University of Washington

UW’s run game needs bigger holes for brighter sparks

In scouting the retooled Fresno State offense this week, all University of Washington coach Chris Petersen needed to do was look at the reflection of his own attack.

They are mirroring images.

That is because Petersen and new Bulldogs’ coach Jeff Tedford see offense very similarly, which is a big reason the fourth-year Huskies coach asked Tedford to join the UW program last year as an offensive consultant.

“A lot of things look a lot alike,” Petersen said.

The two teams meet in the final game of the non-conference schedule Saturday at Husky Stadium.

The similarities in the offenses, both in style and production, are eerie: The UW and Fresno State like to air it out, but keep their respective running backs involved in all facets.

Fresno State ranks 50th in the country in total offense at 443.0 yards per game; the Huskies are No. 53 at 437.0 ypg.

And they also share one other notable statistic, one neither coach is particularly inspired by.

The longest run for each offense is 30 yards.

For the Bulldogs, that is somewhat excusable. Their crew of tailbacks is young and inexperienced, even though they run behind an offensive line that returns most of its starters.

Last season, the Huskies jolted opponents with the big play. In 14 games, they registered a run of 20 or more yards 26 times. Myles Gaskin (seven) and Lavon Coleman (12) combined for 19 of those runs.

“(A big play) is what you want, but really you want those tough, grinding first-down yards,” Coleman said. “It is not about breaking free every single time. If you have that mindset, you are going to miss holes, you are going to miss reads because you are trying to get a big play every play.”

Petersen said he saw encouraging signs of life from the UW rushing attack last week in the team’s 63-7 victory over Montana.

Coleman broke off the longest run of the season — 30 yards. Reserves Salvon Ahmed (21-yarder) and Sean McGrew (23-yarder) also ripped off big runs in the victory.

But it just doesn’t feel like the Huskies have hit their stride yet, even though they rushed for 213 yards on 37 carries against the Grizzlies.

“That’s a rhythm part of football. You have to run the ball a bunch to get into a rhythm,” Petersen said. “Fresno (State) will present some challenges. They move their guys all over the place. They’re not going to stay in one spot and let us have a size advantage – they’re going to slant and twist and all of that.”

The UW’s season rushing numbers are not bad, averaging 148.5 yards per game — and 4.9 yards per carry. That production still lags way behind last year — 198.2 ypg and 5.2 ypc.

Surely, the coaching staff would like to see Gaskin, Coleman and the offensive line to take one more step before Pac-12 play starts next week at Colorado.

“It is usually mistakes that we made, or something they did that we did not account for as the reason a play did not hit as big as we could have, or should have,” UW right tackle Kaleb McGary said. “It’s just about watching the film, finding the leakage in the blocking … and tightening it up.”

Fresno State (1-1) at No. 6 Washington (2-0)

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium, Seattle

The line: UW by 33.

TV: Pac-12 Network.

Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM

Outlook: Everyone knows the schedule.

This has been one of the worst non-conference slate of games the UW has ever had in school history.

Rutgers finished last in the Big Ten. Montana, normally a FCS powerhouse, had a down year in 2016. And Fresno State’s season last year was so poor, the university fired former coach Tim DeRuyter with a month to go.

Needless to say, this is a rebuilding Bulldogs team under new coach Jeff Tedford, who was hired at his alma mater last November.

They are a ways away from challenging the sixth-ranked Huskies, but Tedford has already started to get more out of the team’s promising talent than DeRuyter did.

In two games, the passing offense is producing 315 yards per game, which ranks 19th in the country – despite the uncertainty surrounding who the starting quarterback might be at midseason (incumbent Chason Virgil is No. 1 now, but the team is high on Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion, who arrived in August).

Equally important is that the Bulldogs are not beating themselves: They’ve committed just one turnover, allowed two sacks and been called for four penalties in two games, including last week at No. 1 Alabama.

But what Fresno State does well, the more experienced Huskies do a little bit better.

UW quarterback Jake Browning (39 of 56, 543 yards, four touchdowns) is starting to get going, both passing and running. Last week, he was in total control of the offense, except for a first-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.

In 11 red-zone trips, the UW has scored nine touchdowns.

What might be overlooked is how well the defense is playing, having allowed just one touchdown while forcing six turnovers.

The pick: Washington 47, Fresno State 20.

– Todd Milles