Talent and depth are Washington’s strengths in 2017

Photo Credit: Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times

Optimism is understandably high for the upcoming Husky football campaign. Washington is coming off of a 2016 seasons where the program won its first conference title since 2000 and its first ever college football playoff appearance. There returning talent, plus an easy non-conference schedule, has led to a lot of optimism surrounding the upcoming season.

Washington’s only regular season loss last year came  in tightly contested battle to USC at home. That game was arguably the team’s worst performance of the season, as the offense struggled to move the ball against an aggressive Trojan defense. With the offense getting consistently stuffed, the defense eventually wore down and USC was able to make a couple of big plays to pull away in a 26-13 win.

Outside of that loss, the Huskies only other close regular season game was an overtime victory over Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats in the desert. UW was unable to stop Arizona’s option offense in the fourth quarter and the Wildcats tied the game late to force overtime. This was the only game that the Huskies appeared unprepared for what their opponents were doing offensively; UA ran all over Washington in the first and fourth quarters.

The Huskies unsurprisingly were bounced by a far more talented and experienced Alabama squad from the College Football Playoff. But these three games provided valuable experience for an extremely talented squad, that’ll prove to be invaluable heading into 2017.

Defensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 3.6 1.1 No. 1
Passing 5.7 0.9 No. 1

The Huskies defense was really good at limiting explosive plays throughout the season, and that’s evidenced by the ridiculously low yards per play. Due to this lack of explosive plays, UW also hardly gave up any touchdowns a game — as you can see in the above table, Washington gave up only two touchdowns a game last season.

Washington’s defense was able to limit its opponents’ production because of its dominating defensive line that constantly was able to dominate the line of scrimmage and throw off the timing of play as it develops. Watch in the below .GIF has the Huskies blow up the offensive line and collapse the pocket quickly on (at the time) freshmen quarterback Justin Herbert, forcing him to get the ball out quickly.

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Credit: UW DawgPound

This is the perfect highlight to demonstrate why Washington’s defense was so good last season; disrupt the timing of the play and then rely on the speed of the secondary to completely shut it down near the line of scrimmage.

Heading into 2017, the UW is going to be replacing a lot of talent and experience in the secondary as nearly 72% of the team’s tackles for loss during the 2016 campaign. Which could be cause for concern heading into this year, but the defense hasn’t had any problem finding talented and experienced players to step up in the past, especially under head coach Chris Petersen. And it doesn’t look like that’s going to be a problem as the returning players in the secondary are Juniors and Seniors that saw a decent amount of playing time last season…especially since Washington was so often ahead by large margins.

One of the names to watch out for in the defensive backfield is Mason Stone, he’ll be a junior. Stone saw his first action against Idaho last season and Portland State, but really showed off moments of his athletic talent in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It’ll be interesting to see how he competes for snaps heading during the non-conference schedule, and how his playing time changes as the Huskies head into conference play.

The good news is there’s a lot of returning talent on the defensive line, which will help cover up some of the secondaries rawness heading in the early part of the schedule. There is a really chance that this defense is going to be exceptional heading into 2017, but there could be a slight drop off in the secondaries performance early on as that unit gets its feet under it.

Offensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 5.2 1.7 No. 3
Passing 8.9 3.4 No. 1

The Huskies offense is predicated on using the run to open up a deep shot down the field, especially with the play action pass. Browning was extremely proficient at the play action pass, especially when he’d hit a wide open John Ross blowing past a safety that bit on the run too hard.

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Credit: CowboysHQ

The offensive line does a fantastic job of selling the run blocks initially, and sealing in Rutgers right defensive tackle is completely boxed in by two blockers opening up a running lane; which the other defensive tackle quickly attempts to fill. Instead of running into the ball carrier, the DT found a football-less Lavon Coleman; Coleman picked up the crucial block that gave Browning enough time to find the wide open wideout streaking downfield.

Because of the Huskies proficiency in hitting the deep pass throughout the season, they averaged the most yards per attempt in the conference…despite only passing it on 41.5% of the plays their offense ran a game. It’s going to be interesting to see what Browning is going to do this season with the offense, as they’ve lost a couple of big pieces.

Ross is the big name that’s not going to be on UW’s this season, which will reduce the athletic talent on Browning’s flank. It’s going to be really hard for Washington to replace his size and speed; which means there is going to be less space between the defensive backs and the wide receiver on those play action passes. But the good news is that the vast majority of UW’s wide receivers will be back in 2017…even if they can’t stretch the field in the same manner that Ross could.

The good news for Washington is Coleman and Myles Gaskin are back, and will be able to provide a solid checkdown option for Browning out of the backfield when he’s stepping back in the pocket.

Schedule

The Huskies schedule isn’t what I would call difficult in 2017 — both Arizona and USC are not on Washington’s schedule in 2017, those two programs were the only scheduled teams that played competitive games against UW; the toughest regular season opponent UW will play this season is Stanford…a team that the Dawgs absolutely crushed last season.

And there’s even less resistance facing Petersen’s squad in their non-conference slate. Rutgers and Fresno State were #tirefires in 2016 and there’s very little reason to expect significant improvements from either program heading into the early part of 2017. Even the FCS power program Montana has struggled over the last couple of seasons and have serious questions about the longterm future of its coaching staff this season; so it would be surprising to see them overcome the athletic differences to pull off the upset.

Friday Sep. 1 Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Scarlet Knights 
High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
5:00pm PT FS1 Buy Tickets
Saturday Sep. 9 Bobcats Montana Grizzlies 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
5:00pm PT Pac-12N Buy Tickets
Saturday Sep. 16 Bulldogs Fresno State Bulldogs 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
6:30pm PT Pac-12N Buy Tickets
Saturday Sep. 23 Buffaloes at Colorado Buffaloes 
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Sep. 30 Beavers at Oregon State Beavers 
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Oct. 7 Golden Bears California Golden Bears 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Oct. 14 Sun Devils at Arizona State Sun Devils 
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Oct. 21 OFF
Saturday Oct. 28 Bruins UCLA Bruins 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Nov. 4 Ducks Oregon Ducks 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Friday Nov. 10 Cardinal at Stanford Cardinal 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
7:30pm PT FS1 Buy Tickets
Saturday Nov. 18 Utes Utah Utes 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA TV TBA Buy Tickets
Saturday Nov. 25 Cougars Washington State Cougars 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA TV TBA

Courtesy of FBSchedules

Prediction

The Huskies are going to skate through their non-conference schedule to a 3-0 start, winning each game by at least 21 points while the offense works out the kinks and Browning tries to find his new favorite target for deep balls. These slow offensive starts will continue at Folsom Field, but the offense will figure it out in the second half to pull away late against an energized (but young) Colorado roster.

After the victory against the Buffs, the Dawgs will rip through their next five opponents to improve to 9-0 (6-0) heading into the Stanford game. But that’s where the Huskies will experience their first, and only, loss of the season as Stanford’s passing attack is more dynamic and test the secondary in a way it hasn’t been tested yet. Utah will be a game that goes down to the wire, but having an experienced quarterback and defensive line will be the difference. The Dawgs will make it two straight wins by dominating the first half of the Apple Cup and then cruising through the second half to bring their regular season record to 11-1 (8-1) and their second straight North Division title.

As for the conference title game, that’ll prediction will come when we preview our projected South Division champ.

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