By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — While the statistical growth of the University of Washington football team’s offense won’t be measured until this fall, the unit has already shown signs of maturity.
Last Thursday, when tight end Kavario Middleton was asked what kind of numbers this year’s offense can expect to put up, the boastful junior-to-be simply shrugged.
“Everyone wants to win,” Middleton said. “It’s not about numbers; it’s just about winning.”
As a true sophomore last fall, Middleton probably couldn’t have said the same thing with a straight face. It was, after all, precisely about the numbers for him.
“You grow out of that,” he said, “when you get older.”
Growth is the key to a unit that has the potential to put up numbers that will rank among the biggest in program history.
With a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Jake Locker, a record-setting rusher in sophomore running back Chris Polk, and a receiving corps that includes Middleton and the top seven receivers back from last year’s team, the Huskies have the deepest cache of weapons in the Pac-10.
“It’s the most talented team that we’ve had, and we (still) have the newcomers coming in,” junior wide receiver Devin Aguilar said last week as the Huskies went through spring practices. “But as far as right now, with the experienced guys, it’s looking real good.”
When it comes to how the Huskies’ offensive weapons might stack up against the rest of the Pac-10, Aguilar wasn’t making any boastful declarations.
“I’ve never even thought about that,” he said. “As of right now, this is the best offense I’ve been in. All that will come later.”
Whether or not the Huskies are willing to admit it, they might have the deepest group of skill players in the conference — if not the entire West Coast.
Locker, Polk, Middleton, Aguilar and fellow wide receivers Jermaine Kearse, James Johnson and D’Andre Goodwin have started a combined 93 games over their UW careers. The group certainly has the potential to put up some of the biggest numbers the Huskies have ever seen.
“We have a talented group of guys,” Locker said. “Coach (Steve Sarkisian) says potential is the worst word in the dictionary. He says it’s your ability that you haven’t reached yet.”
The expectations will undoubtedly be high in the coming months. Last year’s offense put up impressive numbers, and the wealth of returning players brings plenty of reasons for excitement.
Using the same group of skill players that are expected to be on the field this fall, the 2009 Huskies had the seventh-most total yards of any team in school history. Polk set a freshman record with 1,113 rushing yards, which ranked seventh among all Husky runners in a single season. And Locker’s 3,188 yards of total offense ranked second in school history.
Being a year older, this year’s group might be able to improve on those numbers.
“As a group, when we go out and play as a unit, we can do some pretty amazing things,” said Locker, who needs 3,181 yards of total offense to become the school’s career leader in that category. “I’m excited about what our offensive group will be able to do this fall.”
In the annals of UW history, the 2002 team put up marks that even this fall’s squad might find difficult to match. Cody Pickett, Reggie Williams and Co. piled up 5,469 yards of total offense — more than 300 above the total of any other Huskies team. That unit had 400 or more yards in six of its 13 games; by comparison, Locker and Co. had four 400-yard games last season.
Of course, two of those 400-yard games in 2009 came in the final two weeks. In wins over Washington State and Cal, the Huskies piled up 924 yards of total offense to go out in style.
“The foot that we left off on the Cal game, there’s only one way to go — and that’s up,” junior running back Johri Fogerson said last week. “(But as far as numbers,) there’s no saying what we will do until it happens.”
Sarkisian admits that the UW offense has a long way to go before achieving perfection. His goal between now and the fall is to find the right combination on the offensive line and become more physical in the running game, something that the 2009 unit was lacking.
Come this fall, he might find another obstacle in having enough footballs to go around. Sarkisian’s offense has plenty of potential, but he has no idea how that might translate into numbers.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I’ve dealt with worse situations before.”
To hear Sarkisian, Middleton and the rest of the UW offense talk, the only number that worries the 2010 Huskies is 13.
As in, that’s how many games this team would play should it snap the seven-year drought of bowl games.
“We expect to win, at whatever we do — whether it’s a drill, or a game, whatever,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said of the expectations for the 2010 offense. “We expect to win.”