After Washington's 38-23 win over Colorado last Saturday, I talked some football with Kyle Benn. The former Dawg is feeling optimistic about the direction of the program. Our conversation began with me mentioning criticisms coming from fans over new offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.
"You can't throw a guy under the bus halfway through his first season," Benn said. "He's had some injuries. Obviously his starting quarterback had his own issues last year and a stupid decision that cost him spring ball and the first game this year. You've got your best receiver [Kasen Williams] who has never gotten back on track. And then you've got young guys that are growing up, like Pettis who had a great game against Colorado.
"Then you've got a head coach that — we don't know the extent he's involved in the game planning during the week. And he's not calling the plays on Saturday but he's got the headset on and can veto anything he wants. So you really don't know what's going on there. We've got a carousel of running backs that are hurt, so much so that we've got Shaq coming over [from defense]. So there's so much so going on that we can't just say `it's just playcalling, fire his ass.'
"It's like anything else. Okay, I understand after a couple of beers and emotion and you want to fire the guy. But give him a chance."
As a former offensive lineman, Benn scrutinized the o-line during the Colorado game.
"For most of the year, Cyler [Miles] has not had a ton of time," Benn said. "He fades back and then he's scrambling a bit. He doesn't have that pocket presence yet, where he's got that sense to step up to the right and throw. He bails a little quicker. But against Colorado, when Shaq was in there at running back, they looked a little more like last year with Bishop Sankey. They might not have been throwing their guys 5-10 yards off the ball, but they got on their blocks, they stayed on their blocks, and they allowed their running backs to find a place to cut back or a crease to take.
"It wasn't perfect all the time, they've got veterans in there and some young guys," he said. "I think they're a good group and they're maturing, but it's a bit patchwork. They're solid guys, guys that are growing up before our eyes, but it's not there yet... Their performance is average."
As Washington heads into the final month of the regular season, Benn was asked if the results are meeting his expectations.
"My expectations for Husky Football are always higher," he said. "It comes from being a lifelong rabid fan, a player and a graduate assistant. I always have higher expectations about what is realistic and what's not. You and I have had arguments for years about what's realistic and what's not. What is frustrating this year is that you look at the offense, you lost one of the most statistically significant quarterbacks we've had, you lost the best running back in the nation, you lost the best tight end in the nation, you had an injury to what could have been one of the best wide receivers in the nation, and lost a couple great o-linemen. You come in and say okay, `we've got guys on offense that give you hope.' But they've struggled so far.
"And then you look at the defense that has a bunch of draft picks there. You've got Peters, Kikaha, Shelton and you can go on down the line. That defense is damn fun to watch. You get that feeling that we've got the defense we've wanted and yet we're a year off on the offense that we needed in order to put it all together and have a great run of a year. So it's not where I wanted it to be. I was looking for 9-10 wins.
"I want it to be back to how it was when you and I grew up," he said. "When the Huskies were in contention for the Rose Bowl every year. But I'm also a realist. We've just come off the worst decade in our history. You've got some jackasses already calling for Petersen's head. You've got some people being impatient and calling for Jonathan Smith's head. We're 6-3 and take it with a grain of salt. We're not going to go from 0-12 to national powerhouse right away. We have to temper our enthusiasm with a little bit of reality. We have a new system. Like everyone, I have to bury my excitement and be a bit of a realist. But we're getting there, we've got the right guys in place, and we're getting good recruits now, which is nice to see.
"We're not where we were last year, where I said nine wins would be great, and you said 10 wins or it was unforgivable," he said. "We're going to end the year with a couple more wins and a bowl game. It will be great. But I'm excited where we're going. I like who we have in place. I still talk to a couple people within the program and it sounds like it's a good place to be right now. I think that's coming across to recruits. And the leaders they have in place right now, Shaq and Kikaha and those guys, they're not idiot ears-pinned-back football is life guys. They are being looked up to by the younger guys. They're working their asses off on the field, in the classroom and in the film room. Freshmen's eyes glom onto those things.
"That was the problem my senior year moving out," he said. "I won't mention any names, but we had great players who didn't have a great work ethic, and that's what the freshmen thought was normal. And you saw what that bred for the next few years in the program.
"When I was a freshman [in 1997], I saw Olin Kreutz, Cam Cleeland, Brock Huard and those guys, and we saw how hard they worked and how they prepared. You saw how it was supposed to be done. You saw what was expected."