SEATTLE — There were times last season when Washington Huskies wide receiver Jaydon Mickens was involved in jaw-dropping plays.
Trouble was, the mandible movement usually came after an open Mickens dropped a pass.
Short, swift and unreliable, Mickens had a hard time in his freshman season.
Quarterback Keith Price was pummeled much of the year behind a makeshift offensive line. That, as much as anything, took away an expected strength of Mickens’: the deep ball. There wasn’t time to launch many his way.
When there was, Mickens had a hard time pulling them in.
Another byproduct of the lack of protection was Price focusing on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. Few others were involved in the passing game.
Among the missing was Mickens. His 47-yard reception against Utah was the longest of the year for Washington, but he caught just 20 passes for 190 yards.
He says his brain slowed his feet.
“Mentally, that’s what really bothered me last year,” Mickens said. “Going slow because I’m not sure of the route, not sure if I’m going to cross somebody’s face and make this big catch.
“Now, I just do it.”
He just did it in the opener against Boise State. The Huskies lined Mickens up in the slot or motioned him into the flat out of the backfield to get him the ball on the perimeter. He even took a handoff.
When the 38-6 rout of Boise State was finished, Mickens had a career-high nine catches for 109 yards, 81 yards short of his total from 2012.
“I love being a moving target,” Mickens said. “That’s the one thing I really want to relate to, being a moving target. Me, John Ross, Marvin Hall, those guys that can really get the perimeter going; it’s what we do.”
Ross, a true freshman, had a superlative fall camp. So much so, that he appeared ready to displace Mickens.
Ross was solid in his debut, making four catches for 39 yards. Though, it was Mickens who juked and zoomed his way into a big day.
“He’s much more confident,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said of Mickens. “He’s always been a somewhat confident guy, just in general, but I think there’s genuine confidence coming from Jaydon.”
Which leaves him with more ambition. Despite the high-octane output in the opener, Mickens has a list of improvements to make.
“I could have broke three tackles for touchdowns, so, I should have had three touchdowns,” Mickens said. “Route running could have been better. Assignment-wise could have been better. Blocking could have been way better, so that’s what I am working on.”
Huskies move up
Washington moved up to 19th from 20th in the Associated Press top 25 poll Sunday despite not playing last week. It’s the highest the Huskies have been ranked under Sarkisian.
Washington remained 23rd in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
Oregon is No. 2 in both polls. Stanford (5) and UCLA (16) are the other Pac-12 schools in the AP top 25.
USC fell out of both polls after losing 10-7 to Washington State at home Saturday.
Two AP voters had Illinois, Washington’s next opponent, in their top 25s. One had the Illini ranked 18th, the other 25th.