Skip to main content
Publish date:

Old Kids on the Block for Huskies Have Been in Constant Shuffle

Just one of the five returning starters has avoided injury or poor play.
Author:

This University of Washington football team planned to build around its most experienced and well-stocked asset — its offensive line — and everything else seemingly would fall into place.

All five starters returned. They formed the biggest line in the Pac-12 and in school history. Four possessed all-conference accolades of some kind, first team to honorable mention. One graded out as an NFL first-round draft pick.

It was a lot of window dressing. 

Seven games into a season gone wrong, just three of these experienced Husky linemen were on the field when the Huskies put a capper on a more-difficult-than-expected 21-16 victory over Arizona last Friday night in Tucson.

Of those O-line regulars, one lost his starting job in fall camp and recently regained it and another got pulled in the opener against Montana, meaning only one of these supposed fab five blockers has been season-long pillar up front. Consequently, the  run game has been far less than fearsome than planned.

"It's not just one thing," Husky offensive-line coach Scott Huff said. "We've been getting a lot of loaded boxes. It's been some really tough situations to run the ball in. Some of it's been just not great execution."

At left tackle, returning first-team All-Pac-12 selection Jaxson Kirkland was noticeably absent in Arizona after the 6-foot-7, 310-pound junior stayed home to nurse some sort of unspecified injury. That's a 35-game starter on the mend.

Troy Fautanu, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman from Las Vegas, stepped in for Kirkland and drew his first Husky start at the lead tackle spot. By all accounts, his evening went well. The accompanying photo even shows Fautanu knocking an opponent off his feet.

"You lose a player like Jaxson, that's a bummer," Huff said. "But to have a player like Troy come in and step in the way he did, that's exciting."

Left guard is where the biggest upheaval has taken place. Ulumoo "M.J." Ale, a 6-foot-6, 355-pound sophomore from Tacoma, was the returning starter coming in. Julius Buelow, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound redshirt freshman from Honolulu, Hawaii, beat him out in fall camp to start the first five Husky games. Ale reclaimed the No. 1 job for the past two games.

"Julius came out and had an unbelievable fall camp and M.J. was a little dinged up, as you guys may or may not know," Huff said. "And then M.J. came on as of late and has been practicing at a real high level and playing good, and that's how it playing out right now."

Read More

Ale, one of the biggest men in the Pac-12, dropped 10 pounds since losing his position apparently to reclaim some mobility. He still could be a dominant player some day. For now, he's working on being a consistent player rather than one who occasionally takes plays off.

At right guard, junior Henry Bainivalu from Sammamish, Washington, has started all seven games. However, he was yanked in the second half of the 13-7 upset loss to Montana in favor of redshirt freshman Nate Kalepo to shake things up. At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, Bainivalu might be packing a little too much weight. 

Victor Curne, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound sophomore from Houston, has started 11 consecutive games at right tackle over two seasons. Yet he's given way to a more streamlined 6-foot-5, 290-pound sophomore Matteo Mele in the second half for each of the past two games. Mele, is pushing the other guy hard for the starting job.

"I started thinking, hey, every other position rotates guys, why not at the tackles?" Huff said. "You've got two guys playing pretty similar. Both guys have strengths and weaknesses."

That leaves Luke Wattenberg. Outside of a bad shotgun snap over quarterback Dylan Morris' head that lost 25 yards against UCLA, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound sixth-year senior from Trabuco Canyon, California, has had largely an uneventful season. He's neither been injured nor willing to share his job. He's showed up for every game. He's the lone survivor up front.

As the Huskies (3-4 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) head into Stanford (3-4, 2-3) this weekend, it's not clear if Kirkland will be back to anchor the line. It's not obvious who will start at right tackle. 

All of this job-sharing across the UW line would seem to indicate that some of these big guys aren't always performing at a high level rather than there's a surplus of talent. Or maybe they're too big. 

This team won't win in Palo Alto unless these guys are at their best.

Go to si.com/college/washington to read the latest Husky Maven stories as soon as they’re published.

Find Husky Maven on Facebook by searching: Husky Maven/Sports Illustrated

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven