Offensive improvement a focus for Huskies during second bye week

By Lauren Kirschman

The News Tribune

SEATTLE — During Washington’s first off week at the end of October, head coach Chris Petersen and his staff spent the time self-scouting. They didn’t just watch the Huskies’ loss to Oregon from the Saturday before, they also went back and evaluated every game of the season.

UW played just two games between that bye week and its second one, and the coaches took a different approach this time around. There wasn’t a need to re-watch the season all over again. Instead, they focused on certain areas of emphasis.

One of them was particularly prevalent in the Huskies’ 19-7 victory over Oregon State just before the bye week. While Petersen was excited about UW’s defensive progress, the offense seemed to take a step back. And as the Huskies prepare for their final two games of the regular season, Petersen wants to see them put more points on the board.

“I felt like when we played Oregon and Utah, on offense we played at a pretty decent level,” Petersen said during his press conference on Monday. “But I think we all kind of felt like we had another touchdown in us. We needed another touchdown. In the fourth quarter, we didn’t produce. …That’s what I feel after games. Coming off the field, do you feel like you’re playing up to your capabilities? Or do you feel like there’s too many inconsistencies?

“When we played Oregon State, I felt great about our defense and our special teams were really solid. And then on offense, we didn’t do anything in the pass game. We had no guys making plays. We just didn’t. That can be such a momentum-changer. Jacob (Eason) threw some nice balls in there and we were just a little bit off, but nobody made a play for him. And if we make two of those plays, it just changes the momentum and the feel. Everybody’s pressing a little bit more. That’s what it is.”

The passing game has been inconsistent all season as the Huskies’ receivers have struggled to create separation. Dropped passes have also been a reoccurring issue since UW’s loss to Cal early in the year.

But the problem doesn’t seem to have a simple solution.

“Really frustrating,” Petersen said. “Dropped balls are frustrating. It’s hard to say. … Man, that’s all we do is work on it. It’s all we do is work on catching balls all day long. It’s all we do is try to put our guys in tough situations. and then you go to a game and, too many dropped balls.”

To go along with the dropped passes, Eason has thrown four interceptions in the last two games after only throwing three the rest of the season. Two of those picks were returned for touchdowns, and both happened on a similar throw.

“I think there are certain routes you’re always wary about and an out to the wide side of the field has worried me for 30 years of coaching,” Petersen said. “There’s been a lot of times where we just haven’t done them. … I think a lot of it has to do with knowing strengths and weaknesses of certain things … certain guys like certain routes and don’t like certain things.”

Status of the Pac-12

The Pac-12 currently has four bowl-eligible teams and three more — Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona — that need one more victory to join them. The remaining teams all have four wins, putting them two victories away from bowl eligibility. The conference also has two teams in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings in No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah. While the Pac-12 is often criticized as the weakest in the Power Five, Petersen defended it again on Monday.

“I’ve been a broken record on this,” he said. “Nobody wants to give us any credit the last couple of years but say what you want to say, there is parity in this conference. There is parity. It is hard to win. Look at the scores and those types of things. I know as the season goes on things shake out, but I look at what is going on this weekend and I’m like, ‘Yep, everybody has a good chance to win.’ And there is no gimmes. You better play good or you’re going to get beat.”

But is all that parity good for the conference?

“That’s a great question,” Petersen said. “You know, if two of the teams that are running off with it get beat, that’s probably not good for the conference. But I promise you, the teams that are playing them are trying to beat them with everything they’re worth.”

Those two teams are Oregon and Utah. Both have a chance of making the College Football Playoff, and the Huskies led each of them by double digits at home before letting the games slip away in the fourth quarter.

Only Oregon and UW have made the College Football Playoff from the Pac-12. Oregon fell in the 2015 national championship game after the 2014 season, while the Huskies made a playoff appearance in 2016. The conference has been waiting for another representative ever since.

“If one of our teams gets in there, I think that helps … the league,” Petersen said. “I don’t necessarily like it, because that’s our direct competitor that’s there. But big picture-wise, that’s why I’ve always said, I don’t care about those guys. I care about us. Can we get there? What do we need to do?

“But then when you step back, OK, if you’re not going to (make the playoff), does it help if one of those teams is in the discussion for it? Obviously, how it’s been beat up ad nauseam for the last two years.”

Extra points

Linebacker MJ Tafisi hasn’t played since he was carted off the field with a stinger against Arizona. Petersen said Tafisi is practicing but with little contact. ‘He knows when to pull off and all those type of things,” Petersen said. “So he’s making good progress. … When you do something like that, we’re making sure that his strength levels, all those type of things, are no doubt about it. And that he feels good and confident about things as well.”