TheWolverine.com caught up with Sports Illustrated Washington insider Dan Raley to gather some insight on the Huskies ahead of their game with the Michigan Wolverines Saturday (Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC).
Raley discussed the team’s 13-7 loss to Montana in Week 1, the strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball and gave his final score prediction.
Washington’s Projected Starters On Offense
• Redshirt freshman QB Dylan Morris — He completed 58.7 percent of his passes (27 of 46) for 226 yards and three interceptions, while rushing for a one-yard touchdown, in the opener. In 2020, he connected on 61 percent of his throws for 897 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions in four contests, while adding two scores on the ground.
• Sophomore RB Richard Newton — The Doak Walker Award (country’s top running back) preseason watch list honoree rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries against Montana, and caught three passes for 23 yards.
• Freshman WR Rome Odunze — He missed the opener with an injury and is questionable for this week’s contest. In four games last season, he caught six passes for 72 yards.
• Redshirt freshman WR Taj Davis — He notched six receptions for 59 yards against Montana, after opting out of the 2020 campaign and redshirting in 2019.
• Junior TE Cade Otton — The preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honoree led the Huskies in receiving against the Grizzlies, hauling in eight catches for 82 yards with a long of 25 yards. For his career, he’s racked up 71 receptions for 858 yards and eight touchdowns.
• Sophomore TE Devin Culp — He posted one reception for five yards in the opener and graded out a measly 47.2 on PFF.
• Junior LT Jaxson Kirkland — The preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selection posted the highest PFF grade on the offense against Montana (74.0), while also topping the team in pass blocking (79.0). He has given up just two sacks in his entire career, which has spanned 496 pass-blocking snaps.
• Redshirt freshman LG Julius Buelow — He made the first start of his career against Montana, and graded out with a PFF mark of 50.8, which ranked 13th on the offense.
• Senior C Luke Wattenberg — A member of the Rimington Trophy (best center in the nation) watch list, he has started 36 career games and appeared in 43. His PFF grade of 58.2 last week slotted eighth on the offense.
• Redshirt freshman RG Nate Kalepo — He did not start the opener, but entered in relief duty and concluded the contest, posting a PFF rating of 62.2, which ranked sixth on the unit, and a run-blocking mark of 66.3, which checked in at fourth.
• Sophomore RT Victor Curne — The second-year starter earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod last season. His PFF mark of 70.9 against Montana came in fourth on the offense, while his run-blocking grade of 70.3 ranked second.
Washington’s Projected Starters On Defense
• Sophomore DT Tuli Letuligasenoa — He notched four tackles, including one stop for loss, one hurry and one hit on the quarterback against Montana.
• Freshman defensive tackle Kuao Peihopa — He did not start last game but replaced the struggling sophomore Sam Taimani, and is expected to get the starting nod this week according to Raley. He made one pressure on the quarterback and registered no official stats in six snaps. Several players rotated at this position last week.
• Senior OLB Ryan Bowman — The 2019 second-team All-Pac-12 standout played 40 snaps against the Grizzlies and made six tackles, but graded out on PFF at a below-average 57.4, which ranked 19th on the unit.
• Freshman OLB Cooper McDonald — He made the first start of his career last week, finishing with two tackles, including a sack, and posting a PFF mark of 65.8 (seventh on the defense).
• Sophomore LB Edefuan Ulofoshio — The preseason first-team All-American according to PFF had five tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, and a pass breakup in the opener. His PFF grade was 49.9, which ranked 22nd (out of 23) on the unit. Throughout his career, he’s accumulated 101 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, four sacks, five pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
• Sophomore LB Jackson Sirmon — He finished with a team-high nine tackles in the opener, including a half-tackle for loss. His PFF run defense rating of 79.1 led all Huskies.
• Sophomore CB Trent McDuffie — The preseason third-team All-American (PFF, Phil Steele) made two tackles and two pass breakups versus Montana. According to PFF, he was targeted four times and yielded just one reception for 14 yards.
• Sophomore CB Kyler Gordon — He has received All-Pac-12 honorable mention nods each of the last two seasons. He finished the Montana game with seven tackles, including one for loss, and gave up two receptions for 22 yards on three targets.
