University of Washington

‘A bad case of the drops.’ After struggling against Cal, Huskies’ receivers regrouping ahead of Hawaii

Junior Adams works with UW’s wide receivers

Washington wide receiver coach Junior Adams works with his position group during individual drills at fall camp.
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Washington wide receiver coach Junior Adams works with his position group during individual drills at fall camp.

Junior Adams has his notifications turned off on social media, so Washington’s wide receivers coach hasn’t seen much, if any, of the criticism that’s been leveled at the Huskies since Saturday.

What he would see — if he looked — would be question after question about how and why UW dropped at least six passes during the 20-19 loss to Cal. And the issue wasn’t limited to a particular player. Wide receivers Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher all dropped passes at important moments. Running back Savlon Ahmed did, too.

The biggest one came late in the fourth quarter, when Eason targeted Fuller on third down and the ball bounced off his hands. That led to Peyton Henry’s almost (but not quite) game-winning 49-yard field goal.

Once the first pass was dropped, the blunders just seemed to spread like a disease.

Or, in Adams’ words: “We had a bad case of the drops.”

Because of that, the Huskies left opportunities on the field. It wasn’t an easy loss to move on from, especially for the receivers. Baccellia said he took the defeat as hard as anyone on the roster. But UW had to refocus, and the first step was figuring out why the drops happened in the place. On Monday, head coach Chris Petersen said he didn’t see a common thread.

“That was frustrating to that room without question,” said Petersen, whose team takes on Hawaii at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium. “I think it all has to do with how we practice and drill work. The games are different in terms of going for that ball and maybe knowing you’re going to get hit and the intensity even in ball drills when there’s no defenders around when you’re catching and bursting up-field.

“Just the carry over from during the week to Saturday nights. I think that’s a really easy place to not have the carry over in terms of catching because now all of the sudden, I’m looking to run, there’s defenders around me. I think that’s another area we’ll be better.

Both Baccellia and Fuller said drops haven’t been an issue in practice.

“I think we had a pretty good couple of days of practice last week,” Fuller said. “I think it’s just staying locked in. Some may say it was the (weather) delay, some may say it’s people just not focusing on securing the ball and things like that. We just got to do our job.”

Baccellia described the problem as something that “just flashed” during the loss to Cal. When the receivers watched film, he said it was simple to identify the trouble. Most of the time, they were worried about the yards after the catch before they actually made the catch.

Fuller agreed, quickly repeating the same phrase that was also used over and over again by Baccellia and Adams: “Study the crosshairs.” It’s what Adams continually preaches in the wide receivers room. Perhaps more so than ever this week.

“Study the low point of the ball,” Fuller said by way of explanation. “Watch it all the way in. I think a lot of the problem with what happened on Saturday was not following it all the way in to tuck the ball, securing it.”

Neither offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan nor his receivers completely ruled out another potential factor: Jacob Eason’s arm. The Huskies’ new starting quarterback has one of the strongest arms in the country, and it showed in some of the lasers he threw against the Golden Bears. That’s been an adjustment for the receivers.

“I think certainly anytime you do have a guy with his type of arm talent, it’s going to be that intermediate area,” Hamdan said. “Anywhere from 6 to 10 yards on slant routes, on quick-hitters that you just got to be aware of it and make sure we give them a chance and they can handle it.”

Petersen said Eason’s arm strength might have played a part in one drop, but he stopped short of identifying it as a larger concern.

“I think there was one that kind of showed up that might have counted as a drop in a crossing route,” he said. “More so than taking some stream off it, maybe just a little more accurate and we might make the play. But the combination of the two. (Jacob’s) got to pull the trigger and throw it. Sometimes there are certain passes and certain guys you’re throwing to, running backs and those type of things, that you need to be aware of those things. I think he is.”

Baccellia said the Huskies have gotten back to the basics during practice this week — “Catching the football, running crisp routes, focusing on those details.” And while Adams might have his social media notifications off, Fuller said the receivers are aware of the somewhat low expectations for their unit. They want to prove people wrong.

“It’s always frustrating not catching the ball,” Fuller said. “It’s your job to go out there and make plays whether it’s a bad-thrown ball or a good-thrown ball. Not securing the ball and that is tough but it’s also going back to the small things, bringing the ball, watching the crosshairs and just doing your job.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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