Is Washington a legitimate playoff contender?
The Huskies currently sit at 6-0 and No. 1 in the North Division. Can they keep it up and make a real run at the College Football Playoff?
Is Washington a legitimate playoff contender?
We’ve all witnessed a power shift in the Pac-12 in the last two weeks, as the Washington Huskies dominated the Stanford Cardinal and the Oregon Ducks — two teams who have owned the division in recent history. Let’s take a look at the numbers to see why Washington is a legitimate playoff contender this season and why their success should continue for the foreseeable future.
Sophomore QB Jake Browning leads a talented Huskies’ offense
The Huskies’ quarterback Jake Browning has been playing at a high level since he stepped on campus as a freshman. Browning’s play last season earned him the QB spot on Steve Palazzolo’s all-freshman team and he’ only elevated his high level of play as a sophomore. Browning is highly accurate and his adjusted completion percentage of 77.3 ranks No. 5 in the country and his PFF QB rating of 116.73 is tops in FBS.
Browning can throw with accuracy to all levels but his deep ball is tremendous this year, as it looks like he spent time working on it during the offseason. His deep passing (passes targeted 20+ yards downfield) accuracy percentage of 55.2 ranks eighth in FBS. Browning’s deep connections with John Ross are a thing of football beauty and Browning’s QB rating when targeting John Ross is 147.5 — the fourth-highest mark in the country.
Browning showed last season that he doesn’t get rattled under pressure and that he plays like a much more seasoned player when under duress, as his 66.7 adjusted completion percentage when under pressure ranks No. 2 among returning FBS quarterbacks in 2015. This year Browning’s 68.6 adjusted completion percentage under pressure ranks 11th in FBS but shows that he’s only getting better with experience.
The Huskies also have talent at all of the skill positions. Running back Myles Gaskin is still an elusive and productive running back as a sophomore. Gaskin has forced 18 missed tackles so far this season and is averaging 2.84 yards after contact per attempt.
Wide receiver John Ross is an NFL-caliber slot receiver and kick returner (that can play defense as well) that is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Thus far in 2016, Ross has touched the ball 34 times on offense and scored 10 touchdowns. That type of touch-to-touchdown ratio is otherworldly, and comparable only to Huskies’ John Ross, who had 24 offensive touches and scored five touchdowns. Fellow wide receivers Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher along with tight end Darrell Daniels are all performing well and give the Huskies one of the better pass catching units in the country.
Huskies defense has NFL-caliber players on all three levels
The Huskies defense is one of the better units in the nation and has NFL-caliber players at all three levels. Their recent defensive dominance starts up front with their three-headed monster at defensive tackle as the run defense grades of Greg Gaines, Elijah Qualls and Vita Vea rank No.2, No.9 and No. 42 respectively among FBS defensive tackles. The Huskies have been so dominant on the defensive line that only two opposing offensive linemen have graded positively against them all year (Rutgers OT Tariq Cole in Week 1 and Oregon C Jake Hanson in Week 6). As pass-rushers the trio is equally as impressive with their pass rushing productivity ratings as Vea ranks No. 4, Gaines No. 15 and Qualls No. 32 among all FBS defensive interior linemen.
The Huskies also have an edge-rush presence as Joe Mathis’s 18.0 pass rushing productivity rating ranks him No. 6 in FBS among all edge defenders. Linebacker Psalm Wooching leads the team with five sacks and provides another edge-rush presence.
The Huskies off-the-ball linebackers are “do it all”-type players and some of the best in the country at pressuring the quarterback. Keishawn Bierria ranks No.1 and Azeem Victor ranks No.4 in pass rushing productivity among all FBS inside linebackers as both players have been able to disrupt numerous plays even though they haven’t registered sacks as of yet.
The Huskies secondary is also filled with future NFL players and one of the best units in the country. Cornerback Sidney Jones is one of the top cover corners in the nation and is only allowing one catch per every 40.8 snaps in coverage — a mark that ranks No. 1 in the Power-5 and No.2 in all of FBS. Opposing quarterbacks like to shy away from throwing at Jones as he has only been thrown at 9 times all year, allowing four catches for 20 yards and intercepting one pass. Opposing quarterbacks have a 12.0 QB rating when targeting Jones. Safety Budda Baker is a playmaker who can impact every game both as a coverage defender and a run stopper. Baker’s 9.1 run stop percentage ranks No.16 among Power-5 safeties.
Head coach Chris Petersen has shown in the past that he can build and maintain a consistently winning program and his time in Washington is only re-affirming this ability. The Huskies got considerable production and experience out of freshmen and sophomores last year so they are now a roster of seasoned juniors and sophomores this year. The Huskies will likely be an even better team in 2017, but that doesn’t take away from the present 2016 team that is the most complete and dominant team in the Pac-12 — and a legitimate playoff contender.