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Offensive Debate: Washington vs. Washington State

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With the graduation of Keith Price, Washington will need Cyler Miles to step in at quarterback and lead the Huskies in 2014. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
Washington State will return their top seven receivers from a season ago in 2014, highlighted by two-year starter Gabe Marks. Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images.

In 2013, both Washington and Washington State qualified for a bowl game in the same season for the first time since 2002.

Following a period of losing seasons in the late 2000s for both programs, the two in-state rivals appear to be headed toward a brighter and more competitive future.

Washington is closer to challenging for a Pac-12 title, evidenced by their four consecutive winnings seasons and seven players selected in the last four NFL drafts.

The Huskies defeated the Cougars, 27-17, in Seattle last November, earning their fourth victory in five years over their rivals from the Palouse.

With Steve Sarkisian re-locating to Los Angeles to take over at USC, Washington hopes to sustain the momentum generated from a 31-16 victory over BYU in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and a nine-win season following the hire of longtime Boise State head Coach Chris Petersen.

Petersen and the Huskies will have to sustain the loss of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Bishop Sankey, quarterback Keith Price and linebacker Princeton Fuimaono to the NFL draft or graduation.

However, seven starters likely return on both sides of the ball, and the Huskies' last three recruiting classes have all ranked within the nation’s Top 25 according to Scout.com, giving Petersen a talent base he never had in Boise, Idaho.

Washington State should be motivated due to the heartbreaking losses the Cougars suffered against Washington and Colorado State in the Gideon New Mexico Bowl to end an encouraging second season under Mike Leach.

The Cougars will rely on their prolific offense, orchestrated by record-setting quarterback Connor Halliday, to make up for what could be a bend-break defense devoid of players like defensive backs Deone Buchanon and Damante Horton, both all-conference performers in 2013.

Heading into spring practice, Football.com takes a look at each team by offensive position for the 2014 season and who has the edge going forward in this Pacific Northwest rivalry.  

Since Washington's offensive line appears to be overwhelmingly stronger than Washington State's, we won't examine that position.

Quarterback

The Case For Washington State

From a statistical standpoint, Halliday has the edge over the Huskies' expected starter for 2014, redshirt freshmen Cyler Miles.

Leach-coached quarterbacks have never been fleet on their feet and Halliday, who was sacked 31 times, certainly lives up to that standard. 

If Halliday can cut his nation-leading 22 interceptions in half, he may approach conference record statistics. If the Cougars cannot put forth a more balanced offensive attack behind an inexperienced line, Halliday's mistakes could add up.

Armed with a gunslinger mentality, Halliday has the ability to shred defenses over the course of a game on intermediate routes and occasionally find one of the Cougars' talented receivers on a deep route.

The Case For Washington

Miles had opportunities to display his potential in occasional relief of the oft-injured Price. Huskies fans and the coaching staff are encouraged from what they’ve seen.

Unlike Halliday, Miles' big-play potential through both his arm and legs allows him to avoid sacks and counter an overaggressive pass-rush. 

The Huskies no longer have the luxury of Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins drawing excessive attention from opposing defenses, making Miles' development as a pocket passer even more important. 

He has the physical tools and a collection of weapons on the outside to fulfill that role, and could become one of the conference's biggest breakout stars in 2014.

The Winner

If Miles fulfills his potential, the matchup could sway in Washington’s favor.

However, Halliday has the edge heading into spring practice due to his experience and potential to grow even more in his third season under Leach. 

Running Backs

The Case For Washington State

Washington State finished last in the entire country in rushing and used an array of screens and short passes as a de-facto rushing game.

When the Cougars do run the ball, it usually is on a draw from the shotgun formation. The draws provide a change of pace for WSU, but no Cougars player gained more than 430 yards on the ground, a testament to the lack of opportunities. 

Washington State will return their three top backs in Jeremiah Luafasu, Teandre Caldwell and Marcus Mason. Leach had several 1,000-yard backs while at Texas Tech, showing he has willingness to run if the line and backs can make it worthwhile.

The Case For Washington

Despite losing the nation’s fourth-leading rusher in Sankey, Washington figures to have a strong rushing attack due in large part to their strong and experienced offensive line.

Deonte Cooper and Dwayne Washington combined for 307 yards and four touchdowns in the Huskies' 69-27 victory over Oregon State, but the upcoming senior and redshirt sophomore failed to see significant playing time in games against quality opponents. 

The Huskies return all five starters on the offensive line, with center Mike Criste and left tackle Micah Hatchiewhich earning Pac-12 honorable mention honors in 2013.

The Winner

Washington has the edge because of its established line and an effective combo attack that has the potential to break out in 2014. 

The Huskies will put forth a balanced attack, and every running back on the roster has a chance to improve during the spring.

Receivers/Tight Ends

The Case For Washington State

The Cougars' depth at the position is staggering, as they return their top seven receivers, six of whom made 40 or more receptions. Expect a similar balance in 2014.

Vince Mayle, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound red zone threat, was granted a fifth year for the Cougars and will team up with juniors Gabriel Marks and Dom Williams along with a host of other viable options.

An inexperienced offensive line may limit Halliday’s time to set and throw, which could lead to a decrease in production. However, the receiving platoon has proven it can make plays if presented an opportunity.

The Case For Washington

What the Cougars have in depth at the position, Washington counters with explosiveness.

Towards the end of 2013, freshmen Damore’ea Stringfellow began showing why he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. 

Stringfellow had eight receptions and a touchdown in a November loss to UCLA and added four-catch performances in back-to-back victories over the Cougars and BYU to end the season. He is a breakout candidate for 2014, and the presence of Jaydon Mickens, who posted 65 catches and five touchdowns as a sophomore, will counter the attention Stringfellow faces.

What Washington may miss most from Seferian-Jenkins is the attention the Mackey Award winner commanded in the red zone. Michael Hartvingston played in every game a season ago, and the 6-foot-6, 257-pound former high school basketball star will enter the spring and likely fall camp as the starter.

If Kasen Williams can bounce back from a season marred by injuries and pre-season legal trouble, the Huskies trio could rival any in the conference.

The Winner

Washington has the top talent, but Washington State's superior depth gives them an edge at the position.