UW amassed 595 yards of total offense in last weekend’s 54-7 Senior Day win over Colorado.
Its leading receiver this season had two catches for 17 yards.
In fact, standout sophomore Rome Odunze appears mired in a minor slump — with 21 catches for 238 yards (11.3 yards per catch, 59.5 yards per game) and zero touchdowns in his last four games. In the four weeks prior, the 6-foot-3, 201-pound target compiled 34 catches, 561 yards (16.5 yards per reception, 140.3 yards per game) and five touchdowns.
“When you’re playing a team like (Colorado) that was dropping eight pretty consistently and pushing people into deep zones and keeping a lid on top of it, you have to find other ways (to move the ball),” said UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb. “Going into the game we told guys it was going to be hard work to get yards. If you caught the ball, the yards were probably going to come after the catch. You saw a lot of that.
“When you think about some of Jalen (McMillan’s) catches and the rest of the guys, there was very few where you could get the ball down the field. It’s also probably why we ran for close to 300 yards. That’s what they were giving you. So the big shots to Rome were a little bit less obvious to be able to have.”
On Tuesday, the Las Vegas product took the diplomatic approach — saying “I didn’t even realize (the Colorado game) happened like that. But when everybody’s executing and we’re driving the ball and scoring points, that’s all that matters.”
Indeed, UW is driving and scoring — and Odunze and fellow sophomore McMillan are obvious reasons why. With the Apple Cup, a possible (but unlikely) Pac-12 championship appearance and a bowl game still to come, both could become UW’s first 1,000-yard receivers since John Ross in 2016.
Regardless of streaks or slumps, they’re winning in different ways.
“They have different skill sets, and that’s a good thing,” Grubb said. “Jalen is a really elite option runner, a guy you can get isolated on people and he’s going to win and separate. At the same time, he’s a guy that can take people deep, where they think he’s just going to line up on the inside and you find a way to get him out isolated on a corner and put the ball over the top.
“For Rome, there’s two things with him: his ability to win over the top, because he is a big, long receiver that can win over the top. But at the same time, his catch and run skills for a longer receiver I think are different from a lot of guys. You’ll see him catch an underneath throw and all of a sudden he’s got 20 yards. That’s where you see some of the screens and hitches where Rome turns a five-yard play into 25.”
There may be an opportunity for that against a Washington State defense that has allowed more 20-plus-yard completions — 46 — than any other Pac-12 program. And Odunze will certainly have a point to prove, after he was left off the list of semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award — which honors college football’s premier receiver.
“Yeah, that fires me up for sure,” Odunze acknowledged Tuesday. “That’s something that’s one of my goals, something I’ve been striving for. Not to make that semifinalist list definitely hurt. But it’s something that’s fuel to the fire to go out there and show them that I deserve to be on that list. I deserve to be up there and be talked about with the great receivers in college football.
“But I don’t have any control over the committee and their decision. I just have to keep coming out here and working hard, and hopefully I can show that on Saturday.”
Beware the run
Yes, Washington State still runs the air raid.
But this isn’t Mike Leach’s old offense, either.
“They run the air raid, but the misconception is that they’re not good at running the ball,” said UW junior linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio. “These guys have certain schemes that help their running backs out a lot. You have to keep that in mind while you’re scheming and preparing for this team mentally.
“(The Cougs have) a very talented quarterback (Cameron Ward). But (Nakia Watson) will try to truck you, and (Jaylen Jenkins) is a very shifty running back. You’ve got to respect those two players individually when we go down there. We can’t just have our heels at seven yards and start dropping all over the place, because they're going to run a draw. We’ve got to be ready to stop the run.”
That has been an inconsistent effort for Washington, which surrendered 313 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry against Oregon two weeks ago but still ranks second in the Pac-12 with 3.68 opponent yards per carry (behind, ironically, Washington State).
As for the Cougs, junior Nakia Watson (6-0, 223) has amassed 439 total yards, 6.6 yards per carry and six touchdowns in his last three games. Jenkins (386 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) and Ward (four rush TD) are also legitimate threats.
When it comes to Washington stopping the run, more Ulofoshio would likely help. The redshirt junior has contributed eight tackles in three games since returning from a torn ACL.
But an uptick in usage could — and should — be coming.
“They can definitely play me as much as they want,” Ulofoshio said loudly into a microphone, “just so they know. I’m feeling great. In my mind, I’m in the mode like, ‘How can I get better?’ not, ‘How can I get back?’ I’m just fine-tuning tiny things that I want to do. I’m not focused on necessarily the past. I’m just focused on improving right now.”
Added co-defensive coordinator William Inge: “Week one he was in five to 10 plays. Week two you can get to 15 to 20 plays, and week three you can get into the 40s if needed. So now you have an opportunity to take another step. So if he needs to play more, he can potentially be able to play more.”
- Saturday’s weather forecast in Pullman calls for cloudy skies and a low of 32 degrees. That shouldn’t intimidate the 9-2 Huskies. “When the guys are on the field, they're sweating. They're playing ball. They don't even realize it,” said UW coach Kalen DeBoer. “To me, cold is all relative and it's going to be a mindset anyway. When the wind picks up and the precipitation is rain, that's when it starts feeling cold and when it goes to another level and affects your execution probably more than anything. But just cold itself, and maybe a little snow, isn't a big deal. It's probably the wind and rain that you get into where the weather impacts you."
- Defensively, Grubb said WSU and Oregon State are “very comparable, just in their skill sets and how sound they are. They’re not going to give up the freebies and they’re going to play really fast and physical. Those two defenses are as good as we’ve seen, for sure.”