UW’s Petersen on the Hot Seat?

With Royce Freeman as the featured back, Oregon again has the strongest running game in the Pac-12.

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

As reported by ESPN at the recent Pac-12 Media Days, Washington coach Chris Petersen turned the tables and begged the dogs — to not get their expectations up too high.

It’s not false modesty. It’s an honest assessment from the one insider who knows the Huskies best.

Petersen also knows that man’s level of satisfaction relates highly to the difference between expectations and eventual outcomes. And probably no team in college football has raised expectations as much as the Washington Huskies.

Quelling the gasoline being splattered around before the match is thrown is the first of many battles Petersen will face this season — and it’s a dandy.

Among the hype, ESPN’s Pac-12 Blog  rates Washington’s trio of starting offensive skill players (one each: quarterback, running back, receiver) as second only to Washington State in the Pac-12, while labeling the Oregon Ducks a mediocre sixth.

For ESPN to even suggest that Washington’s offense is vastly superior to Oregon’s by any measurement is –I will say this as nicely as I can — highly dangerous talk for Petersen’s quest to regulate the gap between expectations and what he has to see coming.

A comparison of the Huskies’ offensive skill players to the Ducks’ – with its potential impact on Petersen’s job – is the subject of this special edition of the Three-and-Out.

1. Running Back. Washington running back Myles Gaskin had a solid freshman season in 2015, rushing 227 times for 1302 yards and a 5.7 yard per carry average. That’s not bad, but it’s over five football fields short of Oregon’s Royce Freeman, who ran for 1836 yards on an average of 6.5 yards per carry.

Royce Freeman is closing in on the career rushing record for the Pac-12's leading rushing team.

Kevin Cline

Royce Freeman is closing in on the career rushing record for the Pac-12’s leading rushing team.

Freeman is already what Gaskin aspires to be — a proven third-year starter closing in on a 2,000 yard year. Freeman also enjoys the advantage of having undeniably the best supporting cast in the Pac-12

Gaskin’s 5.7 yards per carry would have only been good for fifth among the Ducks’ primary group of running backs, behind Freeman, Taj Griffin (7.4), Kani Benoit (7.0) and Tony Brooks-James (9.0).

Gaskin is a solid up-an-coming running back. But you have to understand why Petersen would not want to have fans expect Washington’s running game to be better than Oregon’s.

2. Receiver. Petersen has a problem here, too. Three out of Washington’s top four receivers from 2014 have moved on. ESPN had to dig deep to find anybody who vaguely resembles a threat for the dogs. They settled on John Ross, who missed half of 2014 and all of 2015 due to two knee injuries. Before the injuries set in, Ross had a total of 33 catches for 579 yards over the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Someone forgot to tell Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington that theyre not as good as an injury prone Husky with 33 career catches.

Kevin Cline

Someone forgot to tell Duck veterans Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington that they’re not as good as an injury-prone Husky with 33 career catches.

You could start a phone book with Duck receivers who would start ahead of Ross — and have a better chance of making it through the season. Darren Carrington made mincemeat out of Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. Dwayne Stanford has over 1200 career receiving yards. Charles Nelson is a touchdown waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. Jalen Brown’s first-year production in 2015 was limited only by playing time. And true freshman Dillon Mitchell may prove to be the most dangerous receiver on the 2016 team.

Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis are probably the best trio of tight ends in the conference, if not the country. And running backs Griffin and Brooks-James are expected to line up in the slot to get more touches.

Defensive backs have to get tired just watching game film on Oregon’s receivers, let alone trying to put the hit on (or getting trucked by) Freeman and Benoit when they burst into the secondary. Then just when they’re really, really tired — out trots Devon Allen, the fastest man in college football, fresh from Rio.

A guy who has 33 career catches, a history of knee injuries and hasn’t made it through a complete season since 2013 is better than any of that?

No. Running back or receiver can’t possibly be viewed as points of Husky superiority, so if the Huskies have overall better first-line skill players than the Ducks, they must have one helluva …

3. Quarterback. Like Myles Gaskin, Washington QB Jake Browning was a freshman in 2015, so he might be quite a bit better in 2016. He needs to be if he wants to keep his coach off the hot seat.

