BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 10/08/2019

Thiel: At mid-point, Huskies’ air game barely fair

Don’t expect the Huskies to rescue their woebegone passing attack by calling up the kid receivers. Coach Chris Petersen says they’re not ready.

TE Hunter Bryant had a single catch for eight yards against Stanford. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Halfway through the regular season, the Washington Huskies offense is sixth in points per game in the Pac-12 Conference (34), eighth in yards per pass attempt (8.0), ninth in total passing yards (244.7), and 10th in third-down conversions (40 percent).

If someone had told any discerning Huskies fan in August that those would be the mid-season numbers, he or she likely would have said, “How did Jake Browning get a fifth year of eligibility?”

But no. The 2019 offense is being led by the successor Jake, Jacob Eason, supposedly the biggest and best in the Jacobian royal lineage. Not Jake Haener, who transferred. Not back-up Jacob Sirmon.

And the UW stats included the three opponents from the UW’s non-conference bakery of cupcakes: Eastern Washington, Hawaii and BYU. In conference, hoo-boy — 1-2, with losses to Cal (at home!) and Stanford and a win over a USC team with a fifth-year senior starting his second game at quarterback.

For his final two seasons at UW, Browning was cudgeled by many fans. His arm wasn’t strong enough, his accuracy only average and his pass/run judgments too often dubious, critics said.

So there was Eason Saturday at The Farm, completing 16 of 36 passes for 206 yards with a long of 37, and running reverse-pivot scrambles in the wrong direction. In a ghastly 23-13 loss to Stanford, it was the full Browning.

“We don’t ever like when the quarterback is reversing his field and running around like that,” said coach Chris Petersen. “So, yeah.”

NOW he tells his QB.

Something is amiss in Montlake.

Or is there such a word as, adrop?

At his weekly presser Monday, Petersen reported the Huskies dropped five against the Cardinal, including three by his best receiver, senior Aaron Fuller. He otherwise had a career game of nine catches and 171 yards on 17 targets. The other two drops were by TE Hunter Bryant, who did not have a good night. UW’s second-leading receiver had one catch for eight yards among five targets.

The rest of the pass-eligible guys combined had 17 targets. Seven were caught, only one by a wideout.

The pass mess wasn’t Washington’s only problem against Stanford. But it seems to loom as the largest. Yet least surprising.

The receivers group was seen as the weakest link the morning after the 28-23 loss in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State, even though Browning threw 54 times, completing 35 for 315 yards to nearly the same group. Trailing 28-3, the Huskies had no choice but to heave.

At least Browning would spread the ball around. But apparently Eason and offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan trust only Fuller.

“We would like some other guys to get involved, for sure,” Petersen said. “We never like it when the ball is going to one guy. That makes it easy for everybody on the other side.”

The Huskies’ heralded recruiting class contained the possibility of immediate help from freshmen Puka Nacua, Austin Osborne, Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe. There were also veteran returnees such as seniors Chico McClatcher and Quentin Pounds, junior Ty Jones and sophomore Terrell Bynum.

But through a variety of reasons, those eight players have combined so far to catch 14 passes for 168 yards. Modest contributions have come from senior Andre Baccellia (19) and sophomore TE Cade Otton (12) and the running backs (a combined 16), but the underwhelming-ness fairly screams.

Petersen suggested that a part of problem has been that the youngest players aren’t earning game playing time at practice.

“You’ve got to do it in practice,” he said. “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 they haven’t been getting called maybe as much as we thought they were.”

He didn’t offer an explanation as to who was responsible for that. So we are left to speculate — Petersen pointed out that reporters don’t watch practice, failing to mention that’s his decision — so I believe the coach is deliberately withholding ordnance until he gets something from the president of Ukraine.

I realize you may be skeptical, but Petersen wouldn’t be the first to use such tactics.

More seriously, Petersen emphasized the kids aren’t ready.

“They need to be more detailed to what we’re doing out there,” he said. “They’re making progress. They really are. They just aren’t where the other guys are right now.

