University of Washington

Even in defeat, Huskies young receivers take step forward

Washington Huskies wide receiver Puka Nacua (15) makes a catch during the first quarter. The Washington Huskies played the Oregon Ducks in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Washington Huskies wide receiver Puka Nacua (15) makes a catch during the first quarter. The Washington Huskies played the Oregon Ducks in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

Washington will enter its first off-week of the season coming off a defeat. That means Huskies will spend the next two weeks reliving the missed tackles, stalled offensive drives and penalties that turned a two-touchdown lead into a 35-31 loss to Oregon on Saturday.

“Just coming off a loss is pretty hard,” said senior safety Myles Bryant, “and then not getting that week right back to play is pretty tough. I feel that we have a good group of guys who will use it as fuel to get back in there and get us to where we need to be.”

There were a few positives to take way from the loss. For three quarters, UW put together one of its best offensive outings of the season. It scored four touchdowns against a team that allowed just one in its last five games. Perhaps most importantly for the future, a group of young receivers put together their best collective performance of the season.

Redshirt sophomore Terrell Bynum caught six passes for a career-high 43 yards. True freshman Puka Nacua caught three passes for 43 yards a week after leading the Huskies in receiving in the victory over Arizona.

Redshirt freshman Marquis Spiker recorded his first career catch, picking up 20 yards. Junior Jordan Chin, who entered the game with two career receptions, added his third: A 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacob Eason. Sophomore tight end Cade Otton got in on the action, too, finishing with three catches for 53 yards.

Even with senior and leading wide receiver Aaron Fuller spending most of the game on the sidelines with an injury — he only appeared for two kickoff returns — the Huskies finished with 289 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Bynum only had three career receptions. He caught two passes for 32 yards in the season-opener against Eastern Washington and had one catch for 9 yards in the loss to Stanford.

“Yeah, I’ve been grinding for a while, waiting for my opportunity,” Bynum said after the loss. “I felt like today was the day to show it.”

During spring practice, Bynum talked about taking a step forward this season. Last year, he was still recovering from a January surgery on his thumb when UW started workouts. But he started this year healthy, and offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said months ago that he could see the progress.

It took until Saturday for Bynum, who has rarely been targeted this season, to show what he’s capable of in a game.

“He did a nice job and made some tough catches,” said head coach Chris Petersen. “He has strong hands. He is a tough kid. We are going to keep rolling with him.”

Said quarterback Jacob Eason: “He’s been working all year. He’s been a great practice guy all year. … He came in and make some great catches, made some tight contested catches.”

As the season progressed, Bynum said he gained more confidence.

“I knew the playbook,” he said. “I just wasn’t playing fast. I feel like over time, I started playing faster.”

Petersen said Fuller could have played against Oregon if absolutely necessary, but he primarily remained on the sidelines because of how well the backup receivers performed. It seems unlikely that Fuller will be out long-term, but the receiving corps suffered another injury during the defeat. Senior Chico McClatcher went down in the fourth quarter and was later seen in a walking boot.

That means more opportunities could be coming for the younger receivers, particularly Nacua. Fans have been calling for the 6-foot-1, four-star freshman to see more playing time and targets since the start of the season. He’s gotten that chance over the last two games and has responded with a combined six receptions for 140 yards and one touchdown.

“He really has great ball skills,” Petersen said. “He is a great target with great ball skills.”

When UW returns from its bye week, it will host No. 12 Utah at Husky Stadium in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game. The Huskies are still looking for a signature win this season, and a similar performance from the receivers will be one of the keys to earning it.

“There is a lot of football left to play,” Petersen said. “I think we have a lot more to us. We can just keep rolling, and get these guys better. There is a lot of football left.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for 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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