SEATTLE — Chris Petersen remembers what it felt like, as he put it, to be a “young rush-watcher.”
That’s what he sees when he looks at Washington Huskies starting quarterback Cyler Miles, who has struggled at times throughout this season to stay in the pocket long enough to allow plays to develop.
Miles, a third-year sophomore, can run. And Petersen doesn’t want to limit the damage Miles can do with his legs if a play does break down, or if a pass rush does flush him from the pocket, in which case he truly needs to scramble and try to make something out of a busted protection.
The problem is that Miles too often bails out when there’s still time to make a play in the passing game.
“It’s always really hard for those scrambling QBs,” Petersen said on Thursday, two days before Washington’s 12:30 p.m. Saturday game at No. 17 Arizona in Tucson (12:30 p.m., Fox,13). “If things aren’t there, they want to go, because he makes a lot of yards with his legs. So that’s a fine line of, ‘OK, how long do I hang here? When do I go?’ And I think that progression is still going on.”
And it’s hard to simulate in practice.
“Really hard. But there are drills that we do, and they help,” said Petersen, who played quarterback at UC-Davis in the 1980s. “And I know from way back when, when I was a young rush-watcher myself, how you can change things. That’s over time, with drills. And it can’t be just done with drills. It’s got to be with real football, as well.”
Miles and UW’s offense — particularly the passing game — continue to search for a breakthrough. In eight games as the Huskies’ starter — he was suspended for the season opener, and missed a game due to a concussion — Miles has completed 131-of-200 passes (65.5 percent) for 1,404 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
He plays careful, often choosing to scramble out and throw the ball away rather than try to fit it into a tight space to a semi-covered receiver. Those are the kind of plays Petersen and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith would like to see more of, though Smith said the Huskies’ offensive line is partially to blame for that, too.
“I do think he plays with good effort, just generally, throughout the game,” Smith said. “Even when he tucks it and runs, he runs with great effort. I do think we can sit in there and get some throws made. We’ve got to protect him better. And then we’ve got to get open. I think it’s that fine line, too, of what is truly open. If a guy is somewhat close to him, but that’s really open at this level, we’ve got to be able to stick that on him.”
Petersen does think Miles is improving.
“We’ll see throws here and there when he has guys pushed in his face, he hangs in there and tries to throw a ball in there,” Petersen said. “Sometimes it might not even be complete — maybe there was a push in his face — but it’s the right thing to do, the right throw to make.”
Charles ‘in the mix’
The Huskies’ beat-up offensive line might be regaining one of its best players on Saturday.
Petersen said fourth-year junior left guard Dexter Charles is “in the mix” to play after missing each of the Huskies’ last three games with a foot injury he suffered in UW’s Oct. 18 loss at Oregon.
Fifth-year senior right tackle Ben Riva also practiced some this week, though his status for Saturday is uncertain.
Petersen also said fifth-year senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha, who leads the nation with 16.5 sacks, “practiced all week and all those things” after leaving last week’s loss to UCLA with a shoulder stinger.
“He’s been fine. He’s been working hard,” Petersen said. “We’ll just see how this game goes.”