Notebook: Struggles in the running game taking a toll on Huskies

Oct 20, 2014, 4:45 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2014, 9:45 am
The Huskies’ offensive line continually lost the battle of the line of scrimmage in UW’...
The Huskies' offensive line continually lost the battle of the line of scrimmage in UW's 45-20 loss to Oregon. (AP)
(AP)
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Early on this season, the Huskies’ ground game was looked at as one of their biggest strengths. That has not been the case lately, though.

Over their last three games, the Huskies (5-2 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) are averaging just 111.6 rushing yards, and it’s been a huge hit to Washington as a whole considering it hasn’t been much of a passing team this season, either.

The lack of success on the ground has not gone unnoticed by coach Chris Petersen, who spent much of his weekly press conference Monday talking about the issues his running backs have encountered, which were magnified in Saturday’s 45-20 loss to Oregon, which jumped three spots to No. 6 in the AP poll this week.

“Guys just have to play better. That’s the bottom line,” Petersen said. “We’ve got to block better, give our backs a chance to get something done. Then when we do we’d like our backs to be able to get out and get loose a little bit.”

The Huskies have employed a committee of running backs this season, but even though they started with five players sharing carries, injuries are beginning to take their toll. Fifth-year senior Jesse Callier already saw his college career come to an end with a ruptured Achilles on Sept. 20, and both freshman Lavon Coleman and sophomore Dwayne Washington were banged up against the Ducks. Petersen said Washington will be a game-time decision, while Coleman is “better than a game-time decision.”

Even if they’re both healthy, it will be up to them, senior Deontae Cooper and possibly even junior linebacker Shaq Thompson on a series or two to get the running game going. Of course, they need help from an experienced offensive line that was expected to be one of the better position groups on the team but hasn’t quite lived up to its billing.

Petersen did seem a little perplexed about the O-line’s struggles considering it’s mainly comprised of upper-classmen.

“I don’t think it’s all about just experience. I think you’d like to take the next step, think you’ve got the talent to take the next step,” he said. “I think we’ve played some pretty good defenses, some pretty good D-lines. But yeah, with the guys that we have in there, we’ve got one freshman in there, the rest of the guys have played a lot of snaps. You’d hope to take the next step.”

No matter what the cause has been for the Huskies’ trouble running the ball, the effect turned out to be devastating Saturday, when Oregon used its own ground game to dominate in its 25-point win.

“If we can’t run the ball and the team we’re playing can run the ball really well? It’s going to be trouble for us. And you saw it first-hand,” Petersen said. “I don’t care how many yards they throw for. It’s always going to start right there.”

Huskies going forward with Miles at QB

Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles left the Oregon game in the second half with concussion-like symptoms, and while his condition will be evaluated closely throughout the week, Petersen said the team is still moving forward with the plan that he will start Saturday night against Arizona State.

Miles didn’t have a great game before suffering the injury, though, and his interception and lost fumble had a big part in allowing the Ducks to run away.

“I thought (Miles played) OK,” Petersen said. “I think that against a team like Oregon when you turn it over twice, that can be back-breaking. And you hate to say that, but I think when you’re playing a really, really good team you have to play really, really good. You have to play really clean. And so I think those two turnovers really hurt. He did do some good stuff, but he probably didn’t, at that position, play as clean as we probably needed him to.”

As for his replacement, redshirt freshman Troy Williams (38 yards passing, 28 yards rushing, one touchdown), Petersen liked what he saw in his limited playing time.

“I thought Troy did a nice job. He really did,” Petersen said. “I thought he was, for really playing his first time and going, I thought it was pretty solid.”

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Notebook: Struggles in the running game taking a toll on Huskies