Last season, Washington’s passing offense was ranked 72nd in the nation after ranking 40th the year before. Now that Dante Pettis is in the NFL, the Huskies will have to replace their top pass catcher and hopefully re-ignite the air attack in the process. They’ll rely on largely unheralded receivers from the past couple seasons as well as exciting but inexperienced talent from the recruiting pipeline to achieve these goals.
Here’s a dive into a position group that has the potential to make or break Washington’s season:
Pettis far outpaced every other receiver on the roster last year with his 63 catches for 761 yards and seven touchdowns. The next closest in either department was Aaron Fuller, with only 291 yards and one score. Fuller now finds himself as one of the more experienced players in the receiver room which he showed during spring, getting open frequently and displaying his good hands.
Fellow juniors Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher are also in this group. Baccellia only played in eight games last season, but he came up with a handful of clutch third down catches for quarterback Jake Browning.
McClatcher is still recovering from the ankle injury he suffered against Colorado and did not participate in spring camp. As a versatile but undersized guy who’s lined up both in the backfield and as a more traditional receiver during his career, the passing game’s overall success next season could hinge on his bounce-back; the Federal Way product was part of that 2015 homegrown youth movement along with O’Dea RB Myles Gaskin, Wenatchee LT Trey Adams, and the Sacremento-imported Browning, and his speed and elusiveness made an immediate impact on the 2015 and 2016 teams. While his absence for most of 2017 has him somewhat out of sight, out of mind for many Husky fans, the stale state of Washington’s receivers plus the law of diminishing marginal utility means a return-to-2016-form Chico would make a huge difference for next season’s passing game.
Other than Fuller, Baccellia, and Cheek, Quentin Pounds finds himself a part of this outfit as well. He had his best statistical year in 2017, but also sat out the spring with an injury.
While all of these players may have experience under their belt, none of them really have the makeup of a true No. 1 wide receiver. Still Browning, will count on this group to make key plays in the slot.
Stepping into a New Role
Aside from those mentioned above, Head Coach Chris Petersen has another returning receiver on the roster who is poised to put up big numbers in 2018.
Enter sophomore Ty Jones. Jones committed to UW as a four-star recruit (complete with late in the cycle oh-crap-he’s-gonna-get-flipped-by-another-school drama) and saw action in 11 games last year. He caught only seven passes for 71 yards, but even as a US Army All-American, being that limited as a true freshman isn’t surprising.
Now, unless he hasn’t been making the necessary strides during the offseason, he’ll likely play a much bigger role in the offense. Even disregarding the precise route-running he displayed as a recruit, Jones has a weapon the receiving corps is otherwise lacking: with his 6’4”, 211 pound frame, he has measurables that make opposing defenses’ jobs that much more difficult in a receiving room that needs that size desperately — other than Jones, the top four returning receivers average 5’10”. That’s not exactly a room of huge targets.
Along with Fuller and Baccellia, Jones saw the most time with the first unit during spring practice, as he is starting to come into his own in the purple and gold.
However, Petersen may look to his newest crop of receivers to find help replace the lost productivity.
Trey Lowe is listed as a wide receiver on Washington’s official roster, but don’t let that completely fool you. He was named the 2017 Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year after putting up 2,316 all-purpose yards and 35 total touchdowns his senior season at Jesuit. Over 1,700 of those yards came on the ground. He also earned All-Metro League as a slot receiver in 2015, and was ranked as the No.48 wideout prospect by rivals.com.
This was a huge get for the program, considering he was in the Oregon schools’ backyard. If Lowe can get on the field, he could be a versatile threat in offensive coordinator Bush Hamden’s system and a likely Chico 2.0.
Then there’s Austin Osborne, the 6’2″ early-enrollee from Mission Viejo. His time in UW’s spring practices were undoubtedly valuable, and he was one of the more heralded recruits of Washington’s monster 2018 class.
Along with Osborne, Marquis Spiker may be Washington’s most exciting offensive recruit. Spiker was ranked as the ninth best receiver in the Class of 2018 by 247sports, and he has the numbers to back it up. In his junior season, he had 90 receptions for 1742 yards and 26 touchdowns. He followed it up with a 27-touchdown, 1490-yard senior season, doing so in just 12 games. And like Jones, he has the height (6’3″) that this team needs and will hence be a valuable tool in the red zone, where Washington’s struggled at times.
Spiker has the speed and athleticism to separate from any defensive back and get open. This will help him on short and intermediate routes should he be called upon for a quick hitter, while he’s also shown that he can threaten downfield just as easily.
If the two of them can put it all together at the college level sooner rather than later, Osborne and Spiker could see the field a lot given their explosiveness, big-play potential, and reach.
This group is a mixed bag. It has the potential to be one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the country if the young talents grow up fast. At the same time, though, it has the potential to crash and burn.
They will be put to the test right off the bat against Auburn, which boasted the 25th best defense in the country a year ago.
Finding a true No. 1 wideout will be one of the team’s biggest challenges the rest of this offseason. But if the coaching staff can find one, along with reliable complimentary weapons, then the sky’s the limit.
With a senior quarterback looking to have a bounce-back year, the ball may be in the air a lot. And it’s up to his receivers to come down with it time and time again.