Huskies have found offensive groove in time for Cactus Bowl

Dec 15, 2014, 6:38 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2014, 11:43 am
Jaydon Mickens became the Huskies' top receiving option near the end of the season, including a four-catch, 69-yard performance at Arizona. (AP)

There was a marked difference between the two halves of the Pac-12 schedule for Washington. You can credit the offense for that.

The first four games of the conference slate couldn’t have gone much worse for the Huskies, as they hobbled out to a 1-3 league record due primarily to the offense averaging just 18.5 points per game. The running game dried up, leaving the Huskies without one of the positives from their undefeated run through four non-league games and giving them limited options to take the pressure off of their lackluster passing.

Then came November.

The Huskies steamrolled Colorado 38-23 to open the month, and while the offense still had its problems – it was 2-11 on third down and uncharacteristically committed three turnovers against the Buffaloes – it was the beginning of a much more productive stretch of football for Washington.

In November the Huskies averaged 32.5 points per game, and the final three games was a particularly strong stretch as they nearly knocked off then-No. 14 Arizona on the road, then closed out the regular season with back-to-back blowout wins over Oregon State and Washington State.

So what was the difference? In a word, everything.

Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles finally found a way to be comfortable in the pocket after months of frustration. He suddenly had a myriad of receivers hitting their strides at the same time. And sophomore running back Dwayne Washington emerged as the answer to the Huskies’ running problems, which helped the defense as well as it allowed Shaq Thompson to return to his linebacker position full-time.

It may have taken the Huskies an entire two months to find their footing in first-year coach Chris Petersen’s system, but when they did it was a classic case of an offense peaking at the right time.

The most important part of the shift may have been the running of Washington. He returned against UCLA on Nov. 8 after missing two games due to injury, but it was the next week where he really made an impact. Against Arizona, Washington piled up 148 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, and he didn’t even enter the game as the starter. He certainly was the next two games, where he followed up with a 14-carry, 100-yard performance against Oregon State and 135 yards and two scores on 16 attempts in the Apple Cup.

Having Washington carrying the load out of the backfield opened things up for the air attack, and as a result Miles put together his three best games to close out the season. Miles completed 63 of 91 pass attempts, averaging 241.7 yards per game along the way. His inclination to scramble under even the slightest bit of pressure – his biggest issue throughout the year – was noticeably absent. And with the excess time he had back there he was able to spread the ball around, completing passes to nine receivers against both Washington State and Arizona and to eight receivers against Oregon State.

And yes, those receivers came into their own around the same time as well. Jaydon Mickens emerged as Miles’ top target, bringing in 14 receptions for 204 yards in the last three games, while tight end Joshua Perkins bounced back from a disastrous early part of the season. Perkins missed two games in the first month of the season and came up empty-handed in three others, but over the final four games he totaled 16 catches and 187 yards to give the Huskies something at least resembling the production of Austin Seferian-Jenkins last season.

The question now is whether the Huskies’ offense can maintain its output after several weeks off before the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State. The Huskies should get a pretty good shot to do, at least – the 6-6 Cowboys have yielded 32 points per game to their opponents in 2014, a higher mark than even the Washington offense’s 30.8 points-per-game clip.


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