Hey, in case you missed the announcement, it’s game week, and Auburn’s got a top-ten game set with Washington on Saturday in Atlanta. While the Tigers haven’t played someone from the far west too often, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know where to find the goods on the Huskies. Big thanks to UW Dawg Pound and John Sayler for answering Part One of our burning questions for the Washington faithful.
What kind of crowd is Washington expected to bring to Atlanta?
Hard to say. Husky fans travel well, but this is a time of year I’d much rather be in Seattle than Atlanta. Still, this game has been circled for UW fans since it was announced, so there will be some purple and gold in the stands.
The last time Jake Browning faced an SEC defensive line, things didn’t go very well. What’s changed with the UW offensive line since the Peach Bowl against Alabama to make the Huskies more confident today?
Well, that’s not really true. Not many people know this, but Browning got his guys together this summer and did a lot of scrimmaging with Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Oh, you mean a REALLY GOOD defensive line. Got it. My bad.
It’s going to be a problem, and we know it. I guess the biggest difference and a possible reason for UW optimism is that three of the starting five that played in that Peach Bowl will be starting for the Huskies again on Sept 1. Center Nick Harris was a 270 lb freshman right guard, and tackles Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary were sophomores. Now all three are upperclassmen, and while it’s still a BIG question if they are improved enough to handle the Auburn front seven, we’re really hoping that they aren’t just older, but stronger and better than they were two seasons ago.
With Dante Pettis gone and Hunter Bryant injured, what’s Browning’s receiving corps look like?
Hey, it’s fall camp, so everyone looks like an All-American. On paper, the WR group looks really bad if you are going by stats, especially without Bryant. The position was decimated by injuries a year ago, so there is really a lot more returning experience than it appears. Four juniors lead the way: Aaron Fuller, Chico McClatcher, Andre Bacellia and Quinten Pounds. The latter three players were injured last season.
I look for Fuller and McClatcher to be Browning’s top targets, along with true sophomore Ty Jones. Jones is 6’4” with great leaping ability, and probably has the most upside. It’s a solid and experienced unit.
Word is that your secondary is going to be pretty good. Auburn’s passing game should be pretty good too. Who’s got the advantage?
There’s more that goes into stopping a passing attack than secondary coverage. From what I have seen of Jarret Stidham, the way you beat him is by confusing him. That is true for most QBs, but Stidham is most effective when his first read is open. He can scramble if the defense turns their back, but he’s not going to outrun anyone on the Husky defense. Pressure --even the illusion of pressure-- is an absolute must for Washington. Get him to break the pocket, roll right, and run out of room or force a late pass into coverage.
The Huskies must recognize and shut down the screen game, which has definitely been a strength for UW the past few seasons. Washington will use a combination of zone and man coverage to try to get Stidham to think he has something that isn’t really there. The guy throws a really nice deep ball, so my biggest concern in the passing game would be a 1-on-1 matchup downfield where a Husky is beaten.
In terms of unknowns, we don’t have a proven running back yet. Tell us about your front seven and how successful they can be.
They can be really successful, because they HAVE been really successful. Vita Vea is gone, but everyone else along the defensive line returns. Obviously they will miss Vea tremendously, but every good college team has to replace great players that go onto the NFL. Greg Gaines is a stout run-stopper, and fellow senior DT Jaylen Johnson is poised for a breakout season. Sophomore Levi Onwuzurike really came on toward the end of last season and his development is critical to the Huskies’ success.
The linebacking unit is anchored by seniors Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett on the inside. Both are heady players who make a ton of plays. The outside LBs are more unproven, but there is a lot expected of junior Benning Potoa’e and youngsters Joe Tryon, Myles Rice, and Amandre Williams. The linebacking units have been really good under Chris Petersen and DC Pete Kwiatkowski.
What’s the main worry that’s keeping your coaching staff up at night?
The placekicking game was awful last season. They have to be worried about that. Auburn is a great team, so there is no shortage of worry when it comes to this one. If I had to pick one matchup that is worrisome, it would be the Huskies’ offensive line against the Tigers’ front seven. It’s where the Peach Bowl was lost against Alabama, and its where this game can be won or lost.
UW wins in quintuple overtime.
If the game goes into quintuple overtime, Auburn fans may just die on the spot. We’ve had our share (and everyone else’s too) of exciting and suspenseful games. Stick around for Thursday’s second look at the Huskies — it’s a different perspective as we try to get the deep dive into their psyche.