SEATTLE — Through six games, Washington’s offense is producing more than ever before while getting less from its two most established stars.
And that’s exactly what the Huskies had planned for.
Even with the diminished statistics of juniors Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the No. 20 Huskies (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) enter Saturday’s game at Arizona State (4-2, 2-1) ranked eighth in the nation in total offense, averaging 526.8 yards, and they’re on pace to shatter the school record for total offense over the course of a full season.
“I love it,” UW offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. “That’s the beauty of this offense and what we’re doing.”
Washington’s offensive overhaul has, however, created reduced roles for Williams and Seferian-Jenkins, the top targets for quarterback Keith Price last season.
Kiesau said much of that is by design. With the emergence of speed receivers Kevin Smith and Jaydon Mickens — not to mention Bishop Sankey leading the nation in rushing — opponents are forced to defend the whole width of the field.
Last year, Kiesau said, defenses could game-plan to stop Williams and Seferian-Jenkins and, thus, severely limit the UW offense.
“In my opinion, it’s a good problem,” Kiesau said. “They obviously want the ball. But they’re awesome. They understand it’s about getting this team to win games.”
Williams, an archetypical No. 1 receiver with good size and good hands, earned All-Pac-12 honorable-mention honors last season with 77 catches — third-most in a season ever at UW — for 878 yards and six touchdowns.
This season? Williams is third on the team with an average of 62.3 receiving yards, with 24 catches and only one touchdown at the midseason mark.
“I definitely thought my numbers would be higher than this. Most definitely. I can’t lie,” Williams said Wednesday. “But, at the end of the day, there’s still a whole ’nother half of football to play. And I think there’s still those opportunities for me to reach those opportunities where I thought I’d be.”
There has been much fan speculation and message-board fodder about Seferian-Jenkins, the preseason All-American tight end.
On Monday, during UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s weekly radio show, one fan was bold enough to ask the coach whether Seferian-Jenkins was suffering from lingering effects of his drunken car crash in March (for which he later pleaded guilty, serving one night in jail and a one-game suspension). Sarkisian offered a quick response to that: No.
Sarkisian has been asked several other times this week by the media about Seferian-Jenkins’ role.
“I went for 10 months of people talking to me about, ‘Who’s our third wide receiver?’ ” Sarkisian said Wednesday. “So we’ve got a good offensive football team. We move the football very efficiently. We’re effective in the red zone. We’re very effective on third down. And the reality is, it’s because of our balance. It’s because, who are you going to cover, what are you going to stop? And I think that’s where we want to be.”
In five games, Seferian-Jenkins has 16 catches for 185 yards and a team-best three touchdowns. Those numbers, except for the touchdowns, are down dramatically from his 2012 season, when he had 69 catches for 850 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games.
He was asked Wednesday why he thinks his statistics are down.
“Because we have talent all over the field,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “We’re a top-10 offense in America. I really don’t care about my numbers. I’m getting better at blocking and I’m making almost every play that comes my way, except for one, this season.”
That one play was a third-down pass from Price late in UW’s comeback at Stanford, when the ball glanced off the tight end’s hands and fell incomplete. Otherwise, Sarkisian has praised Seferian-Jenkins several times for his role in blocking for Sankey and the UW ground game.
As for Williams, Price said his erstwhile top target would like the ball more — as does every receiver. But Price said that that’s not any sort of lingering issue between them.
Williams was the last player on the UW practice field Wednesday. He spent about 10 minutes standing alone 10 yards away from a “Snap Attack” machine that shot footballs at him at high speed. He caught several dozen.
“My job is to catch the ball when it comes to me, and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that this year,” Williams said. “I have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way, because I don’t know how many are going to come.”