A playoff team last year, 4-0 Washington has had little trouble picking up wins so far in 2017. Each of their wins have come by at least 16 points and the Huskies opened their conference slate with a 37-10 win against Colorado last weekend. For more on what could be another brutal day for the Beavers, we talked with John Sayler of UW Dawg Pound: SB Nation’s Washington community.
1. As a whole, UW seems to have picked up where they left off at the end of last year. What's been the most impressive thing to you about the Huskies' 4-0 start to the year?
What stands out to me about the season so far is how much poise this team has. They have trailed early in two games, and there has been absolutely no sign of panic. While I am freaking out and throwing my hands in the air while the opponent scores an early TD, Chris Petersen simply looks as though it is par for the course. Jake Browning threw a pick-six on the second drive against Montana and jogged off the field with a “Hmmm. Didn’t see that coming” look on his face. UW’s modus operandi is to wear opponents down. While fans may get impatient when things don’t go well early, the team has just been chugging along and slowly strangling their foe.
2. UW's offense gets plenty of love, and deservedly so, but UW's defense is #2 in total defense in the conference right now. Who are some names to watch on that side of the ball?
The middle of the defensive line is incredibly stout with All-Conference tackles Vita Vea and Greg Gaines plugging things up. The inside linebacker duo of Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria is one of the best in all of college football, and there is nice depth behind those guys as well. Junior linebacker Ben-Burr-Kirven, once a whipping boy for fan angst, has continued to prove that he belongs on the field. The secondary is an interesting group. Three of last year’s starters were lost to the NFL draft, and redshirt freshman phenom Byron Murphy is sidelined for a couple months with a foot injury. Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake seems to be able to replace lost talent and that has been the case again. Taylor Rapp was the Pac-12 Defensive freshman of the Year in 2016 and has picked up where he left off. Sophomore Myles Bryant continues to impress despite his diminutive size (5’8” 180). It’s a solid group, despite its inexperience.
3. If OSU wants to win this game, what's the one thing they need to key in on more than anything?
I don’t think there is any one thing. The teams that have beaten Washington have had the following recipe: Get pressure on Jake Browning with a four man rush and cover the receivers well. Offensively, they have been able to mix the run and pass and keep the UW defense guessing. If Oregon State can get Ryan Nall going and then hit on a few deep shots, that is their best chance to score. Offenses that try to work down the field a few yards at a time find that they may get a score and some first downs, but won’t be able to execute well enough, often enough to keep the chains moving without a costly mistake. That could be a penalty, a turnover, or a big loss.
4. Sophie's Choice scenario: Myles Gaskin or Dante Pettis. If you could only pick one, which would you rather have on UW?
What’s next, pick between Chris Petersen and my own father?
Entering the season, running back was a strong position group with Lavon Coleman returning along with Gaskin. True freshman RB Salvon Ahmed was the star of fall camp and was given some time at wide receiver due to the logjam at the running back position. Meanwhile, the loss of John Ross to the NFL was expected to be a huge loss and that has proved to be the case.
I think Pettis and Gaskin are equally talented players, but with #2 WR Chico McClatcher done for the year with a broken ankle, the WR corps could not afford to lose Pettis the same way the running back position could fill the void left by Gaskin.
Besides, without Pettis out there for the Huskies, opponents wouldn’t have to aim their punts toward the sideline and have it go out of bounds 30 yards downfield.
5. Is Washington a playoff team again this year? Why or why not?
I’m not sure if this UW team is quite as good as the one a year ago. I’m also not sure that it isn’t. John Ross was such a dynamic playmaker for the Huskies in 2016, and the experienced and talented secondary is replaced by an inexperienced, talented group. On the other hand, Jake Browning is a year savvier and the offensive line has gotten bigger and stronger.
Getting into the College Football Playoff requires a lot of things to fall into place. A year ago it happened. I think this is a playoff caliber UW football team, but they can’t really afford to sustain any more major injuries.
6. Final score and outcome prediction for the OSU game?
All signs point to a UW rout, and that will likely be the case. The only real question is whether OSU can put together a nice game plan to keep the ball away from the Huskies and contain the big play from the Washington offense. Chris Petersen likes to strike quickly on at least a couple possessions, then grind it out. Gary Anderson should have no problem getting his team up for this one, and I could see Nall getting some tough yards.
UW 45, OSU 13