Huskies beat Eastern

Washington Huskies running back Richard Newton (28) scores a first quarter touchdown as the Eastern Washington Eagles play the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium on August 31, 2019. Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

Washington is 1-0.

But what does that really mean?

What can a convincing victory over an overmatched FCS opponent really tell us? What can be gleaned from Goliath stealing David's slingshot and breaking it into bits? And, with California coming into town Saturday, how prepared are these Huskies to handle Pac-12 competition?

Some — OK, more than some — of those answers still elude us. But here are three things — excluding Jacob Eason, who everyone has written about enough — we learned from UW's 47-14 victory over Eastern Washington.

The running-back rotation is not what we expected

On fourth-and-two during UW's opening offensive drive, Chris Petersen and Co. put the ball in the hands of their running back and trusted him to convert.

It just wasn't a running back listed on Washington's Week 1 depth chart.

You probably know what happened next: Eason vacated the backfield, redshirt freshman Richard Newton secured a shotgun snap and the 6-foot, 210-pound running back plunged up the gut, high-stepping through the Eagles defense and into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown.

It says something that, in that moment, Petersen and offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan turned to Newton — who happened to score a touchdown on his first collegiate touch. It says something that the former Palmdale (Calif.) High School standout finished second on the team with 12 carries, behind only Salvon Ahmed's 15. It says something that, by comparison, juniors Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew earned just five and four carries, respectively.

It's too early to say Newton is UW's best running back, despite the fact he led the team with 91 rushing yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry. It's too early to say a lot of things. This was Eastern Washington, not Alabama, after all. But it's clear, regardless of what the depth chart says, Ahmed and Newton are considered by the coaching staff to be the team's top options at the position.

One other note on the UW running backs: there is more of a variety in playing style and build in that room than there was in 2018. Consider that, last fall, the heights and weights for Washington's scholarship running backs looked like this: 5-10/193, 6-0/195, 6-0/204, 5-7/174, 5-11/195.

A year later, Newton has gained 15 pounds of functional muscle, jumping from 195 pounds to 210. Pleasant has added nine pounds to his frame, settling at 213.

Of course, Petersen always says if you're fast, elusive and you break tackles, he doesn't care what you weigh. But UW now has the luxury of mixing Ahmed — who leads the team with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash — with Newton, who runs with the rugged physicality of a souped-up snowplow. Throw in an experienced offensive line, and that could be a prosperous partnership.

UW is sticking with its senior wide receivers (for now?)

Petersen didn't mince words last week.

"That's one group that really needs to come on for our offense to take the next step," he said of Washington's wide receivers. "That's something we've been (harping) on for quite a long time, and I'm not off that one yet."

It's worth noting UW's season-opening depth chart was comprised almost exclusively of upperclassmen at wide receiver. Seniors Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller and Chico McClatcher were listed as the starters, while the backups were senior Quinten Pounds, junior Ty Jones (who The Times reported on Saturday will likely miss the majority of the season) and sophomore Terrell Bynum.

Still, it was conceivable — especially considering the wide-receiver corps' general inconsistency last season — newcomers like redshirt freshmen Austin Osborne, Marquis Spiker and Trey Lowe and true freshman Puka Nacua could earn significant roles against Eastern Washington.

That was not the case.

In the first half, in particular, UW leaned heavily on Baccellia, Fuller and McClatcher (as well as starting tight ends Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton). They didn't disappoint, either; Bryant led the Huskies with six catches for 81 yards, but the trio of senior wideouts was not far behind, registering five grabs apiece. All three reached the end zone. Fuller turned in a pair of spectacular touchdown grabs, Baccellia hauled in a 50-yard rainbow from Eason and McClatcher snagged an Eason missile on a slant from 10 yards out.

Before Saturday, both McClatcher and Baccellia had not reached the end zone since the 2016 season, and that drought speaks to the uncertainty surrounding the receiver corps. But in the opener, at least, they held up their end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, the only other wideout to catch a pass was Bynum, who hauled in the first two receptions of his UW career for 32 yards. Petersen said the plan was to incorporate Nacua in the offense earlier, so perhaps we'll see more of the highly touted freshman in the weeks to come. He also noted Lowe is currently sidelined with an infection.

But, Lowe aside, UW's young receivers were available to play. Time will tell whether their essential absence is a positive (because the seniors stepped up) or a negative (because the freshmen weren't ready to contribute).

"I think it starts with the older guys," first-year wide-receivers coach Junior Adams said last month, redirecting a question about the young wideouts. "It starts with Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia and Quinten Pounds, Chico McClatcher.

"Those guys set the bar; they set the standard. They're good walking examples. Those (young) guys have something to look up to in that room."

The UW defense is not afraid to turn to its young talent

The redshirt-freshman wide receivers might have struggled to get on the field, but that wasn't the case with Jimmy Lake's crew.

On defense, the Huskies rolled through multiple waves of contributors Saturday — particularly with the defensive line and linebackers. While Levi Onwuzurike, Josiah Bronson and Benning Potoa'e earned the first looks on the interior, redshirt freshmen Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani were also staples in the rotation (with the former registering two tackles in the win). True freshmen Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes and Noa Ngalu also entered the game in mop-up time, though it seems — if everybody else stays healthy — those three could be headed for a four-game redshirt.

On the second level, seniors Brandon Wellington and Kyler Manu were listed as the starters, but Lake was also liberal in his use of redshirt freshmen Jackson Sirmon and M.J. Tafisi. The 6-foot, 235-pound Tafisi specifically stood out, finishing third on the team with five tackles. It seems, in this case, the starting label isn't everything; the Huskies will lean on a committee to produce a complete performance.

Elsewhere, the following true-freshman defensive players appeared in Saturday's game: starting safety Cam Williams, outside linebacker Laiatu Latu, linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala, cornerback Trent McDuffie and nickel Asa Turner. In the first start of his UW career, Williams turned in four tackles, and Latu contributed two tackles and a safety.

For the UW defense, there are plenty of positives to point to. The Huskies held Eastern Washington to 274 total yards and 2.1 yards per carry. Using an array of blitzes, they also added nine tackles for loss and four sacks.

But the Eagles stacked up back-to-back drives of 79 and 84 yards in the second quarter as well. This wasn't a perfect performance. With so many young pieces, there were going to be inevitable growing pains.

The goal is to minimize them — and keep improving against Cal.

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