Next season was already going to be something of a rebuild for Washington’s offense.
The Huskies were in line to potentially lose up to five starters and valuable running back Lavon Coleman.
Add Jonathan Smith to UW’s list of departing personnel. Smith, who was the team’s co-offensive coordinator for four seasons, was announced as the Oregon State head coach on Wednesday. He’s expected to sign a five-year contract and be introduced later this week.
An Oregon State alum, Smith’s first game against UW will come Nov. 17 when the Beavers travel to Husky Stadium.
By that point, it’s possible Smith could see a slightly different offense than the one he orchestrated.
UW is losing starters in tight end Will Dissly, offensive lineman Andrew Kirkland, receiver Dante Pettis and center Coleman Shelton to graduation. Kirkland’s loss could be softened by the return of star junior left tackle Trey Adams, who missed the second half of the year after tearing his knee in a loss at Arizona State.
It’s also possible the Huskies could lose junior tailback Myles Gaskin to the NFL Draft. Gaskin has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. The school’s career leader in touchdowns, he’s ran for 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Those who feel Gaskin is gone after this season can point to the fact his numbers are comparable to that of Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and better than Penn State star Saquon Barkley. For those who feel he should stay for another season, they can cite the WalterFootball.com evaluation that he’s the No. 19 running back in this draft class.
As for Smith’s replacement, the Huskies could turn to receivers coach Matt Lubick. He’s completing his first season at UW after spending the last few seasons at Oregon.
Lubick was the Ducks’ passing game coordinator from 2013-15 and was the team’s offensive coordinator in 2016. Oregon averaged 35.4 points in his lone season as an offensive coordinator.
The Huskies could also make a run at Utah offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Troy Taylor. Taylor, who was the co-offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington in 2016, was Jake Browning’s coach at Folsom High in Northern California.
Under Taylor, Browning set numerous state records and became the first high school quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons.
Whoever is hired to replace Smith is tasked with keeping UW among the nation’s best offenses.
In 2016, everything came together. Led by Browning, UW finished eighth in scoring offense by averaging 41.8 points per game. The Huskies scored 76 touchdowns, which was tied for fourth out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, en route to reaching the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Smith’s final season was still prolific but it came with challenges. UW ended the 2017 regular season ranked 15th with 58 TDs and 18th in scoring (37.5).
He did come under some fire from fans after UW’s 13-7 loss to Arizona State on Oct. 14. Browning threw for a what was then a season-low 139 yards while Gaskin only ran for 67 yards.
Although UW would bounce back to score more points in the second half of the season, Smith had to get creative.
The Huskies, because of injuries, struggled to find a No. 2 receiver. UW lost junior receiver Chico McClatcher to a season-ending ankle injury, emerging freshman tight end Hunter Bryant to an indefinite leg injury and sophomore Quinten Pounds to a knee injury.
Bryant, McClatcher and Pounds are expected to return next year.
Figuring out a solution for the running game could be a bit more difficult should Gaskin leave. If so, it would leave freshman Salvon Ahmed as the team’s most experienced running back.
Ahmed has impressed in limited situations and has rushed 60 times for 387 yards. UW has four more running backs on the roster, who’ve all combined for 78 career yards.
The Huskies recently received a commitment from three-star running back Richard Newton. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, it’s possible Newton could replace Coleman as the team’s physical back and work in tandem with Ahmed.
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark