements with a little bit of the spread mixed in, and I think that’s what you saw down in Louisiana (at Louisiana State) this year.
“We’re going to put our spin on it. But I know this: we’re going to run the football. I think great offenses know how to run the football, and we will be hard to deal with if we can run the football when the defense knows we’re running the football. After that, when we sprinkle in some pro-style elements in the pass game but also sprinkle in some spread concepts in the pass game, I think we’ll be difficult to deal with. So I think it’s going to be a similar model to what LSU did.”
Now, for the hopelessly uninformed, that LSU offense won a national championship last season. It also produced a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Joe Burrow and finished first in the country in scoring offense (48.4 points a game) and total offense (568.4 yards a game).
Of course, the circumstances are drastically different. The Huskies are replacing starters at quarterback, both tackle spots, center, running back, tight end and wide receiver. They’ll be operating with a first-year UW offensive coordinator in John Donovan and a roster with significantly less quality depth than LSU.
So, remember that. Or disregard the previous paragraph and let your imagination run wild. Up to you.
Mike, great job in your first year on the beat. What was YOUR biggest surprise covering this team? — Mike H
First, a bit of background. At my first job, covering the University of Wyoming, the Cowboys replaced their head coach (Dave Christensen) following my first season on the beat. At my next stop, the University of Notre Dame, Brian Kelly reshaped his entire staff and hired two new coordinators as a response to a disastrous 4-8 season in 2016.
So, when I jumped onto the UW football beat prior to the 2019 season, I expected a refreshing change of pace. I expected a lot of wins and very little drama. Simply put, I expected stability.
And why not? Petersen had won 47 games in his first five seasons at Washington, including three consecutive seasons with double-digit victories. He never lost to Washington State, was unanimously respected nationally and made it abundantly clear he was utterly uninterested in other coaching opportunities. He was as close to a sure thing as exists in college football.
So, yes, I expected a continued string of 10-win seasons. I expected to report on a coaching staff that was more or less a constant. I expected Petersen to make an indelible mark on Montlake, piling up Pac-12 titles and NFL draft choices until there was nothing left to chase.
Of course, you already know what happened next. UW under-performed, turning in an 8-5 season; Petersen abruptly, unexpectedly, resigned, and Lake was promptly named the Huskies’ next head coach.
Shows what I know.