Huskies offensive line coach Scott Huff prefers the Big Green Egg barbecue.
Its temperature can top 1000 degrees and “basically cremate anything,” he says, whereas the Traeger struggles to get over 400 degrees. Huff stops short of saying his grilling machine is a recruiting tool for luring 300-pound-plus behemoths to Washington, but a look at the spread might say otherwise: Tri-tip, sausages, some Mac N Cheese on the side.
As center Luke Wattenberg said of the selection: “It’s way more than all of us can eat.”
That’s quite the feat on Huff’s part, because this UW offensive line appears to be the biggest in school history. At 300 pounds, Wattenberg almost looks like the runt of the litter. But it is not their size that members of this group want people to know them by. With all five starters from last year returning, it’s about being the best — not the biggest.
“I think the talent that we have in that room is ridiculous. I like the depth that we have at each position. If someone goes down there’s someone right behind that can pick up the slack, not even pick up the slack but keep it going on the same standard or even better,” said 325-pound guard Henry Bainivalu, the man Wattenberg said is the biggest eater on the team. “I feel like everyone has been getting so much better over spring ball, summer training, weight training and conditioning. I know that we’ve all been working so hard to put our all into everything this season because obviously last season didn’t go as we wanted it to go.”
To clarify, Bainivalu wasn’t referring to the Huskies’ or the O-line’s performance when he said last year was a disappointment. He was referring to the season being cut short due to COVID, which also cost the Huskies a chance to play for the Pac-12 title.
But if one were to take an honest look at how well the five men upfront played, the reviews would be mixed. From a pass-protection standpoint, they were phenomenal. They allowed just one sack in their four games. It was the No. 1 sack rate in the country, and all the guys doing the protecting are coming back. But then there was the run blocking, which looked promising through the first two games, then hit a skid over the next two.
The Huskies averaged just 3.4 yards per rush in their comeback win against Utah, accumulating a mere 88 yards on the ground. It wasn’t that much better in their loss to Stanford the next week, when they again averaged 3.4 yards per carry en route to 117 rushing yards.
This is why there wasn’t an excessive amount of horn-tooting from the big guys when asked about their performance last year. Overall, it was good but not great. Promising, but far from perfect.
“I think we played solid, but there’s always definitely things to get better at,” Bainivalu said.
As for what they want to be known for? “Being nasty as hell,” Bainivalu continued. “That’s one of our goals. We just want to be the guys that will get after you and show you that we’re the big dogs and we’re on top. And I think the fact that everyone’s coming back, we’re a bigger O-line, I really feel like we can impose our will on defenses this year.”
Joining Wattenberg and Bainivalu up front are All-Pac-12 first-team left tackle Jaxson Kirkland (310 pounds), All-Pac-12 honorable mention right tackle Victor Curne (315 pounds) and the 6-foot-6, 365-pound guard Ulumoo Ale. The quintet has publications such as Athlon Sports ranking the Huskies as the No. 5 O-line in the country.
No, such labels don’t contribute to the win column. But it raises expectations for a team that might have proven to be the best in the Pac-12 if given a proper opportunity.
Nobody will deny that defense has been the Huskies’ defining characteristic over the past few years. Even with quarterback Jake Browning winning Pac-12 Player of the Year and running back Myles Gaskin setting school records, the other side of the ball was what vaulted UW to championships.
That might still be the case this year, but don’t count out the O-line making a national name for itself. The plan is to eat well off the field, and devour D-linemen on it.