We continue this week’s breakdown of what we saw from the Washington Huskies football team in 2018 with a look at the job done by Chris Petersen and the rest of the UW coaching staff.
What We Expected
Petersen is a phenomenal college football coach, an elite organizer, and has always assembled a great staff to work with him. Since his arrival at UW, we have seen stifling defense take the field week in and week out. Jimmy Lake was promoted to co-defensive coordinator, and everyone expected the defense to once again be dominant, even with the loss of Vita Vea to the NFL.
Under Petersen, the Huskies have also played offense; sometimes well, sometimes not. With Jonathan Smith gone to take the head job at Oregon State, there was some excitement that the play calling would magically get better. Scott Huff returned a deep crew of offensive linemen, and even with Trey Adams’s health in question, the unit was expected to be among the best in the Pac-12.
What We Saw
With a veteran QB, one of the best running backs in program history, and an experienced offensive line, it was expected that the Washington offense would be better. It was.. sometimes. New offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan admitted to having trouble finding a rhythm in his play calling. He also took the blame for a speed option call inside the 5-yard line that resulted in a fumble against Auburn.
The duo of Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake once again fielded one of the top defenses in the nation, and their coaching is as good as it gets in both player development and schematically planning for an opponent. The scheming is almost undetectable from a fan perspective; it’s pretty much the same thing every week: Rush four (any four) and drop seven (any seven) into coverage. Lake continues to stock the UW roster with talented defensive backs, and defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe was able to get great play out of a defensive line rotation that —beyond Greg Gaines and Jaylen Johnson— was thought to be thin entering the season. They absolutely could have used one more big body in the middle, but overall the Huskies were stout against the run.
UW struggled to generate a consistent pass rush, and that is really the only knock on Kwiatkowski who is both co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Bob Gregory could be on a short leash heading forward if the Husky special teams aren’t able to turn things around. The Dawgs were not good in 2018 covering and returning kicks, and we all know the struggles the Washington kickers have had the past two seasons.
As for Petersen, I was not alone as I found myself vehemently criticizing the coach on two occasions. Why did he not try to get Peyton Henry closer for the game winner against Oregon? 37 yards is too close to 40 yards, and Henry has one career field goal over 40 yards (41). He was actually very good on short field goals and extra points (92%). Should a college kicker be able to make a 37 yarder? Of course. Did I believe he would hit from 37 on that day in that situation? I did not. Then there was the curious benching of Jake Browning that directly led to Cal’s only touchdown in a 12-10 loss to the Bears. I’m still scratching my head on that one. The Huskies lost their four games by an average less than four points per game, and I’m sure Petersen has lost sleep over some of the decisions he made in 2018.
What Should We Expect to See in 2019?
For the first time since 2014, Petersen will go to work without Jake Browning as his quarterback. Washington also has a new wide receivers coach — their fourth in six seasons— as former Boise State assistant Junior Adams tries to pump life into a position that has underwhelmed since 2016. All the receivers return, and extra time on the jugs machine with the knob cranked up to 11 will be a must to ready the corps for Jacob Eason’s incoming missiles.
Year two for Hamdan has to be better. If Eason wins the QB job as expected, it poses a dramatic change in scheming and play calling. Petersen hasn’t had a rifle-armed quarterback at Washington, and although Browning’s football IQ will be sorely missed, Hamdan will be blessed with a QB who can make every throw with great velocity. Running Backs coach Keith Bhonapha loses the steady and productive Myles Gaskin, and will work to find a backfield rotation to compliment homerun hitter Salvon Ahmed. There is talent and some experience there, and it will need to be developed.
2019 will test the mettle of Lake and Kwiatkowski, as they will need to replace almost the entire secondary, two senior defensive tackles, and All-American Ben Burr-Kirven. Washington has recruited well both in the secondary and on the defensive line, and it will be up to the coaching staff to get the new blood up to speed and ready to play by September.
Gregory’s job could get easier if highly regarded placekicker Tim Horn can simply kick the ball out of the endzone. Improved special teams play has to be a high priority for Petersen and staff heading into 2019.