Shaq Thompson will start at linebacker and John Ross III will open at cornerback against against No. 17 Arizona Saturday in Tucson as coach Chris Petersen puts up plywood in preparation for another Pac-12 hurricane offense. He’s also likely to have his ace pass rusher, LB Hau’oli Kikaha, after he sat our most of the UCLA loss with a right shoulder stinger.
“He should be (ready), we’ll see,” Petersen said Monday. “I’ve thought a lot of guys should be good for Saturday the last couple weeks and we’re still waiting on some guys. He was out there today running around with us.”
For Thompson, the return to defense doesn’t mean he’s done with offense, only that, after giving up 44 points at home to UCLA, Petersen’s greatest emergency of the week is on defense. The Wildcats average 505 yards on offense, fourth in the Pac-12 and good enough Oct. 2 to help beat then-No. 2 Oregon 31-24, a signature win for the tenure of coach Rich Rodriguez in the desert.
Ross had his most significant game action on defense against the Bruins. He was listed on the Monday two-deep roster ahead of freshman Naijiel Hale, who was thrown into the starting job after Petersen fired all-conference CB Marcus Peters Wednesday. Hale was the victim of a 57-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that put up UCLA 14-0.
Petersen is obviously desperate for solutions with a 6-4 Huskies team that, at least according to oddsmakers, has beaten teams it should beat and lost to teams that were favored. The Wildcats, who lost 31-13 a year ago in a Seattle rainstorm and RB Bishop Sankey runstorm (161 yards in 40 carries), opened as nine-point favorites.
He knows shuffling two of his best athletes from side to side is asking a lot.
“It’s hard . . . yeah, whether it’s guys like Shaq or John Ross. But we’ve got to balance that, and see where we need the most help and are the most thin.”
Petersen didn’t know how many offensive plays Thompson, who had 100 yards on 16 carries against UCLA, would get.
“We never go in there with, ‘Hey, we want to get him this many carries,'” he said. “It’s more like, ‘How’s he feeling? Can we keep giving him the ball? Is he going on defense? Okay, he didn’t get a whole lot that last (series).’ It’s kind of back and forth.
“I think we were playing him as much as we can. That running back position is a tough, hard position. There’s just a lot of pounding. It’s hard to play him any more. It’s as much as he can handle.”
Petersen thinks injured running backs Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington will be sufficiently healthy Saturday to join senior Deontae Cooper in the game plan and help reduce dependence on Thompson.
But Thompson isn’t going to be much help where the Huskies need it most — the passing game. Washington is dead last in Pac-12 passing yards per game at 177; Arizona is third at 314. Post-game Saturday, Petersen described the passing attack as “painful.”
“We just need to be able to throw the ball downfield a little bit more and make some plays,” Petersen said Monday, a little exasperated. “It was nice to get one to (WR Brayden Lenius), a big chunk play. We had two other chances to (WR Dante Pettis) we couldn’t quite get done. We need to hit a few of those. Our run game is solid, but our run game could get better if we could pass the ball better.”
QB Cyler Miles is still struggling with decision-making on straight drops as well as the read-option.
“He wants to get out there and run,” Petersen said. “That’s definitely an area we’ve got to get better at. There may be one or two a game where you say, ‘Hey, this would have been probably a good one to keep.’ But he carries the ball decent amount.
“Maybe (it’s) the whole pocket presence thing, to be able to hang in there, let some things develop.”
Ten games in, and the Huskies are no closer to answers on offense than they were in the Hawaii opener. Perhaps it’s time to eliminate the middleman and snap directly to Thompson.