Dante Pettis emerges as UW's most improved player in a terrific first half for UW, seeking its first conference title since 2000.

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Through six games, Washington’s most anticipated season in 15 years has lived up to the billing.

And then some.

The Huskies are halfway to there — halfway to their first conference championship in 16 years and halfway to their first College Football Playoff berth.

Do exactly what they did in the first half of the season, and the No. 5 Huskies (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) will achieve both of those major milestones. Easier said than done, of course.

There is much work to be done before the end of the regular season, when the Huskies head to Pullman for what is shaping up to be an Apple Cup for the ages. But for the first half of the season, the Huskies are very much at the top of the class in the Pac-12.

Here’s a look at how the Huskies grade out over the first six weeks (spoiler alert: the grades have a rosy outlook):



What more could you ask of Jake Browning? What more could you ask of any quarterback? The sophomore from Folsom, Calif., leads the nation with a quarterback efficiency rating of 204.9 — and is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s 2012 NCAA record of 191.8. Browning also leads the FBS with 23 touchdown passes (against two interceptions), and he’s third in completion percentage (72.2) and fourth in yards per attempt (9.8).

It’s no wonder Browning has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The Associated Press has him third in its Heisman Watch this week and ESPN ranks him fourth. He was also named Tuesday the Davey O’Brien national player of the week after his record eight touchdowns in the 70-21 victory at Oregon.

Grade: A+

Running backs

Remember that time way, way, way back when — on, ahem, Sept. 17 — when many, including Chris Petersen, were wondering aloud about the running game? Seems crazy now, doesn’t it?

Against Oregon, sophomore Myles Gaskin had a career-high 197 yards on 16 carries, and as a team the Huskies finished with 378 yards — 8.4 yards per carry — the most yards in a single game during Petersen’s three seasons here. Gaskin’s 599 yards leads the Pac-12 and ranks 14th nationally.

The Huskies have exceptional depth, too. Junior Lavon Coleman, who saved UW with his career day at Arizona, leads the Pac-12 with his 8.98 yards per carry, and sophomore Jomon Dotson is an explosive, versatile option.

Grade: A-

Offensive line

The line was beat up and ineffective for much of 2015, and it’s ability to “take the next step” was one of the big questions coming into this season. Question no more. The line has been a revelation for an offense that leads the Pac-12 scoring (49.5 points per game) and yards per play (7.48), and ranks second in the nation in red-zone touchdown efficiency (scoring TDs on 24 of 28 red-zone chances)

The Huskies didn’t allow a single sack against Stanford, and Browning only got knocked down once tha game. Sophomore left tackle Trey Adams graded out as the offense’s top-rated player against the Cardinal, according to Pro Football Focus, and center Coleman Shelton and left guard Jake Eldrenkamp also ranked among the Huskies’ top-five offensive performers that day.

It’s been 15 years since the Huskies have had a first-team all-conference lineman. That should change soon. UW has found consistency and continuity up front. Right tackle Kaleb McGary and right guard Shane Brostek have also been steady, and true freshman reserve Nick Harris looks like a future mainstay. Even when Brostek was sidelined against Oregon, Andrew Kirkland filled in and had the key block to spring Gaskin for his 65-yard TD run.

“I know this: We have a really good offensive line coach (in Chris Strausser) that develops guys as good as anyone I’ve been around,” Petersen said. “And when we were over at Boise and so many of these guys were recruited by nobody, and a lot of these guys have played in the NFL. So I know this: We’re going to have all-league linemen, and we’re going to have guys playing in the NFL, for sure.”

Grade: A-

Wide receivers/tight ends:

Petersen delivered the understatement of the season on Monday when asked about the progress of UW’s wide receivers. “It’s nice having John Ross back,” Petersen said. No kidding: After two major knee injuries sidelined him for all of 2015, Ross now leads the nation with nine touchdown passes. He’s probably the fastest player in the Pac-12, and if defenses leave him in single coverage it’s almost automatic for Browning to throw over the top to his favorite target.

The emergence of Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher have been just as important for the offense, which ranked ninth in the Pac-12 last year with just 61 “explosion” plays of 20 yards or more. This season, UW ranks second in the league with 37 such plays. There are several worthy candidates, but Pettis gets the vote here as the team’s most improved player. He had the catch of the year against Oregon on a one-handed grab in the end zone while being held by a defender, and he’s become a committed edge blocker.

McClatcher, meanwhile, ranked as the Pac-12’s second-best receiver by PFF through the first month, and his versatility out of the backfield and in the slot has brought an added dimension to the offense. Sidelined by an unspecified injury against Oregon, he’s expected back next week against Oregon State. Young receivers Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller and Quinten Pounds have provided valuable depth.

The Huskies love to utilize two-tight-end formations (and sometimes three-tight-end formations) and they’ve got a nice mix of guys that allows them to mix and match their personnel groups. Darrell Daniels is the big-play threat in the passing game, and Drew Sample and Will Dissly have been the two most underappreciated players on the offense.

Grade: A


Defensive line

The Huskies shut down the Pac-12’s top two running backs — Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (12 carries, 49 yards) and Oregon’s Royce Freeman (11 carries, 50 yards) — in back-to-back weeks. That dominance started with a stout defensive line featuring Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea, all of whom look like future NFL players. Not only are they eating up blocks, but they’re chasing down quarterbacks and running backs at an impressive rate. Gaines is tied for the team lead with 7.5 tackles for loss, and the Huskies’ abusive of Stanford’s offensive line (en route to eight sacks) is one of the biggest surprises of the season so far.

Grade: A


The inside tandem of Azeem Victor (46 tackles) and Keishawn Bierria have played at an all-conference level. They’re ferocious and efficient. Bierria leads the nation with five fumble recoveries — a big reason why the Huskies lead the nation in takeaways (with 17) and turnover margin (plus-13).

Seniors Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching, UW’s hybrid outside linebackers, rank 1-2 on the team in sacks, with 5.0 and 4.5, respectively. Mathis has been the most improved player on defense, and Wooching was named the national defensive player of the week after his 3.0 sacks against Stanford.

The only thing keeping this from being a perfect score for the group was a number of missed tackles against Arizona, which allowed the Wildcats to run for 308 yards against the Huskies. They shored up those holes quickly, though.

Grade: A-


Oh, how bored must Sidney Jones be. One of the nation’s top cornerback prospects has rarely had a ball thrown his direction this season, but what a luxury for the Pac-12’s top-ranked pass defense — to have one side of the field feel like it’s completely covered at all times.

It’s more of the same throughout UW’s deep secondary. Kevin King has played well opposite Jones, with a team-high four pass breakups and one interception. Budda Baker continues to show up all over the field, Jojo McIntosh has provided thump in his first year as the starting strong safety, and true freshman safety Taylor Rapp has emerged as the fifth starter in the Huskies’ regular nickel package. Through six games, the Huskies have allowed five touchdown passes while intercepting five passes.

Grade: A.


The Huskies have excelled in special team, getting a kick return and a punt return for scores from Ross and Pettis, respectively, in the season opener. Tristan Vizcaino has been an asset as the kickoff specialist and as the first-year rugby punter. UW leads the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage (allowing just 17.5 yards per return), and opponents have returned just four punts in six games — for a total of minus-1 yard. Cameron Van Winkle, who entered his senior season as the school’s career leader in field-goal conversion rate, missed his two attempts in the overtime win at Arizona, but made his one kick (against Stanford) since then.

Grade: B+