“We’re not going to not put our best guys out there because we think we got better players sitting on the sidelines. That makes no sense.”

But it isn’t clear what does make sense, particularly in time for the next game at 8 p.m.  Saturday (ESPN) in Tucson against South Division-leading Arizona (4-1, 2-0).

Petersen said the Huskies should have run the ball more against Stanford. But that option against the Wildcats is diminished by the potential absence of RB Richard Newton, who had 64 yards in 10 carries before going out with an ankle injury in the third quarter Saturday. Petersen was vague about Newton’s availability, but didn’t rule it out, despite the appearance of seriousness.

“If we’re going to second-guess, which we always do as coaches, and look back, we probably should have ran the ball more,” he said. “That’s what we were doing pretty effectively.”

A good example was the first possession of the third quarter. Down 13-10, the Huskies had a fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 13. The options were field goal, run or pass. Despite Newton having run for 27 yards on three carries in the drive, Petersen chose door No. 3. Eason’s short slant pass to Baccellia was wide and low. Bad choices everywhere.

Too often in the passing game, the Huskies are coming up with neither the right play calls nor proper execution. As a partial result, Eason is seventh in the conference in passing percentage (65.7), 15th in yards per attempt (8.0) and eighth in efficiency (149.7).

Not what anyone had in mind halfway through the likely one-and-done year in Montlake for the greatest Jake of them all.


  • ReebHerb

    Russell Wilson’s reverse-pivot scramble is a bad influence on the local college boys. Last year, assistant coach Browning received the you’re not Russell Wilson talk early in the year and stopped using it. Surely Petersen knows he must go through Hunter Biden if he wants advice from the Ukrainian president.

    • art thiel

      Wilson didn’t invent it, but nobody does it better. Unless it’s Rudy Giuliani.

      • Husky73

        I got a traffic ticket and hired Giuliani to defend me. He negotiated the ticket down to Murder One.

        • art thiel

          Ba-dum-boom, Rodney D.

          • Husky73

            As a little boy, I got lost. A police officer came to help me. I asked, how long before we find mommy and daddy? The cop said, “Well, there’s a lot of places they can hide.”…When I was born, the doctor slapped me. The nurse got in a couple of shots too.

          • art thiel

            I invited this. My bad.

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          Husky 72: be very careful . . . a pair of Rudy’s henchmen–er–associates–er–by now he probably doesn’t know them–got nabbed this morning, and there are “interesting” other names in the indictment. Read it. But, like everything else, it won’t sway a single Drumpfh supporter, just like 100% of the rest of his verified stunts up to and including treason. It’s perfectly acceptable to withhold $400,000,000, then shake down a foreign leader to investigate your rival, just like in a banana republic.

  • Tian Biao

    I wonder if Petersen and crew are over-thinking this. College football is actually pretty simple: if you can run the ball, do it. Run it until they stop you. go over the top once in a while to keep them honest.

    Petersen and Co seem very quick to abandon their game plans, ie when they put Haener in against Cal last year. It almost feels like . . . could it be . . . panic?

    • art thiel

      Petersen and crew have had several dubious episodes of game management, the second half’s opening drive vs. STAN the latest example. A field goal there ties at 13 and allows them to keep running, even without the injured Newton.

      Every coach has weaknesses.

  • 1coolguy

    If I’m Eason, I’m absolutely gone. It is brutal watching such a talent try to play under that nobody Hamdan.
    Nussmeier and Gilbertson must have been vomiting the entire Stanford game, throwing their beer cans at the TV and finally, pulling their hair out.
    Sarkisian is now the OC at Alabama, but who knows, after this season he may want to redeem himself with the locals. CP has the budget, BUT does he have the balls to do what’s right and off his boy Bush?

    • art thiel

      Sark? That’s rich. Way too many buried bones would surface. Next you’ll seek to bring back Nick Holt.

      I think Petersen is willing to cut ties with mentees. Hamdan needs himself a helluva game Saturday.

