University of Washington

Huskies face personnel – and QB – questions heading into 2015 season

After he dressed at his locker following one of the Washington Huskies’ most disappointing losses of the 2014 season, quarterback Cyler Miles reflected on a frustrating end to a frustrating season.

UW’s 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl on Friday night ended a rocky, disjointed season in which the Huskies’ defense made more big plays than most teams in the country, but the offense made so few and the defense failed to contain the Pac-12’s more high-powered offenses often enough that Washington failed to defeat a single FBS opponent with a winning record.

And the entire team looked unprepared for Friday’s finale – the 24-0 halftime deficit proved as much – which has to be particularly disconcerting for coach Chris Petersen and his staff as they enter the offseason coming off a mediocre 8-6 record in their first season at Washington.

“We were just too relaxed. We were just too relaxed,” Miles said. “We were kind of back on our heels, kind of just going with the flow, kind of like it was practice. All of us. I’m not singling nobody out. All of us were too relaxed in the first half and as you saw, we can’t do that.”

They now must combat the negative energy that could accompany them during winter conditioning workouts and spring practices.

“We're going to have to use that as a chip on our shoulder, without question,” Petersen said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. The guys know that. You know, it will be a tough, hard process going through that. But we're going to use it as a positive in terms of, like, how we need to play, what we need to do to be able to compete.”

There are plenty of personnel concerns to address, too. The Huskies’ only returning starter on the offensive line will be Dexter Charles, who will be a fifth-year senior. The four players who comprise their starting defensive line have reached the end of their eligibility — including All-Americans Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton – and their two most productive linebackers, senior John Timu and junior Shaq Thompson, are also on their way out the door (Thompson says he hasn’t yet decided if he’ll declare for the NFL draft, but a wise person would not bet against it).

There are perhaps more questions, though, about the quarterback position, despite Miles starting 12 games this season and will be back as a fourth-year junior in 2015.

His numbers suggest efficiency — he completed 66.6 percent of his passes and threw 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions — but he too often scrambled when he could have completed a pass to an open receiver, and seemed to lack the arm strength to make throws down field to allow a more diverse passing attack.

Miles could have competition next season from incoming freshman quarterback Jake Browning, who during his four-year career at Folsom (California) High School set the national high school record for career touchdown passes with 229. Browning will enroll at UW in the coming days and participate in spring practices.

Barring defections — increasingly common in today’s college football landscape — the Huskies could also return third-year sophomore-to-be Troy Williams, as well as fourth-year junior-to-be Jeff Lindquist, both of whom started a game in 2014. K.J. Carta-Samuels will be a redshirt freshman.

But most eyes will be on Browning, a touchdown machine who guided his Folsom team to a 16-0 record and a CIF Division 1 state championship.

“I think Cyler did progress as the season went on,” Petersen said. “Took a lot of snaps, a lot of reps, learned a lot of things. But I think every position in this program, we’ve got to have competition. We’ve got to get better there. Those guys have got to either push him … we’ve got to improve there, and I think we will.”

Miles said he thought his biggest area of growth was becoming a better teammate.

“Just being able to set myself aside and do it for them, you know what I’m saying? This game of football, we kind of get obsessed sometimes with our stats and doing it for ourselves, how we look,” Miles said. “That’s nice and all, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. Obviously a lot in my game has to improve, as well. I’m not trying to say that’s fine. But that’s just the biggest thing for me, to be honest.”

For now he’s not thinking about what next season might portend.

“God’s going to take care of all the rest,” Miles said. “All you can control is what you control, yourself, and how you are with your teammates, and your effort day in and day out. So that’s all I can focus on right now.”