There are 12 scholarship wide receivers on Washington’s 2019 roster.
But you might not know that from watching the games.
Granted, every college football roster has receivers who aren’t ready to contribute for whatever reason — because they’re too raw or too injured or too inconsistent, or too (fill-in-the-blanks).
But as UW’s passing game plummets in Pac-12 play, a question keeps arising:
Where are the reinforcements?
In the most literal sense, they’re on the sideline. Through six games this season, a grand total of two Washington wide receivers — seniors Aaron Fuller (36 catches, 498 yards, 4 TDs) and Andre Baccellia (19, 236, 2) — have registered double-digit receptions. Senior Chico McClatcher has contributed nine catches, but none in his last three games. Two of redshirt sophomore Terrell Bynum’s three catches came in the season-opening win over Eastern Washington, and Puka Nacua and Austin Osborne have added one catch apiece.
That’s it. No Marquis Spiker (who was Washington’s prized four-star 2018 signee). No Quinten Pounds (who is officially available after being suspended for three games). No Ty Jones (who is practicing fully but has yet to play this season with an injury). No Trey Lowe (who continues to recover from an infection). No help for the Huskies.
In UW’s 23-13 loss to Stanford last weekend, Fuller was targeted a career-high 17 times (and caught nine passes for 171 yards). No other Washington wideout was targeted more than five times. Baccellia was effectively erased, to the tune of one catch for one yard. When asked if 17 targets is too many, wide receivers coach Junior Adams said that “I’ve seen more (targets), so I don’t know what’s too much or too little. So I really can’t answer that for you.”
When it comes to the wide receiver rotation, Chris Petersen’s answer hasn’t wavered.
“Here’s the thing,” UW’s sixth-year head coach said on Monday. “Guys, they put it on tape in practice, and people don’t understand … you’ve got to do it in practice; you can’t do it half the time or three-quarters of the time.
“Now, maybe do we need to rotate some more guys in there? Actually we’ve been trying to do that with certain personnel groups. But (those personnel groups) haven’t been getting called maybe as much as we thought they were. So we’ll take a better look at that and maybe rotate a few more guys in there.”
This week, like most other weeks, Petersen was ‘talkin about practice. But what specifically do the young receivers — the Spikers, Osbornes and Nacuas — need to do to earn a more significant role?
“They need to, one, be more detailed to what we’re doing out there,” Petersen said. “They’re making progress. They really are. They are practicing and they are getting a lot of reps out there. They just aren’t where the other guys are right now. But they are growing and they’re getting better all the time.
“You (reporters) don’t cover practice. You don’t see what’s going on out there. That’s no knock on those guys. They’re getting better. They’re young players. That’s what it is.”
It’s true, the media and general public are only allowed to see so much. But they’ve seen six games (and precious little separation). In those six games, Washington’s offense — which touts one of the nation’s premier pure passers in junior Jacob Eason — ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in completion percentage (65.8), eighth in yards per attempt (8.0), eighth in pass efficiency rating (149.25) and ninth in passing (244.7 yards per game).
Now, that could be attributed to play-calling as well as personnel. But the results have been mediocre, particularly in Pac-12 play. So when can fans expect Washington’s younger receivers to receive some increased opportunities?
“There’s no timetable. It’s when a guy picks it up,” Petersen said. “We’ve played freshmen out there: Dante Pettis, John Ross played as a true (freshman), all those types of things. As long as they can pick it up, they can play.
“When a guy is playing, you’d love to get him more involved. Puka (Nacua’s) playing and we’d like to get him more involved just being out there on the field. We do pay attention to that. But that’s not the issue. That wasn’t the issue on Saturday. The guys that we were going to, we need to be more detailed there. Those guys are our most detailed guys right now.”
Fuller and Baccellia may be the most detailed. But are they the most dynamic? It’s worth noting that Spiker (6-3), Osborne (6-2) and Nacua (6-1) were each four-star prospects, and all three offer a size and physicality that the Huskies’ starters don’t possess.
As Petersen has said, and repeated, they’ll have to prove themselves in practice. But UW’s fans are becoming increasingly (and understandably) impatient when a suddenly stale passing attack continues to stall in games.
“Obviously we’re looking to give those guys an opportunity,” offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said of the young receivers. “We need some guys to step up and make plays on the outside. The evaluation process is not just a one-week thing during the year. This is going back to spring ball through fall camp through the season.
“As you guys know, the best players will play. This is big-time ball. So whoever those guys end up being, they’ll be playing on Saturday.”
And they’ll be playing against an Arizona defense, by the way, that ranks third in the country with nine interceptions, though seven came in the Wildcats’ first two games against Hawaii and Northern Arizona.
If the Husky receivers don’t make plays, the Wildcats certainly will.
“We want to go up and snatch the football,” Adams said of his players’ mentality this week. “We want to study the crosshairs. We want to get off the ground. We want to rotate our shoulders. We want to make a triangle with our hands and we want to snatch the football.
“We emphasize being a frisbee-snatching dog. When the ball’s in the air, it’s ours. That’s what we preach. We say that every day.”
But whose ball will it be on Saturday? Will Eason keep throwing to Fuller, as he did so often against Stanford? Will it be Baccellia, or Nacua, or Spiker or Osborne?
Recent history suggests the Huskies will continue to lean on their seniors. But maybe, just maybe, the dam is about to break.
“I think some of the young guys are progressing as the season has gone on,” Adams said. “I think Spiker’s progressing. I think Terrell Bynum, his snap count has gone up. Puka’s snap count has gone up. We’re just going to keep getting better each week, and these guys’ roles are going to keep increasing with the way they practice.”