      • 1coolguy

        I knew you would bite on the Sark idea Art! But WTH – He IS a very good OC, perhaps in the top 5. Saban is no fool, and can have the pick of the litter.
        Nick Holt? Puleeze Art- he has no cred. Sark does and who cares about buried bones? Unless you suggest someone better, I’m staying with the bones in the graveyard!

        • art thiel

          You aren’t kidding.

          Sark does know playcalling, but the job is also people management, up as well as down. Not a strength at all. Even if he’s stayed sober, not a fit.

          • 1coolguy

            After his stint with Saban, if he stays on the wagon and does a great job, it may be time for the guy to be forgiven.
            You have a powerful say in local sports, so maybe you can start a list of OC’s and hope that CP wakes up! As this season is toast, there is no downside.

          • Effzee

            The idea of bringing back Sark is lunacy. To entertain the thought with any degree of seriousness suggests a high level of derangement.

          • art thiel

            I think Eason has the arm and brains to be an NFL QB, but not a good one. Dalton/Tannehill level.

          • art thiel

            I’ve never tried to guess about assistant coaches. Outsiders these days don’t get to know personalities except for local guys.

  • jafabian

    It’s interesting that this freshman stable of 4 star WR’s aren’t good enough to be on the field and at least be a decoy for the starting WR’s. I recall a freshman QB named Jake Browning starting when the two QB’s of the previous season weren’t playing up to par. Not sure the difference is and at this point does it matter? They’ve dropped out of the rankings so I’d think they’d have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    Both Coach Petersen and Coach Pete Carroll have different approaches with their youngest players it seems. Where Coach Pete is taking a conservative approach with the freshman players Coach Carroll is playing his rookies as much as he can. Considering the losses among the WR’s after John Ross left IMO there isn’t much of a choice.

    • art thiel

      Petersen has played numerous freshmen: Ross, Pettis, Baker, King, Muphy, Vea, Gaines, Adams, Peters. But he’s been careful with this WR group. I have no choice but to Petersen’s word that they haven’t shown enough in practice.

  • Rupert

    Are we sure that Eason is that great? For such a heralded prospect, he barely beat out Haener and did not look scintillating in exhibitions before the season. He got beat out by a freshman at Georgia. Despite early fireworks against cupcakes, I’m not sure he reads the field well and makes quick decisions. We shall see.

    • art thiel

      Eason isn’t as good as the hype, but he’s better than he’s shown. The receivers and the play calls have limited him.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    The 4th and 2 play selection was a prime example of bad play calls (still cringing!). It’s one thing to try to fool the opponent, but only a fool chooses the lowest percentage play, which they are also weakest at completing. A real worthwhile gamble there! (sarc).

    It’s hard to get behind this team when the coaches aren’t putting the players in the best position for success. Maybe Hamden is an OJT’er. I doubt the trustees appreciate all this messin’ around.

    • art thiel

      The 4th and 2 was like Carroll’s final SB play. A pass was OK, but not that route to that receiver.

      • DJ

        Couldn’t agree more! Thanks

      • Husky73

        As long as this blue marble spins through space, a pass was not OK. A pass was the exact opposite of OK. 100 million people knew that the OK thing to do was to give Beast Mode the ball.

        • art thiel

          100 million people thought smoking was good too. Doesn’t make them right.

          • wabubba67

            Passing first would have given the Seahawks three chances at a TD (pass, run, run) instead of just two (run, run). Passing was the correct call….that route and the receiver were horrible decisions. Should have had Wilson roll out….either TE wide open in end zone, Wilson runs it in, or ball is fired into the 10th row if both are taken away. Then, two more runs to Lynch.

          • Husky73

            Give the ball to Lynch from the one yard line and win the game. Why is that so hard to understand?

          • Southsound Seahawk

            No I’m pretty sure there would’ve been enough time for Brady to work his magic. He was gashing our defense that 2nd half, after Avril exited with an injury we couldn’t stop him. Wasn’t Sherman hobbling around too, I forgot? He would’ve marched the Patriots pretty easily down the field in the final 30 seconds. We would’ve lost eventually.