Washington’s 21-7 victory over Utah this past Saturday was a fairly sloppy one in some respects on the offensive side of the ball. Jake Browning seemed to follow up great plays with a few questionable decisions and, in the process he put the game at risk at times. One thing that can’t be denied, however, is that when receivers like Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia had a chance to touch the ball, they made things happen.
The current wideout corps for the Huskies is rather multifaceted, with the personnel to give headaches to physical and cerebral defenses alike.
If Browning can clean up some of the mistakes he’s made the first three weeks of the season, the sky’s the limit for this group.
The presence of Bush Hamdan as the new offensive coordinator has not seemed to stifle the receiving corps’ understanding of the offense one bit. In fact, most if not all receivers are performing better than ever in expanded roles. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this has been Fuller. Through three games, the junior is Washington’s leading receiver with 19 catches for 317 yards. To put that in perspective, he only totaled 26 catches for 291 yards all of last season. Although he hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season, Fuller has become the premier chain-mover of the Hamdan offense with his crisp route-running and sure hands.
Fuller’s emergence was inevitable due to his increased usage in the offense towards the end of last year, but the next step for him should be to have more of a presence in the red zone. He doesn’t have the frame to be a go-to fade route target, but he has quick feet and excels catching the ball in traffic. These traits would serve him well close to the goal.
In addition to Fuller’s production, Chico McClatcher’s return has been a welcome sight to see. While his current role may not be as big as it would have been before his season-ending injury in 2017, he can still be an important part of the offense. He has six receptions for 85 yards so far, with the bulk of that coming against North Dakota. The coaching staff appears to be using him cautiously, but as they gradually re-incorporate him into the system, he could get back to the player he was before he was hurt and provide Browning with another trustworthy target that’s electric in space.
Last season, the Huskies did not have a clear-cut deep threat. The tallest member of the receiver rotation last season was Dante Pettis at 6’1”, but his role didn’t require him to run verticals down the field on a consistent basis because he was so valuable in the short and intermediate passing game. This year, the 6’4” Ty Jones has emerged as the go-to guy for fades in the red zone and plays over 30 yards. Jones rode the pine for most of his first season in the purple and gold but now in his sophomore campaign his role has already greatly expanded.
He already has eight receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns this year, and his frame makes it easy for him to sky over defenders and put them on posters. However, he does have a bit of a problem with the push-offs. In the season opener against Auburn, he used his arms to create separation with a defensive back on a couple of occasions. On the first one, he got away with it when the official called defensive pass interference but on the second one he wasn’t quite so lucky, getting called for offensive PI.
This is really one of the only flaws showing in Jones’s game so far; if he can stay away from the unnecessary penalties, he could be one of the most imposing receivers in the Pac-12.
Dual (and triple) Threats
Of course, this offense is not without its Swiss Army knives. Chief among them is Baccellia, who is all over the stat sheets so far for Washington. In addition to his nine catches for 89 yards, he has one carry for 37 yards, which happened last week on a perfectly executed reverse play. He also experimented a bit with his throwing arm against North Dakota, with a 14 yard completion on his first and only throw so far this year.
We can also clump running back Salvon Ahmed into this grouping. While he has 14 carries for 85 yards on the ground, he’s also a little over halfway to his receiving yard total from last year. Ahmed has the most potential of any player in the offense but needs to be utilized in unique places on the field to maximize his output. With Myles Gaskin acting as the premier player in the offense once again in his senior year, Ahmed hasn’t quite had the opportunity to find rhythm in the backfield. Lining him up at receiver or, more likely, still in the backfield but to be used as a mismatch receiving threat is not an impossibility, especially if Gaskin continues to take as many snaps as he has. It would also add a new element to the offense that was experimented with last season but wasn’t fully realized.
Either way, the emerging corps of pass-catchers are incredibly valuable now and moving forward and should continue to be used in unique ways to keep defenses off-balance.
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