On the surface Browning’s 16 touchdowns to 10 interceptions — while a little pedestrian — aren’t too bad for a frosh. But digging a little deeper, 13 of his touchdowns came against Sacramento State (2-9, FCS), Utah State (6-7), the Beavers, and an Arizona team that gave up over 49 points per game in six Pac-12 losses. Against the same four teams, Browning had only one interception.

Doing some second grade math here — that leaves — hmm — three touchdowns and nine interceptions against everybody else. And that’s better than first team FCS All-America?

In 2015 Husky QB Jale Browning threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions against teams not named Sacramento State, Utah State, Oregon State and Arizona.

Kevin Cline

In 2015 Husky QB Jake Browning threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions against teams not named Sacramento State, Utah State, Oregon State or Arizona.

While it’s true that Oregon’s Dakota Prukop achieved his All-American status throwing against FCS secondaries instead of those of the FBS, he also did it throwing to FCS receivers — and not top ones at that. He also did it without the threat of Freeman & Co. keeping defenses honest.

Husky fans — and presumably ESPN — will no doubt argue that Browning was highly recruited out of high school, so he obviously has the potential. Well, Prukop was highly recruited by Alabama’s Nick Saban just last winter. But what does Saban know about football, right?

Unlike Browning, Prukop has wheels. Over the past two seasons, Prukop rushed 327 times for 1,743 yards, a healthy 5.33 yards per run. Last year Browning racked up all of 35 yards on 65 carries, which is almost exactly 1 yard per carry to every 10 for Prukop. Browning also took 30 sacks, the only category where he made the cut for top 20 in FBS football. And that’s not a good thing if you like purple.

As is the case with running backs and receivers, depth is also an issue at the QB position for the Huskies. Behind Browning, the only QB with college experience is his sophomore peer K.J. Carta-Samuels, whose career stats include 10 completions for 124 yards on 24 attempts, zero touchdowns, one interception and two sacks. Oh — and minus three yards rushing.

By the time incoming frosh Justin Herbert shows up at fall camp for Oregon, Washington’s # 2 quarterback would find himself in the # 7 position with the Ducks.

To put things in perspective, here’s a list of all of the teams that failed to score at least 21 points on Oregon’s porous defense last year:

1. Washington.

Yes, that’s the entire list. No Eastern Washington. No Colorado. Not even Oregon State.

Only … the … Huskies.

And it was no accident or “early season” learning curve. As late as November 14, the 2015 Huskies scored only 17 on Arizona State.

Husky fan shows off his Kool-Aid smile.

Kevin Cline

Husky fan shows off his Kool-Aid smile.

True, Washington finished the year with a relative offensive explosion — against the Beavers, the Falk-less Cougars who couldn’t keep their offense on the field, and Conference USA’s Southern Miss. It takes a full pitcher of grape Kool-Aid to make much of that. And Chris Petersen, more than anybody else, knows it.

So Petersen has a real problem on his hands. His offense is nowhere near what fans are being led to expect — and he has to be sweating bullets thinking about what happens if one of his top skill players goes down, because there’s not much behind curtain # 2.

At least some of the hype for this year’s Huskies revolves around Petersen’s undeniable success at Boise State. Possibly overlooked is the fact that Dan Hawkins also knocked ’em dead with the Smurf Ponies before falling on his face at Colorado. And Dirk Koetter did the same before his flop at Arizona State.

And certainly overlooked is how thin the ice is at Petersen’s over-hyped offensive skill positions.

So what happens this year when the Ducks hang # 13 in a row on the dogs, and a rising Washington State takes them down on a chilly late November afternoon in Pullman? If the Huskies don’t get their expectations in check, you can hit the Yellow Pages for marriage counselors, because the honeymoon is going to be over.

