Washington Huskies

Could running back Richard Newton help solve Huskies’ red zone woes?

Washington Huskies running back Richard Newton (28) celebrates a touchdown run during the fourth quarter. The University of Washington played University of Hawai’i in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Washington Huskies running back Richard Newton (28) celebrates a touchdown run during the fourth quarter. The University of Washington played University of Hawai’i in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

After scoring just a single touchdown in last week’s loss to Cal, Washington’s success — or lack there of — in the red zone was once again a topic of conversation.

But the Huskies scored seven touchdowns in the 52-20 victory against Hawaii, often without entering the red zone at all. When they did, they seemed to find a solution to the problem.

Richard Newton.

The redshirt freshman running back scored three touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors from 5, 1 and 8 yards out, respectively. Whenever the Huskies neared the end zone, it seemed like a pretty good bet that Newton was going to get the ball. But even if Hawaii saw it coming, it couldn’t stop him.

Offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said Newton’s physicality makes him a solid option in the red zone.

“You look at guys that get more than what the play is designed for,” Hamdan said. “He’s a guy that runs with good pad level and goes from there.”

Newton has played in all three games this season, rushing for 162 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries. He had 29 yards on eight attempts against Hawaii. In the season opener against Eastern Washington, he paced the Huskies with 91 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

“I think everybody sees what we see,” said head coach Chris Petersen. “He puts his pads down and he runs hard. I’m anxious to put this tape on for a couple reasons for a couple guys and he’s one of them.

“The running backs, it’s always hard to tell what they’re seeing or not seeing on the field. But Rich runs hard. He ends up finding the end zone. He’s a good player. We’ve got to keep progressing.”

Nacua’s welcome party

Fans have been excited to watch true freshman Puka Nacua play since the four-star receiver recommitted to the Huskies in February. On Saturday, he showed why.

Nacua, who was considered by 247Sports to be the No. 1 player in Utah and the No. 22 player in his class, made his first collegiate catch against Hawaii. It also happened to be his first touchdown.

“He has super good ball skills,” Petersen said. “You can see that every day in practice. He’s a smart player. We throw a lot at him. We usually have a lot of offense for a new guy that hasn’t heard this before.

“He’s going to keep getting more and more time. He knows that. The faster he can learn this stuff, the more we’ll put him on the field.”

Quarterback Jacob Eason found Nacua in the first quarter for the Huskies’ third touchdown. Hamdan said they ran a “fake bubble-type play,” which led to Nacua breaking down the right sideline and hauling in a 28-yard pass in the end zone.

Nacua didn’t catch another pass, and he wasn’t targeted again. Even so, he showed what he’s capable of. And both Petersen and Hamdan agreed that he’ll be seeing the field more this season.

“There’s certain guys that have played a lot of football before they got here,” Hamdan said. “He’s one of those guys maybe similar to a guy like (senior receiver) Aaron Fuller that’s played a lot of ball and those instincts help them bridge the gap between (high school) seniors and (college) freshmen.”

Extra points

Sama Paama suited up for the fourth time and made his collegiate debut in the fourth quarter. He became the 10th true freshman to play for the Huskies this season. … Defensive back Trent McDuffie started against Hawaii as UW opened with six defensive backs.

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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