SEATTLE – The offensive coordinator, Chris Petersen knows, is often an easy target for backlash.
That has certainly been the case this week for Bush Hamdan, Washington’s offensive coordinator who is in his first season as a playcaller at the FBS level.
In the postmortem on the Huskies’ 12-10 loss at California last Saturday, Petersen has fielded questions this week about Hamdan’s playcalling (not really the problem), about the head coach possibly taking over playcalling duties (not happening), and about the Huskies’ worst offense in a decade (not good enough, obviously).
Petersen has been here before, not long ago. Jonathan Smith, in 2014, was in his first season as a playcaller at the FBS level during Petersen’s first season as the Huskies’ head coach. Petersen repeatedly had to voice support for Smith, whose UW offense that season finished ninth in the Pac-12 with a scoring average of 30.2 points per game (while using three starting quarterbacks).
“Everybody loves to pile on when it’s not all good,” Petersen said in late October 2014.
Two years later, the Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring and set a school scoring record, averaging 41.8 points per game en route to a Pac-12 championship. (Last December, Smith left UW for his first head-coaching job at his alma mater, Oregon State.)
Petersen and Hamdan are hoping the turnaround happens a little quicker for the offense this time.
Entering Saturday’s game against Stanford, the Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) are averaging 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 play, fewest by a UW offense since 2008.
Why has the offense struggled so?
“We have a couple hypotheses that we’re working on,” Petersen said Thursday, “but some of that is in-house business and has to do with strategy and how we can do better as coaches and get our guys to play at a higher level.”
He was asked specifically if he would considered making the same change USC coach Clay Helton made this week, with Helton taking over the playcalling from the offensive coordinator.
“No, I’m not. … No, not at this point,” he said. “We’re all a work in progress and it’s not that.”
The execution from players on the field needs to be better and that, Petersen said, starts with better teaching from coaches.
“The plays, it’s very easy to put on the tape and study tape – yeah, if this guy does this that’s a really good play; that guy does that it’s a really good play. Is that coaching? Yeah, for sure it is. Is that playing? For sure, it is. It’s all those things,” he said. “And then you start to get into a situation where, the guys, they press. They care. They press. And so it’s like, ‘How does he drop that ball? He can catch that ball a million times.’ So how do you get a guy’s confidence back? It’s that chicken-and-egg question. It really is. You’ve just got to keep working, that’s what you’ve got to do. These kids are skilled and they can make plays.”
Coaches, too, are pressing, Petersen said.
“Everybody’s trying really hard, and sometimes you’ve just got to take a deep breath,” he said. “We’re not curing cancer here. We’re trying our best and we’re going to get better. We’ve got good kids and a good program and just keep working.”
Help on the way?
Last week, Petersen talked about senior running back Myles Gaskin (shoulder) and sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant (knee) being closer to returning to game action.
“They’re closer-er-er,” Petersen said. “I hope so. Those guys could help us.”
Gaskin has missed the past two games with an unspecified shoulder injury. Bryant has not played since having knee surgery in early June.
Junior wide receiver Chico McClatcher remains away from the team, and away from football, as he works his way through personal issues.
Petersen said he’s not sure if or when McClatcher might return to the program.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll say it again: It’s not our place to put stuff out there for everybody. This is an awesome kid and we hope to get him back sooner or later, and that’s how it needs to stay.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.