And Petersen knows it.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • It is GREAT to have you writing again Mike….so the rest of us can learn and chuckle. Your detailed research and carefully crafted prose are what makes you one of the most popular writers ever on the site–and you did it again.

    I did not know all of that about the Husky skill players and now have plenty of ammunition for my purple friends.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Mike

      Sorry to hear you have purple friends, Charles. I guess we all have our crosses to bear.

  • MarriedADuck

    Good article Mike; however, I believe you meant to say “2015” instead of “2014” for the statistical year and Gaskin not Gaston.
    Thanks for posting.

    • Mike Merrell

      Thanks, MaD —

      Got it fixed.

  • Platypus

    That was great Mike, the more i think about it the more i like the media dissing the Ducks. Some of us old guys remember all the dirty crap the fuskies have done over the years so anything that helps bring the demise to them i love…I think Charles would agree.

    • Damn right. You can never beat the Huskies enough times, or by enough points. I actually asked Bellotti to put 70 on them if he could, one year… (He didn’t)

      How unusual will it will be this year….how long has it been that Oregon is the underdog in the conference, with a chip on their shoulder?

      We are going to have some very motivated young men…

      • FishDuck

        I wish more Washington fans would see this article….and start a discussion. Easier to do when Mike has our back!

    • Mike Merrell

      The media is certainly doing its part to build up the dogs’ expectations and forecast the Ducks’ fall — all based upon a whole lot of supposition. While the Ducks had QB issues last year when Adams went down, the guys who replaced him look like Heisman candidates compared to what the dogs have for backup. And the media seems convinced that the Oregon QB situation will repeat itself this year, only worse. And they apparently believe that Oregon’s defense will be worse this year than last. How they can believe that a Washington offense that performed poorly last year will suddenly be way better than that of Oregon — which is always one of the best in the country — is almost beyond imagination. Washington’s offense issues are so obviously much more than a one-year proposition. It’s a great year for bulletin board material.

  • Ken Hannegan

    A great read! Fun to think of the win streak continuing.

  • Jon M

    Bwahaha! Mike have you ever watched football without you green feathery glasses on? Your over-joyous assessment of your own receivers as well as QB and ignorance to UW’s current and incoming talent pool renders your assessment unintelligible. To say nothing of the downward trend Oregon has been on since Kelly left warming only the coaching seat in Oregon as opposed to UW where Peterson is quite respected and has positive momentum.

    • Mike Merrell

      Sorry you are so offended by facts. Oregon’s “downward trend since Kelly left” includes a Heisman Trophy, a Rose Bowl win that ended FSU’s nearly 3-season long winning streak, a berth in the national championship game, and has only once dipped to a nine-win level — still a height that your dogs have not achieved in how many years?

      Over-joyous assessment of receivers? No. The guys are studs, as you would already know if you followed it at all.

      Over-assessment of QB? I’m not the one who awarded Prukop first team FCS All-America. I just mentioned it. I’m not the one who threw nine interceptions against three touchdowns against teams with any defense. I just mentioned it.

      You, sir, have labeled me as “unintelligible” without presenting any substance whatsoever to back your position. Your comments belong on Oregonlive, not here.

      And if you want to present yourself as the big expert on how great the dogs are, I suggest you at least spell Petersen’s name correctly.

      Congratulations on your 7-6 season last year. With the soft nonconference schedule this year, maybe you’ll go 8-5 if no one gets hurt and you get another cupcake bowl game.

      Thank you for giving us one more reason — not that we needed it — to hate the Huskies. Enjoy # 13 on October 8.

      • Platypus

        Love your response to dumbnuts jon…I know all hard core CFB fans have a tendency to let emotions rule over facts but like I always say ‘Wishful thinking is never based on reality’.

