The good and the bad: Taking stock of the Huskies through five games

Oct 3, 2014, 4:01 PM | Updated: 5:03 pm
Washington’s defense has 12 takeaways this season while allowing more than 20 points only onc...
Washington's defense has 12 takeaways this season while allowing more than 20 points only once. (AP)
(AP)

The Huskies have reached their lone bye week of 2014, and thus far the results are mixed in Chris Petersen’s first season at the helm. On the one hand they’re 4-1, but on the other hand they’re 0-1 in Pac-12 play and aren’t really in the Top 25 conversation.

Here’s a look at the good and the bad of the Huskies season through five games.

The good: Washington is owning the turnover differential.

While the Huskies’ offense hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, it also hasn’t compounded problems with turnovers. Washington leads the entire FBS with a plus-11 turnover differential – easily its most impressive stat of the season – and that one turnover, a lost fumble, is tied for best in the nation as well. The defense deserves a ton of credit as the Huskies have made a living coming up with takeaways, totaling 12 in all with five picks and seven recovered fumbles. Perhaps the most important number is how many points those turnovers have turned into: 126.

The bad: The turnover differential won’t stay lopsided.

Without rose-tinted glasses, a look over Washington’s turnover advantage shows that a fair amount of luck has been involved. Both the Huskies and their opponents have 10 fumbles this season, and Washington recovered all but four of them – the Huskies have lost just one of their own, and their opponents have lost seven. Some of that is Washington having a nose for the ball, but some of that is chance. It’s also a long shot that quarterback Cyler Miles will continue avoiding interceptions. He’s a good scrambler and uses that skill with regularity, but that’s both a blessing and a curse. Petersen has talked at length about how Miles needs to spend more time in the pocket, and with that will come more throws, and more chances to make poor decisions.

The good: The defense has been indisputably good.

Other than when they yielded 52 points to Eastern Washington, an FCS team whose offense could honestly give Oregon a run for its money, the Huskies have been rock solid on defense. No other team has scored more than 20 points on Washington, and the defense deserves immense credit for giving the offense all the opportunities in the world to win games. If you need any more proof, just remember the Huskies were tied inside the final 5 minutes with No. 14 Stanford, the best defensive team in the country. Quick aside: With the added benefit of hindsight and comparison, Eastern Washington’s offense is insanely good. FCS team or not, the Eagles can put points on the board with the best of them.

The bad: Except on fourth down.

Opponents have converted 8 of 9 fourth downs against Washington. That’s not good. Not good at all.

The good: John Ross’ Percy Harvin impression.

Sophomore John Ross has scored touchdowns on receptions of 91, 74 and 54 yards as well as on a run of 20. He’s also been as advertised as a kick returner, averaging 25.8 yards per return, including a long of 54, plus he’s had a couple of would-be touchdowns called back for blocking penalties. He’s one of the most exciting players in all of college football, and when he’s contributing it gives the Huskies a ton of options.

The bad: Take away Ross and the offense becomes one-dimensional.

In the two games that Ross didn’t score a touchdown, the Huskies’ offense scored a total of six first-half points. Against Georgia State, Ross was out with an undisclosed leg injury, and it wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Huskies figured out a way to move the ball against the lowly Panthers. The injury may have lingered last week, too, as he managed just 16 yards on three catches against Stanford. When Ross is off the field or under wraps, Washington loses its only true deep threat, making it easier for opponents to shut down other aspects of the offense.

The good: Shaq Thompson can do a lot of things, but defense is his calling.

It would be easy to write all day about Shaq Thompson’s versatility. After all, he’s played incredibly well at linebacker, scored a 57-yard touchdown as a running back, and even filled in capably at strong safety last week. But the reason he was recruited to Washington was to play defense, and play defense he has. In fact, he’s arguably as much of a scoring threat on defense as any other Husky is on offense. He has two fumble recoveries – both of which he returned for touchdowns – and an interception that he also ran back for a score. Each of those returns went for at least 32 yards, which explains why Petersen was so eager to give him carries out of the backfield. Oh, he also has 22 tackles (second on the team), two tackles for a loss and a sack, and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after Week 2. To put it more simply, he’s having an OK season.

The bad: The offense lacks an identity.

Petersen has a reputation for being an offensive genius, but Washington is a long ways away from being mentioned in the same sentence as his Boise State teams. The Huskies have been noticeably conservative in the passing game, averaging just 162.6 yards per game. The running game has been better, posting 207.6 yards per contest, but none of the four main running backs have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack, though Lavon Coleman (79 carries, 358 yards) does have 30 more attempts than anybody else. It’s resulted in a fairly punchless offense, which in turn has pushed Petersen to make some pretty aggressive playcalls that did not turn out well, especially against Stanford. Once Petersen starts getting his own recruits into the program, the Huskies will assuredly start looking more like a Petersen team. But as far as this season is concerned, there are some serious kinks to work out.

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The good and the bad: Taking stock of the Huskies through five games