Sep 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Huskies tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) makes a catch against Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Mason Monheim (43) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Huskies Football: Austin Seferian-Jenkins And Starting Slow

November 02, 2012; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears linebacker Robert Mullins (37) tackles Washington Huskies tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Go back in time to January of this year and get together an assortment of Husky fans and a gaggle of writers covering the team. Offer them a bet
on ASJ’s total catches through the first two regular season games, and set the over/under at four catches. Shrug your shoulders as every single person takes the over.

ASJ came into this season as the only logical choice for best tight end in the country. He was arguably the best tight end in the country last season (it’s a pretty good argument), and it was more program success and personal exposure that led to ASJ finishing third in the John Mackey Award voting. This year, it was logically presumed that he would take a step forward in his game and dominate on a greater level.

Obviously things didn’t go as planned. You’ve likely heard this a dozen times before, but it has to be mentioned: the DUI arrest in March derailed ASJ’s off season and changed the course of his season. He was suspended from the team for spring and for the entire summer, rejoining the team in time for fall camp. Then he broke his pinkie finger, which put his status in question for the season-opener and kept him out of practice for most of August. When the season-opener against Boise State rolled around, Sark made the pinkie irrelevant by handing down a one game suspension.

Due to his illegal actions, ASJ held himself to zero catches in game one. Saturday’s game against Illinois, however, was supposed to be the beginning of the dominance. After seeing Washington’s offense ring up 38 points on the Broncos, the possibilities seemed endless with ASJ back in the mix, especially against a presumably weaker opponent in Illinois.

The offense did just fine in the 34-24 victory, aside from penalties and the two Dwayne Washington fumbles. It’s just that ASJ was a total non-factor. In fact, he hurt the team more with the multiple penalties he accrued than he helped with his minimal stat-line of 3 catches for 8 yards.

Now, with the crystal clear vision delivered by the power of hindsight, it seems that fans and writers alike may have been wrong to assume that ASJ would pick up right where he left off last season. He has spent hardly any time with the team during an off-season that saw a new offense implemented. Sark commented last week that he wasn’t quite in no-huddle shape after missing so much time, and it’s distinctly possible that he has also struggled to find his way within the offense. Perhaps a two-week stretch from August 31st to the Illinois game wasn’t enough for him to scrape off all the rust.

Or perhaps we’ll all look silly for panicking over a single game when ASJ goes off against Idaho State or Arizona. It’s very possible, though it would be foolish in a different way to assume that the star tight end can fulfill the statistical expectations established during the off season. He may not put up nation-leading numbers even if he plays great from here on out, considering that he has amassed a minimal statline with a full two games of the season finished.

Personal statistics, at least season stats, probably don’t matter much to Coach Sark and his staff, and really, they shouldn’t matter to fans either as long as ASJ bounces back and is able to start making plays for the offense once again. But regardless, it will have an impact on his chances to win the John Mackey Award or to be selected 1st team All-American, for whatever that’s worth.

For now the only choice is the waiting game. ASJ will have a week to prepare before playing at home (for the first time) against FCS Idaho State. Recent Pac-12 vs. FCS contests aside, the Huskies should dominate that game. They need to respect their opponent and prepare to win to avoid inviting an upset, but it should also serve as a tune-up for the weeks to come. It won’t be key for ASJ to put up huge numbers in this game for the Huskies to win, but it will serve as an opportunity for him to get on track.

Next the Huskies will practice for one more week before opening the conference season at home against Arizona. By that time, it will be important for Seferian-Jenkins to be fully comfortable within the offense. The Pac-12 is incredibly deep this season, and precious few conference games look to be anywhere close to an easy win.

For now, Husky fans shouldn’t panic about ASJ. If we’re having this same conversation after the Arizona game, however, you can feel free to start sweating.

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