  • Fuc Lo

    Hello. UW fan. Not trolling. We are pumped for CFB.
    RBS. Gaskin did not start until the 6th game. Bear that in mind when looking at his stats. Those 7 starts had gaudy stats. Also, our systems our different. You guys have a great run system that opens things up for your backs. Pete is a pass first guy. It seemed OC Smith didnt call a run play until the season midpoint. So, when comparing his stats to your superb backs, it is not apples to apples. Gaskin is the equal of each of your superstar RBs (except maybe Freeman). We obviously lack your depth too
    WRS. This is the biggest weakness on offense. Ross would be starting anywhere in the PAC. You guys heavily recruited him. The problem is after him you will find zero proven WRs on the UW roster.
    OC. Another weakness might be our true junior OC. The jury is out on how much of UW’s offensive struggles last year were from OC Jonathan Smith – he had never been an OC anywhere at the FBS level and never coached at the Power 5 level before UW. A couple of loss are credited to his mismanagement by some.
    If the OC is growing and improving as an OC and the WRs are good enough, UW will live up to the hype. IF

    • Paul Forkner

      Gaskin is great – but I think Freeman is clearly better (at least now) and I think UO has other talent that is probably better than Gaskin.
      Agreed that WR is UW’s biggest weakness.
      Agreed to Smith at OC is probably a liability. Note that he only got a 1-year extension compared to all other assistants who got 2-year extensions. Its make or break time for him.

  • BigBallzChipper

    Great write up. Interesting thought I see our current RB commit CJ Runs like Gaskin. Although I believe the Fuskies are much improved I still think they can’t hang with us. If our defense goes back to 2012 we would kill the Pac12.

  • Carl N

    It is utterly ridiculous to compare the quality and depth of the Running Back, Receiver and Tight End positions of the Ducks to the Huskies. Yes, I understand the questions at QB. I don’t expect Prukop to be as dynamic as either Adams or Marcus. But the question about Prukop should be less about his skill, and more about his partner snapping the ball. Clearly, the Center position is one of the most critical, and difficult positions. If Greatwood can fill that role, and shore up the O-Line, I believe the Oregon offense will be as dynamic and dangerous as ever.

    This leaves the questions on the defense. I do expect the Oregon defense to be improved, especially in the secondary. But there will be a transition period. And the one thing that is assured is that the Huskies will have a very good defense.


    I have never ever believed any of the crap that comes from ESPON. Because thats exactly what it is and pretty much the same on their many TV spots with mostly stupi analysis from the likes of Skip the DIP Bayliss and Steven A Smith. They love to hate the Ducks and thats OK because they always prove their incapable minds of anything related to Football ” FACTS “

  • Paul Forkner

    Many valid points here, and I agree on the RB/WR top players being better for the Ducks. I think QB is an open question as Prukop hasn’t played an FBS snap and until he does, I’m not assuming he’s the next VA.

    But I think you’re hope/belief that Petersen is or will be very soon on the “hot seat” is overblown. The new AD will have his back for awhile, even if Huskies lose to UO and WSU this year, which is quite likely. And I think you’re missing that UW fans are well aware of how coaching changes usually have a deferred payoff. Many if not most UW fans believe Petersen is one of if not the best coach that UW can get – many if not most would ask, who would we get that we like better? Also – recruiting is currently going well and that is an argument that keeps a coach protected, even when the rebuilding is taking longer than expected.

    I think your analysis of the positions is fair and insightful – but I think his seat will warm slower than you think or hope, even if this year is a disappointment compared to expectations.

    • Mike Merrell

      Paul —

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Do I seriously believe (or even hope) that Petersen will be on the hot seat by the end of this football season? No.

      If you knew me, you would at least suspect that this article is a response to those who are carrying on about how this year’s Huskies are a team of destiny, and how the Ducks are headed toward the toilet. There’s not a better example out there — that I know of — than ESPN proclaiming that UW has vastly superior skill position players than Oregon (2nd in Pac-12 vs. 6th).

      UW’s Gaskin is a damn good running back. But Oregon has four guys who are arguably as good or better. Ross is praised for his speed, but neither his speed nor his career stats measure up to Devon Allen, who is now sprinting for Team USA in the Olympics. And Allen isn’t even in the starting lineup for the Ducks.