• Junior NB Brendan Radley-Hiles — The Oklahoma transfer notched two tackles and a pass breakup in the opener. He started 32 games with the Sooners from 2018-20. During his college career, he has amassed 117 tackles, nine stops for loss, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups.
• Sophomore S Cameron Williams — He did not start against the Grizzlies but played the most at the spot, notching two tackles, and has opened seven games in his career.
• Redshirt freshman S Kamren Fabiculanan — He made the first start of his career in the season-opener, finishing with one tackle.
Top Strength Of Washington’s Offense
While it was a poor showing last week, with the Huskies mustering only four yards per play, 65 rushing yards on 27 attempts and 291 total yards, Raley insists the strength of the team’s offense is in the trenches.
“The Huskies return all five offensive line starters from last season, forming the largest O-line in school history,” the write said. “Those guys averaged 6-foot-5 and 323 pounds per player.
“However, the coaching staff began to tinker with it and replaced one of the guards before the opener, 6-foot-6, 355-pound sophomore Ulumoo Ale with 6-foot-8, 330-pound redshirt freshman Julius Buelow.
“Left tackle Jaxson Kirkland is a returning first-team All-Pac-12 pick, four-year starter and projected high draft pick. Center Luke Wattenberg is a sixth-year player and, believe it or not, a fifth-year starter on the O-line, previously playing tackle and guard. That said, they inexplicably tanked it against Montana.”
Biggest Weakness Of Washington’s Offense
Coaches often say, “Your best ability is availability,” and on the basis of that, the Huskies’ biggest current weakness on offense revolves around the lack of numbers at wide receiver.
“Washington could be down four scholarship wide receivers for the Michigan game, all starters at one time — [freshman] Rome Odunze, [freshman] Jalen McMillan and [junior] Terrell Bynum each sat out the Montana opener with injuries, while [freshman] Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk caught a 13-yard pass on the first play of last weekend’s game, suffered a chest injury and had emergency surgery,” Raley said.
“That leaves four scholarship wideouts in [sophomore] Michigan transfer Giles Jackson, who could start in his Ann Arbor return; [redshirt freshman] Taj Davis, who started for the first time against Montana; [freshman] Sawyer Racanelli, who has never started; and new freshman Jabez Tinae, who was in street clothes during the Montana game. It doesn’t get much thinner than that in a position group for a Power Five team.”
Top Strength Of Washington’s Defense
Michigan’s passing game was efficient and effective last week, finishing 13-of-17 passing for 216 yards and three touchdowns. But the competition is much stiffer this week, with the Huskies possessing a duo of corners who are considered elite.
“[Sophomore] cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon are two of the three fastest guys on the team, along with [wideout] Giles Jackson, all running 4.4-second 40s,” Raley revealed. “McDuffie is the next in a long line of NFL-bound UW defensive backs, supposedly as good as Budda Baker, Taylor Rapp, Kevin King, Elijah Molden, Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters, who are all in the pros. He’s a lockdown corner. Gordon is freakishly athletic. Teams attack the Husky safeties, not these guys.”
Biggest Weakness Of Washington’s Defense
While the back end is the strength, the front line is the weakness, Raley noted. The Huskies notched just one sack against FCS-level Montana, but they were able to control the Grizzlies’ rushing attack, allowing them to gain just 3.7 yards per carry.
“The defensive front [is the squad’s biggest weakness on that side of the ball],” Raley opined. “The Huskies served up a lot of rushing yards last year, forcing them to use a three-man front as much as a two-man alignment.
“[Sophomore defensive tackle] Tuli Letuligasenoa is supposed to be the big stopper, but he hasn’t done it yet. He plays next to [sophomore Sam] ‘Taki’ Taimani, who was swapped out for three other guys against Montana. They had a combined one tackle for loss, no sacks and not much pressure. It’s a big problem area.”
Raley’s Final Score Prediction
“The Huskies have major offensive problems,” Raley explained. “They weren’t physical against their version of App State, which was incredible. There is a lot of talent on the roster, but no one likes the offensive approach [five wide receivers left via the transfer portal] and this team is not going to fix much in one week. They’re even traveling on Thursday, taking away a home practice day. “
Prediction: Michigan 24, Washington 14
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