6-7, 7-6, 7-6.
Pete Carroll’s first year at USC, Bob Stoops’ first year at Oklahoma, Nick Saban’s first year at Alabama.
Sure, all of those coaches inherited teams with worse records the preceding year than Chris Petersen did but I can’t imagine they had worse talent. That isn’t to say this Husky team has no talent (it has extreme talent in some positions) but USC, Oklahoma, and Alabama weren’t carrying rosters of scrubs either. Despite being coaches who within three years won national championships, all had lackluster first seasons. Sometimes it takes a little while (one year for the three cases mentioned above) to cleanse a team of bad habits and implement good ones, to install a new system, and to coach up players’ skills.
The point of this is obviously not to say that coaches with mediocre first years go on to become all-time greats. The point is that even some of the best coaches to roam the sidelines couldn’t get talented squads jump started in year one. Even if the season is over (and if you require a Rose Bowl in your seasons then it is over) we are far from being able to stick a fork in Petersen. We have seen improvement from the beginning of the season to this point and we’re pretty much an offense away from being a Pac-12 contender. Sure, there is still LOTS of room for improvement on defense on special teams and getting consistency out of those units (and fewer penalties calling back massive Ross kick returns) will be paramount to move forward as a program but right now we have every indication things are on track.
But that offense…
What is wrong with the offense?
I know that early in the season I wrote off our poor performance against Hawaii as the first game of the season, Lindquist instead of Miles, stout Hawaii linemen focusing on the run, etc. I figured everything would be able to come together - Miles would play solidly at worst and perhaps even be a dynamic playmaker, our running backs would be able to run tough and pick up yards regularly, and that Chris Strausser would be able to coach up our experienced yet unproven linemen. None of that has come true though. The lone bright spot on offense has been John Ross, but he rarely gets the ball and when he does he often puts too much effort into trying to dance for a big play rather than just picking up yards.
So do we point the finger at the kids? They are terminally sucky and can not be coached up? Do the coaches suck? Do they need more time? Is Jonathan Smith the lone scape goat we need? I think it is too early to tell at this point but signs indicated the problem is not Smith (and if it is that means he needs to be axed at the end of the season and not as a sacrificial offering to save Petersen’s job in three years). The thing I like about the offense is I see it still adapting. Starting Williams was a good choice and may or may not have been a no-brainer but playing Shaq at RB instead of LB for most of the game shows that the coaches are still trying to adapt and maximize the resources at hand. Thompson and Cooper averaged a respectable 5.25 yards per carry and in fact we were most effective when we just had Shaq rush every play. If we can find a serviceable offense in a 70-30 rush-pass ratio then I am all for it, even if our star linebacker isn’t busy scoring defensive touchdowns. Maybe it is time to see a lot of two back sets. Do we have any full backs on our roster? As long as the coaches keep making changes until they find something that works, rather than making the same mistakes repeatedly, I will be content for this season (they need to have a long term plan in place though which they are working towards).
All in all the offense is terrible but the coaches are trying to find something that works and maybe they’re getting closer. The fact that Petersen hasn’t turned this group into a world-beater in year one is not an indicator that he is the wrong guy and so whether or not the season is over, you need to let Petersen play it out.