Huard: Sixth-ranked Huskies still looking to establish No. 2 options entering Cal
The 5-0 Washington Huskies return to Husky Stadium for a game under the lights Saturday night against the Cal Bears. Here’s what 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard will have his eyes on for UW.
1. Figure out who the No. 2 receiving option behind Dante Pettis is.
Everyone that I have talked to for Washington Wednesdays has said the same thing for the last two to three weeks – who is going to be the complement to Dante Pettis? You look right now, the second-leading receiver is a true freshman H-back tight end in Hunter Bryant. While gifted, he’s not that explosive, take-the-top-off kind of player that scares defenses if left in one-on-one coverage. I would expect Cal coach Justin Wilcox and his staff to roll coverage to Pettis. They like their corners, they’ve got some experience at safety, and they’re going to do all they can to put a couple guys on Pettis and make sure somebody else beats them. I will be very curious to see who that someone is to emerge over the course of the season for the Huskies. Throughout Pac-12 play, you cannot have a one-dimensional home run threat. We’ve seen a little Quinten Pounds, we’ve seen a little Brayden Lenius, and Andre Baccellia could possibly return from injury this week. And if you’re Jake Browning, when those guys have a one-on-one, trust that he’s gonna win. There’s going be those situations in this game for all those aforementioned receivers, and as a quarterback you have to throw with anticipation and trust that they’re gonna win. I think a few times this year Jake has left some of those deep balls a little bit short instead of putting it out there, and to me that says he’s just hesitating a bit. “I just don’t know that if you’re even, you’re leaving.”
2. Lavon Coleman needs a big game soon.
At some point Coleman has to have a 100-yard game out of the backfield. You look at the numbers this season compared to last season – the O-line has returned, Myles Gaskin has taken steps, and I think Jake is still playing fantastic, efficient football. The one guy that everybody had expectations for that hasn’t lived up to them yet is Coleman. He got stronger and he looks the part, but when is he going to get going? The fourth-and-10 conversion a week ago in Oregon State may be the first step to some of that, and there’s no doubt in my mind that in some point over the next six or seven weeks in conference play, he’s going to break loose. But until he does, just like that No. 2 receiving weapon, you’re just waiting for it to emerge. When Coleman gets rolling like Gaskin has, he’ll get fed. I’m sure he’s hungry in his senior year to get that production back to a level where it was a season ago, especially since as he flirted with leaving school last year.
3. Stay vigilant against Beau Baldwin’s offense.
Your secondary has to have tremendous eye discipline. Cal knows it doesn’t have a ton of weapons and the Bears do a lot of things – they mix tempo, they mix a lot of formations. And the Bears’ offensive coordinator is Baldwin, who brought an Eastern Washington team with Vernon Adams into Husky Stadium two years ago and nearly beat UW. He is an excellent schemer, and it just takes discipline from the safeties and the corners to not take things for granted. Cal went to North Carolina and won, beat Ole Miss out of the SEC, and it played both USC and Oregon into the fourth quarter, so the Bears are not as bad as they were a year ago. They will absolutely have a plan and be committed to it, but they do not have many game changers that should strike a ton of fear and create explosive plays offensively. Stay disciplined, and it should be a good day for the Husky defense at home to do what they’ve done all year – be a top 10 scoring defense.
4. Don’t get discouraged by slow starts.
There was an easy button the Huskies could hit a lot last season, but when you’re out front, you get everybody’s best shot. It’s much more business as usual this season, and it’s important to note that last year’s 40 touchdown passes by Jake Browning, many to which went to John Ross, was an aberration. Now people have a pretty good plan when they take on the Huskies, so Washington will get every team’s very best shot and it doesn’t come as easy. Welcome to big-time football.