2014 Huskies: What could be

2014 Huskies: What could be
Washington head coach Chris Petersen takes questions at the 2014 Pac-12 NCAA college football media days at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo)
When the Washington Huskies take the field on Saturday in Honolulu, 8 months of anticipation will come to a head as the Chris Petersen era begins. Similar to 2006 when he took over the Mountain West Conference’s most dominant team, Petersen takes over a football team coming off a 9-4 record in its previous season. That may however be where the similarities end.

When Petersen took over at Boise State, Dan Hawkins left the program for Colorado after a 53-10 run in Boise. At the time, Hawkins had the highest winning percentage amongst all Division I coaches. Petersen took the keys to that program and his success is both well documented and unrivaled. Eight years later, Petersen now holds that same position with the best winning percentage amongst active coaches. He takes over a Husky program that made respectable strides in the Steve Sarkisian era. He also takes over a program where the identity of respectable does not fit with the expectation of Husky faithful.

His tenure at the University of Washington has started with a successful off-season of recruiting and putting the pieces together for what Husky fans hope will be its 5th bowl game in the past 6 seasons. That journey however will start with more questions than answers when they take the field at 7:30pm on Saturday night. What will the identity of the 2014 Husky football team look like? The success of this season will ultimately be determined by how quickly those answers come to light, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Its taken the better part of 6 years, but the Huskies have finally built some depth on the offensive line.

7 players return with starting experience with 4 of the 5 starters this week being seniors. Micah Hatchie and Colin Tanigawa lead the group with 26 starts each and James Atoe, at 6’7” 381 may cause the first human eclipse if he moves across the field at just the right angle. If Kasen Williams health continues to improve, and the self anointed Legion of Zoom can back up their name, they should provide multiple weapons for the Dawgs on the perimeter by the time conference season comes around. DiAndre Campbell has had the word potential next to his name since he arrived in the program. With a renewed confidence, can he finally be that big downfield receiver the Huskies anticipated he would be when he arrived from Oakland out of high school.

While depth is a strength at the aforementioned positions, you don’t need a football analyst to understand that the biggest question for the Huskies offense is in the backfield… as in the ENTIRE backfield. It has been over a decade since the Huskies broke in a first time starter at both quarterback AND running back in the same season. Jake Locker had Louis Rankin in 2007, Chris Polk had Jake Locker, Keith Price had Chris Polk, Bishop Sankey had Keith Price. In each instance, while the first time starter got their feet wet for their first time at the collegiate level, there was a veteran in the backfield to shoulder the load.

Against the Warriors, no one starting the game in the backfield for the Huskies will have taken a meaningful snap in a college game and their best running back may be starting at linebacker. This is not to say that they are not capable. We’ve seen flashes from Dwayne Washington in limited action when the game is in hand. Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier have game experience but because of injuries, neither are what they were coming into the program 4 years ago. Levon Coleman is a highly touted redshirt Freshman from the same town as Husky legend Napolean Kaufman. As a matter of fact, between Washington and Coleman, the Huskies will most likely find the man that will carry the tote the rock for the next several years.

This is the exciting part for coaches every year. You can get an idea of what you have at practice, but you don’t truly know who will shine until you get into a game with different colored jerseys. Who will be able to get that extra yard when they need it most? Who will get the call on the goal line? Who will be their 3rd down back that will be crucial to moving the chains, both with his ability to catch the football, but also his ability to absorb the steam of oncoming pass rushers trying to make their own name.

At the quarterback position, Jeff Lindquist gets the start after a great battle in fall camp with Troy Williams. Both have their strengths, but ultimately, in this first game, quarterback coach Jonathan Smith went with the guy that he hopes will make the least number of mistakes to minimize the number of possessions that the opposition gets. He’s got a great skill set, but Troy Williams turned the ball over a few more times in camp that what you’d like to see and thus he will start the game on the sideline. At almost 250 pounds, Lindquist is one of the more physically imposing quarterbacks you will see on the field this year. Husky coaches need to see that physical imposition transfer to his confidence and consistency with his decision-making. There is not a throw that Lindquist can’t make, but making them accurately and repeatedly will be a great test for him in his first collegiate start. If Lindquist has trouble in multiple series, it won’t be long before Williams gets his chance.

Regardless, everything on Saturday for these signal callers will be their first at the college level. You can throw a thousand passes in practice, but until you get that first completion under your belt, it will feel different. They can simulate situations and blitz pick up in practice, but until you face that first 3rd and long in a crucial situation, Chris Petersen and company won’t know how Lindquist or Williams will reacts under pressure.

As the season progresses, the Husky offense will be just fine. This is a proven system, with proven coaches, and a player in Cyler Myles that will throw some more coal on the Husky offensive engine starting next week. Just like every other team, the Huskies have guys chomping at the bit to make the most of their opportunity that they’ve worked so hard for up to this point. With each new football season there are no-named athletes in August that become household names by December.

Husky Nation is excited to see what this year’s version of the Dawgs will bring, and Chris Petersen is at the front of that line. Earlier this week in his opening statement to the media Petersen said, “Excited. Time to play. Probably as excited as you guys are to see what we’ve got.”
How many questions will be answered after this weekend? That remains to be seen. However, if Chris Petersen’s history is any indicator of what the future holds, at the end of this 2014 season, Husky fans are going to love what they see.

Jason Stiles was a record setting quarterback at Western Washington University and is currently a college football analyst for ROOT Sports.