      QB is admittedly a question mark for Oregon — but it is for the Huskies as well. To the extent that Browning shined in 2015, it was only against lower tier competition. Yet for some reason he is deemed destined to rise to the occasion, when an FCS first-team All-American and a coveted redshirt freshman are deemed destined to falter for the Ducks.

      At the root of it all — and this is why I chose to focus on the “fragility” of Petersen’s tenure — is the disrespect that ESPN, along with many others, has shown toward the Oregon coaching staff, Helfrich has produced a Heisman, a big Rose Bowl win and a trip to the NCG, and the pundits are showing no confidence. Steve Greatwood and Gary Campbell have produced the top running game in the conference for God knows how many years in a row.

      Matt Lubick was named the 2012 receivers coach of the year nationally. David Yost developed great quarterbacks as offensive coordinator at Missouri and coached up a talented group of receivers at Wazoo. Oregon quarterbacks have led the nation in passing efficiency for two years in a row now. Unlike the past few years, Oregon is more than one deep at the position in 2016. And there’s no confidence in the coaching?

      Some people think it’s okay to talk about Helfrich being on the hot seat, because the Ducks “only” won nine games in an injury-plagued 2015 season. The justification is that Helfrich owes all of his success to Chip Kelly — which is absolutely ridiculous to start with, and even more so when you consider the average rate of success of coaches following legends.

      My point here is that Oregon isn’t just loaded at running back and receiver — though they are probably top 5 nationally at both groups. The Oregon coaches have seen the need and have developed depth at QB. Honestly, Browning (and Gaskin and Ross, for that matter) would have to compete for playing time — and be lucky to get it — against what Oregon has this year.

      Then there’s the X factor. Oregon is loaded at the most important position on the team — coaching staff. And they’re not getting the respect they deserve. So I bounce a little of the disrespect off the wall back toward Petersen, whose offense is unfathomably deemed to be better than Oregon’s by people who should know better. And this in a year that Oregon is probably more loaded offensively than it has ever been!

      That is true disrespect — and disregard — for the resumes of the Oregon coaching staff. So, in my mind, a little turnabout is fair play.

      I will leave you with one final statistic. The last time Oregon fired a head football coach was 1976 — forty years ago. In the mean time, the Huskies have fired (or received dishonorable resignations from) five head football coaches. And this doesn’t count Steve Sarkisian, who was certainly on borrowed time. Obviously, what can go wrong has more of a tendency to go wrong when you cross the Columbia headed north.

      • Paul Forkner

        I’m not a Duck, and haven’t really paid attention to Duck coaches getting dissed or not, to be honest. For all I know, your observation is valid. I took your article to be about Petersen on the hot seat, in keeping with the headline.

        The stat about turnover in Seattle is relevant, IMO, but my sense is Husky fans and the new AD see how the turnover has worked out since James left. It hasn’t worked out. Which I think Jen Cohen is well aware of. But sure, there has been turnover at the HC, so past behavior may be most predictor of the future. I read a fair amount of Husky boards and my sense, though, is that fans will be patient with Petersen, in part because they remember how turnover has not served UW well.

        I appreciate that you use real data to make your points. Kind of refreshing in this Internet age of thin analysis. But I do wonder why you think people refer to Helfrich and hot seat in the same sentence, even with many great successes during his HC tenure? Obviously expectations have grown significantly since Chip came on board – and that may be the only reason.

        But when I look at both coaches, I think Petersen could literally go 6-6 this year and wouldn’t get fired. Why? Because we know how long it takes to get things going again when a staff leaves and new one comes in. There isn’t an assistant in the system now who could do the job. For Helfrich, how many losses could he absorb this year and retain his job? Say QB play doesn’t come together and the D is mediocre at best, and they go 8-4. My Duck fan boss thinks he’d be gone, and could even be gone with 9-3. So does another Duck fan friend. I’ll assume you’re more knowledgeable about the program than they – but to me the odds of Petersen losing enough games to get canned this year are more remote than Helfrich, or aren’t less remote. Do I think UO will go 8-4 – no. But I didn’t think they’d go 9-4 last year, either.

