There might seem to be little to criticize about the Washington Huskies’ offense after they scored 59 points and rushed for 356 yards in last week’s victory over Eastern Washington.
But it’s telling that quarterback Cyler Miles, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and coach Chris Petersen all reached the same conclusion when asked to evaluate the offense’s performance.
“We’ve got to throw the ball better,” Miles said postgame (he was not made available to reporters this week). “I’ve got to make a couple better throws, better decisions.”
Said Smith: “We feel like the passing game’s not quite where we want it.”
And Petersen, on Thursday: “We need to be able the throw the ball a little bit more than we did.”
It’s not that Miles was bad in his first start of the season. The third-year sophomore was 14-of-24 passing (short ones, mostly) for 180 yards and a touchdown, didn’t turn the ball over, was not sacked, and carried 12 times for 58 yards and three touchdowns.
All told, it was a fine season debut. But the Huskies know they aren’t going to be able to rush for 6.2 yards per carry against every team they play (though Saturday’s opponent, Illinois, was one of the worst defensive teams in the country a year ago). So Miles’ progression as a passer will be key as UW gears up for the Pac-12 portion of its schedule.
For one, Petersen would like to see Miles hang in the pocket a little longer on passing plays. There were a couple of occasions against EWU in which Miles, an adept runner, dropped back to pass before running for a decent gain, but had a receiver open and could have completed a pass that would have gained more yards than his scramble.
“That’s always a fine line with a guy that can run a little bit, to hang in there, hit a checkdown, or should I get out and get some yards with my legs?” Petersen said. “And I think a guy that’s athletic, that can be a lot harder than a guy that knows that’s not his deal. So a real fine line there, and that’s going to be part of his maturation as a passer in the pocket is to know when to hang in and when to get out.”
The passing game goes hand in hand, of course, with the Huskies’ effort to get the ball to proven playmakers such as sophomore receiver John Ross and senior receiver Kasen Williams.
Ross, who in May ran a hand-timed 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash, has caught four passes this season. Two of them resulted in touchdowns, the first a 91-yard toss from Jeff Lindquist, the second a 55-yard catch-and-run last week from Miles. Ross also scored on a 20-yard run off a reverse in the Huskies’ opener at Hawaii.
Good things happen when he touches the ball. And while getting him involved wasn’t necessarily a priority last week with the Huskies essentially running the ball at will against EWU, Smith knows how much Ross’ speed can add to UW’s offense.
“But that’s a piece of our ability to run the ball,” Smith said. “When they know John’s sitting over here, they’ve got to have some answers. They go hand in hand. If we’re scoring, we’re feeling OK, whoever’s doing it.
“He’s on our radar. We’re still working to get him some touches.”
And still working, as a whole, on establishing the passing game as a true threat.
“I think there were some times (last week) where it’s not like Eastern wasn’t lined up properly,” Smith said. “Sometimes our athlete was just a little bit better at that spot, and so we’ve got to look at it — and we’re going to continue to play some good defenses as we go — we’ve got to be able to be a little bit more balanced. We still want to run the ball first. But we still want to be more balanced in the passing game.”