Washington went 8–5 last season and was considered one of the nation’s more disappointing teams. Rebuilding the defense was a bigger task than anticipated. Then Chris Petersen stepped down as coach, claiming burnout. Quarterback Jacob Eason and others departed early, seeking NFL riches.
It’s up to Jimmy Lake, Petersen’s in-house replacement and the team’s former defensive coordinator, to pull the Huskies together. He’s promised to increase the program’s overall intensity level and has vowed to bring more of a free-wheeling style of play.
Lake’s defense returns seven starters, including two first-team All-Pac-12 selections in cornerback Elijah Molden and defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, and it should be the Huskies’ strength this season.
The biggest challenge will be finding a quarterback from a handful of candidates who watched Eason take nearly all snaps in 2019. Lake has to hustle, too — he and the Huskies open the season at home against Michigan.
Previewing Washington's Offense for 2020
It’s fairly simple for this team: Quarterback play will make or break it. The Huskies will first turn to sophomore Jacob Sirmon, Eason’s backup and a 6'5", 234-pound signal caller whose cousin Jackson is a UW linebacker and uncle Peter is the Cal defensive coordinator. Family history is one thing, but Sirmon doesn’t have much of a game sample, making five brief appearances and throwing three passes. Dylan Morris, a redshirt freshman who has yet to appear in a game, is the alternative. Neither will match Eason’s arm strength.
Washington returns just four offensive starters overall, but finding a new tailback and rebuilding the line should be seamless with talented players available. Sophomore Richard Newton, a physical runner, takes over at tailback after coming off the bench to score 11 touchdowns (10 rushing) in 10 games in his first season.
A two-year starter, 6'7", 323-pound junior Jaxson Kirkland is one of two returnees on the O-line and brings star quality. He moves to left tackle from right guard. He’ll line up next to 6'5", 300-pound left guard Luke Wattenberg, a three-year starter. Guess which side the Huskies will run to the most? At center, 6'2", 312-pound freshman Myles Murao, one of the more heralded recruits, could claim a starting job right away.
The Huskies need a go-to receiver to step up and make the new QB’s life easier. Wide receiver Puka Nacua — who started three games as a freshman, scored on his first career catch and went out with a broken foot — should be that guy if he can stay on the field. Juniors Terrell Bynum and Ty Jones both have 31-catch seasons on their résumés. Junior tight end Cade Otton, another honors candidate and a 23-game starter with 45 career receptions, is one of the league’s best.
Previewing Washington's Defense for 2020
The Huskies went with 10 new defensive starters in 2019, and it showed at times. A freshmen-heavy secondary got victimized late in games, and inside linebacker speed was lacking. As painful as that was, the Huskies have the reverse situation now with a veteran unit that looked dominant against Washington State and Boise State to close out last season.
Molden topped the Huskies in tackles with 79 and interceptions with four, and he earned Las Vegas Bowl MVP and all-conference honors. Tough and opportunistic, he’s one of the league’s elite players. Onwuzurike gets great leverage and is so active that he even blocked a punt.
Safeties Cam Williams and Asa Turner and corners Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon each earned starts as freshmen, and all except Turner earned some kind of all-conference recognition. They’ll team with senior corner Keith Taylor, who’s played in 39 games. This group should supply lockdown pass coverage.
Up front, Onwuzurike teams with senior DT Josiah Bronson. Manning the edges are senior Ryan Bowman and junior Joe Tryon, with the latter running exceedingly well for carrying a 6'5", 262-pound frame. Tryon and Bowman combined for 13.5 sacks, and both earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The inside linebacker corps was a decided weakness until walk-on Edefuan Ulofoshio worked his way into the starting lineup for three games, was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against Oregon State and received a scholarship for his sophomore season. That other Sirmon, Jackson, will step into the starting job next to Ulofoshio.
Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2020
Washington has a pair of placekickers on scholarship in junior Peyton Henry and sophomore Tim Horn. Horn was supposed to supplant Henry, but the veteran made 19-of-21 field-goal tries, leaving Horn and his bigger leg to handle kickoffs only for now. The Huskies brought in Triston Brown, considered the nation’s No. 1 junior college punter.
The Huskies have a new coach, a new quarterback and a new outlook to go with a lot of returning pieces. However, Lake’s first team plays a brutal schedule. Besides hosting Michigan, UW travels to Oregon, Utah, USC, and Washington State. Relying on defense, this squad should expect no more than a slight upgrade, maybe nine wins instead of eight.
National Ranking: 34
(Top photo by Sean Brown/CSM via AP)