        Based strictly on throwing the ball, I think Browning would compare well to the QB’s in Eugene. He has numbers not far off Rosen’s last year, and Pro Football Focus had him as their top Frosh QB last year, over Rosen. He had the 2nd highest completion % of any frosh in the country, at 74.6%. Not a bad percentage for any QB. They played 9 P-12 games, didn’t get the benefit of playing CO,and played Boise State on the road. Sagarin had their SOS at #29 through all games played, so not sure it was as easy a schedule as you’ve suggested. I’m not saying he’d start – he’s not a dual threat guy and I think (though VA was an exception) that would be a leg up for Prukop and Jonsen over Browning. But I think he’d match up pretty well.

        I can’t say much about the guys behind Freeman – I think Freeman is more talented and will be more productive than Gaskin – I’ve only watched the others play a few times, but certainly there is some serious speed there. There is no comparison really between the backfields – while Gaskin is great, no one else is a top back. Incoming frosh Sean McGrew will probably get PT as a result, and he could make some noise. But the RB group tilts pretty heavily toward UO.

        I may have to visit here again. Enjoy the season!

        • Mike Merrell

          Paul —

          Thanks for visiting and commenting. You are putting some serious dents in my ability to hate all things Husky.

          While there are no doubt fans who would fire Helfrich for only going 9-4 last year, I’m quite certain that the A.D. and those who donate the serious money are not among them. The Oregon athletic department has shown pretty cool heads over the years.

          Forgotten in all of the “Chip Kelly is God” talk is the mess that he left Helfrich to deal with. Recruiting suffered for 3 – 4 years because of Kelly’s wavering over going to the NFL, the threat of serious sanctions due to the Willie Lyles incident and the reduced number of official visits that the NCAA handed down because of Kelly/Lyles. Only most recently has all of this passed under the bridge. Helfrich has done a fantastic job working around all of this, and the A. D. knows it.

          Petersen certainly has to be a breath of fresh air for the UW program after Neuheisel and Sarkisian (among others). Outside of Jim Mora, the Pac-12 is desperately short on coaches that you’ve just got to love to hate. It’s sad, in a way. Sarkisian, Stoops, Price, Erickson, Neuheisel (and no doubt Kelly for many) — boy, those were the days!

          Realistically, the chances of either Petersen or Helfrich being on the hot seat after this season are pretty low. I think that one of the things this season will bear out, though, is that Helfrich’s squad is going to do much, much better than the national pundits expect. There were a few weak spots on the coaching staff last year, and it certainly appears that Helfrich has addressed them. Yost and Hoke are great additions.

        • Paul…you are really going to spoil my fun. You see many of us Oregon fans LOVE to hate the Husky fans, and that is justified with sample that we usually run into. However, you are an exceptional fan and representative of Washington who writes a reasonable opinion quite well.

          We like thoughtful discussion here, and would encourage to join us anytime.

          (OK…I am looking at the sky trying to find the pigs, because for the first time in the history of the site–I enjoyed reading the take of a Husky fan and invited him back? My congrats to Paul, and best wishes in his season with one exception.)

      • Paul Forkner

        Mike – and to be clear, I’m in the “wait and see” camp when it comes to the 2016 Huskies. As a Husky fan, I really wish they were NOT so hyped.


    We may even be better on Defense and finally a guy who will bring out the beast in the talent thats been accumilated on that side the last 6 years.

  • Paul Forkner

    Just revisited my comments below after seeing a very old notification alert.

    I’m struck by how the season has turned out so far after 10 weeks of play compared to what many of us predicted.

    -Freeman hasn’t been the force we expected (injuries and O Line inexperience have played a big part, and lack of momentum for team as a whole, IMO)
    -No 13th straight against UW, and got blown out
    -Huskies at 9-0; who really thought that would happen; media hyped them, but few if any expected 9-0
    -Ducks at 3-6 and almost out of bowl contention; didn’t many think they’d be in P12 title game
    -Helfrich hot seat talk nonstop for the past month

    I guess it just shows predictions are hard.