Washington Football Offensive Preview

This is a Washington team with a lot of turnover from last year. Who knows what we can expect on offense?

Welcome back to the start of the 2020 season. This is probably the hardest offensive preview I’ve had to write, with no out-of-conference games or spring games to preview like usual. This is a very strange season all around, and who knows how the season will play out with all this (gesticulates wildly) going on these days. There’s a lot of uncertainty with Washington’s offense, as they’ve lost a lot of their starters from last year, in particular now-Indianapolis Colts QB Jacob Eason. This looks to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for Washington, and it will likely be due to inexperience on the offense. Washington has also been keeping things hush-hush in regards to their depth chart, so it’s a bit of a guessing game as to who’s even going to play here. Let’s also not forget that the season opener will be (former UW defensive coordinator) Jimmy Lake’s debut at head coach, after the departure of Chris Petersen.

Quarterbacks

Speaking of uncertainty, Washington has yet to even announce a starter at quarterback. There’s 4 quarterbacks on the roster, and UW’s official depth chart lists them all as possible starters: Sacramento State grad transfer Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris, and true freshman Ethan Garbers. If that last name looks familiar, it’s because he has a heated sibling rivalry with Chase Garbers. From the assortment of quarterbacks, we can see that Washington is probably planning to run a pro-style offense. Thomson is the quarterback with the most experience after three years starting at FCS Sacramento State, and Sirmon the only other quarterback on the roster with in-game experience (but almost all of that was garbage-time duty, and a new playbook this year likely doesn’t do him any favors). I saw Kevin Thomson play exactly once before—Sacramento State’s game last year against Arizona State—and I came away extremely unimpressed. ASU was doing their best to choke away the game, and despite opportunity after opportunity given to them by their defense, it was the deficiency at quarterback that prevented them from pulling the upset. Thomson struggled with decision-making and accuracy, even on throws not made under pressure (pass rush pressure, anyway, as there was plenty of in-game pressure as it went back-and-forth the entire time). If Thomson does win the starting job as expected, I anticipate it’s because of leadership and experience running an offense, as his backups are likely more talented and have a higher ceiling.

It’s hard to get a good read on Jacob Sirmon as well, only seeing him play in garbage time. He never threatened Eason for the starting job, but it’s unlikely many current quarterbacks can. However, if he’s sitting behind Thomson, it’s tough to imagine he’s made any big leaps from last season.

I am sure Ethan Garbers will be begging for playing time opposite his brother on Saturday, but it’s likely that the highly-rated recruit needs more time to develop before he’s ready to compete with his much smarter and handsomer older brother. Still, perhaps the coaches will give him some playing time in this game just to make him happy.

It’s also entirely plausible that Washington hasn’t even decided on their starting quarterback, and they may even look to 2014 Cal for inspiration— when Northwestern’s coach Pat Fitzgerald correctly credited Cal bloggers for their loss, as Northwestern was entirely unprepared for the 2 QB game plan (Goff’s arm and Rubenzer’s legs), after Cal bloggers failed to report on these developments from private practices. For shame.

This is hands-down the worst quarterback preview I’ve ever written, but if there is anyone out there who has any idea what to expect from the UW QB, they’re at least smart enough not to report on it through blogs we can read.

Running backs

Finally, some names I know. Richard Newton projects to be the starter at running back, as the offensive coaching staff showed a lot of trust in the now-sophomore running back. He’s their most versatile back, possessing a nice blend of both size and speed, and he took a lot of snaps from the wildcat for UW in critical yardage situations as a freshman.

Sean McGrew, on the other hand, is the undersized running back—he’s listed at 5’7” 175 lbs.—but he doesn’t play like it. Although he’s very quick and elusive, he’s not afraid of contact, and I often saw him run directly at and through tacklers. McGrew takes a lot of pitches out of the backfield as a way to help him get the ball in open space, and he’s also a receiving threat.

Officially, senior Kamari Pleasant was listed as UW’s starting running back, although he has been buried on the depth chart in previous years behind talented running backs such as Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and the two younger backs above. Pleasant’s best career game was actually against Cal in 2018 (the beautiful disaster of defenses trumping offenses in Cal’s 12-10 upset— Weaver Pick-6, anyone?), when he ran for 62 yards on 12 carries. He’s actually the biggest running back of the three, but listing him as the starter seems a bit like misdirection, as it’s doubtful he’s taken such huge strides to earn the starting job after three years as the #3 or #4 RB.

Given the strength of the running backs on the roster relative to their new quarterback, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a run-heavy attack from Washington, with their pro-style QB making a lot of short-to-intermediate level throws, and finding ways to get their RB the ball in space— e.g. jet sweeps, pitching the ball out wide, flat routes, etc.

Receivers

Wide receiver Terrell Bynum had his break out late last season, quickly becoming one of QB Jacob Eason’s top targets after rarely seeing the field in the first half of it. This ultimately led him to be UW’s top receiver in their Las Vegas Bowl matchup against Boise State:

A big reason for that? Well, he was the most reliable receiver on a team filled with talented receivers. On a team often frustrated by wide receiver drops, Bynum was as sure-handed as they come. He’s also a great route runner and possesses a nice burst of speed:

The other top target will likely be WR Ty Jones, who missed most of the 2019 season with a hand injury. Before that, however, he was a top red zone target for QB Jake Browning, with 6 of his 28 catches going for touchdowns.

Another talented receiver making waves last year was Puka Nacua (brother of Utah WR Samson Nacua), who made some impressive catches before he also suffered a season-ending injury (broken foot).

Last, but certainly not least, is the tight end Cade Otton. He was stuck behind now NFL TE Hunter Bryant, but he showed some nice blocking skills and sure hands, and so he’s sure to take some big leaps forward this year as the starter.

Washington has one of the top receiving groups in the Pac-12, which will be sure to help out whoever their quarterback ends up being.

Conclusion

This is an offense with some very good running backs, some very talented young receivers, and a big fat question mark at quarterback. Last year we knew the gunslinger from Georgia, Jacob Eason, would elevate the play of the rest of the team; this year we’ll likely see the opposite. I’d expect a run-heavy offense, receivers looking for yards after the catch, and not a lot of dangerous throws from the new quarterback. I would expect Cal’s linebackers to face a bigger test than the secondary, so hopefully we get an idea of how Cal will adjust to the loss of NCAA’s top tackler Evan Weaver.

Go Bears!