The Huskies altered their thinking on bowl-prep practices this month.
After losses in their last two bowl games -- to Alabama in the College Football Playoff two years ago and to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl last year -- Washington coach Chris Petersen and his staff examined their December routines and made some changes in the buildup to Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State.
“We’ve been going pretty hard,” Petersen said last week in Seattle. “We’ve been looking at the cycle of our bowl prep and figure out how to tweak that and how to make it right in terms of where do we really spend all of our energy -- where do we go hard and where do we back off them and all those types of things. We’ve kind of been in a hard-grind phase.”
On Thursday, the Huskies held their first Rose Bowl practice of the week -- on a grass practice field -- on the grounds of the StubHub Center in nearby Carson, home of the Los Angeles Chargers. Ohio State held its first L.A. practice on the other side of the facility.
“I think we’re a little bit more -- not a little bit, I think we’re a lot more focused,” UW senior running back Myles Gaskin said Thursday morning.
Added senior tight end Drew Sample: “We definitely tried to ramp things up a little bit more, to make sure we’re bringing the intensity and the edge every practice. It can be hard sometimes in that dead period (in early December) when you’re not playing a game for three or four weeks, so I think a lot of the guys make an effort to dial that up. We’ve had really good practices, so I think that’s something that’s been different than the last couple years -- and hopefully the outcome will be different than the last couple years.”
By the end of his 25-minute session with the media on Thursday morning at the Marriott Residence Inn at L.A. Live, Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan seemed to know the question before an Ohio-based reporter even asked it.
“Every question has been on trick plays,” he said.
The trick-play topic has become a running theme around Chris Petersen and the Huskies the past few years. From a national perspective, Petersen is -- fair or not -- most associated with the Statue of Liberty play that helped his Boise State Broncos upset Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Two years ago, the rumor was Nick Saban ordered his (massive) Alabama staff to break down every trick play Petersen had run over the previous decade.
Hamdan, the backup QB on that Boise State team, has called his share of successful trick plays in his first season as UW’s offensive coordinator -- none bigger than the double-pass touchdown from wide receiver Aaron Fuller to tight end Hunter Bryant in the Apple Cup.
Thing is, the Huskies don’t actually run that many trick plays, do they? That opponents -- and the out-of-town media -- think the gadget plays are such an integral part of the UW offense might actually be Petersen’s greatest trick, no?
“I think generally you may want to go into a game and say, hey, we want to call one (trick play) a half,” Hamdan said. “Again, like any other play, it’s probably called two weeks in advance. You’ve got to have the right look. You’ve got to have the right hash, if you will. But I think, just like anything else, you want to be aggressive with it, if it’s the right situation, the right look, gotta call it just like any other play.”
Return of the Grinch
Hamdan and the UW offense will face a familiar foe in Pasadena.
Former Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is in his first season as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. After three years in Pullman, Grinch left WSU following the 2017 season to return to his native Ohio.
“Really good. Really, really good,” Hamdan said. “He was always tough. Regardless of where Washington State was, you knew he was going to pose a lot of issues. And that’s certainly the biggest game of the year always for us. So I think you see a lot of his blueprint on this defense, and what they’ve done always been very difficult to manage up front with the amount of movement they’ve had. Really sound in coverage, and he’s as good as a coach as there is.”
Eason stays home
Jacob Eason, the former five-star quarterback from Lake Stevens, is not with the team in Los Angeles this week. As a transfer, he is not eligible to travel to road games.
Eason transferred from Georgia and enrolled in classes at UW last March, meaning he’s not eligible to play until the 2019 season. He ran the scout team this fall and will enter spring ball as the heavy favorite to succeed Jake Browning as the starting QB, in a competition expected to include Jake Haener, Colson Yankoff, Jacob Sirmon and incoming freshman Dylan Morris.