The Brotherhood: Stanford, Oregon and the O-Line

You guys have a big job on Saturday. - Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not normally a praying man, but if you're up there, please help us this week, Superman.

Darin plays the intro

Wow. That was a really great football game. Two solid teams trading punches right up to the last seconds. Naturally, I'd much rather the Huskies win, but you have to admire the beauty of the thing. Keith Price. Bishop Sankey. Marcus Peters. Sean Parker. John Timu. I don't know why I've never heard of any of these guys before, but they're actually pretty good. I recommend you keep an eye out for them if you watch the replay.

Can I get something off my chest? It's Sunday morning, and I'm already sick to death of hearing that the special teams "gave up 21 points" in bad kick coverage. That is utterly stupid. The changes in field position amounted to something like nine points. Which isn’t that the special teams were okay. They weren’t. When the game is lost by three points you can point to lots of things that might have made the difference: drops, bad calls, good calls, whiffed blocks, short-hopped passes, etc. But to imply not only that the Dawgs might have won with better kick coverage but that they would have crushed Stanford is silliness on stilts.

After watching that game, here's how I see the Dawgs. We are superior at all skill positions. I would not have traded receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, defensive backs, or linebackers with Stanford. We are average on the offensive line and perhaps slightly above average on defensive line This is still a flawed team. Much less so than in previous years, but we're still relying on our strengths in one area to overcome weaknesses in another. Watching Stanford's offensive line made me a little wistful. I want an OL like that. It's clearly an area where recruiting (and development?) has lagged. I'm not sure I understand why. I have two theories as to why it might be, but I wonder what you think the reason is.

If you fake an injury you are a little bitch. I don't care if you have a tactical reason for it. I don't care if you're an all-conference player. I don't care if you have a sporty little Mohawk and scaaaary spooky eye-black. And I don't care if your coach is the guy who helped put together the greatest Washington defense ever. You. Are. A. Bitch.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about how Husky fans ought to think about Steve Sarkisian's coaching tenure to-date. Understanding that this season is yet to be finished, give me your odds that we've got a "keeper" on our hands.

Brad takes it through the first chorus

Yeah, it was an entertaining game. But it was like a great movie with a bad ending.

My biggest takeaway from the game is that the team is legit. Maybe even better than I thought. Redmond Longhorn wrote a fanpost a while back about Price not getting any respect. I think the question is quickly becoming, Is he the best QB in UW’s history?

Yeah, the special teams didn’t “give up” 21 points. But they still sucked. It’s one thing if Stanford got those big returns because of great blocking or some sort of phenomenal individual effort. But that’s not what happened. Sarkisian talked about “missed assignment.” I find that almost inexcusable, especially on the first one. The assignments in kick coverage aren’t terribly dynamic. Fill a lane, take a blocker out, etc. Not much the return team does influences that. If there was a breakdown on that one, it was almost entirely mental, and happened right at the beginning of the play. Sarkisian made a comment about coaching kick coverage better. When I read it, I wondered if that was comment directed at Johnny Nansen…

I agree, outside of the lines, I’m probably not trading straight across with Stanford at any position group. And I also agree that the Dawgs are stuck using strengths in one area to overcome weakness in another. I guess the offensive line is average. For sure, they’re well-conditioned. They don’t win the first half conclusively, but they seem to come out on top much more often in the second. Against Oregon, that advantage is minimized I think. And the weakness of the defensive line is exacerbated. What happens when Danny Shelton comes out and Oregon gets on a role? How can the Huskies take the middle of the field away?

When I sat down to write this, I was prepared to knock the imbalance of the play calling a little. When you take out sacks and scrambles from the rush total and add them to the passes, there were 58 passes and only 30 rushing attempts. One of those was by the punter. Another was a “team” rush. (Caveat – we don’t necessarily know how many were “called” passes and how many of them were options on which Price chose to throw) But then I looked a little closer at the box score – 21 of those passes came in the fourth quarter, and almost all of those while trailing by double digits. So, that angle is gone. Instead, I’m going to take this chance to praise Sarkisian’s play calling here. A top 5 team, with a lauded defensive front, and Sarkisian called his typically balanced game. And when I watched the replay, it really was, until the end. This was a game that, if Sarkisian wasn’t actually committed to this offense, he could’ve slipped back into his “old” ways. He didn’t.

Here are my theories on the offensive line – 1. There simply aren’t very many linemen that come from west of the Mississippi, 2. The line has been so bad for so long that highly rated recruits don’t want to come here and get swallowed up by an otherwise less-than-mediocre group, and 3. Guys don’t want to play for Cozzetto. You?

Yeah, I agree on the faking injuries thing. I also wish that Sarkisian would’ve let the rest of us talk about it and had kept his mouth shut. Simply no need on his part. True or not, it’s already gotten more play than it should’ve, and it smacks of sour grapes.

Is Sarkisian a keeper? I honestly don’t know. The team is right where I figured they’d be right now record-wise, but they’re playing better – and tougher – than I’d figured they would. I still have questions about him – recruiting on the lines is the biggest – and some have changed. How much of what we’ve seen this season is sustainable, and how much is based on a great defensive staff (that’ll likely have to be rebuilt) and two really good offensive players?

Darin shreds the solo

Is Keith Price the greatest Husky QB ever? This is sort of like that same question about Chris Polk a couple years ago, or Bishop Sankey now. I sure as heck wouldn’t want to argue the “no” side of that one. I mean, Marcus Tuiasosopo has a legit claim for non-statistically-evident reasons. Cody Picket’s records are mostly safe. But the case for Price is pretty strong.

You make a good point about the execution problems on kickoff coverage. Watching the replay, especially from the behind view, you don’t really notice any Huskies in the middle of the field. That seems a rather glaring omission – putting tacklers in the middle part of the field. So glaring, in fact, that I think it’s likely Nansen told somebody on that coverage team to keep an eye on the middle. “Run down the middle!,” I bet he said. I wouldn’t even be all that surprised to hear that they worked on it in practice. Think about it. Why else close the practices but to keep the fact that the kickoff team was going to cover the middle of the field out of the media? I’ll tell you: no reason.

Now, you’re going to ask me, “Okay, genius, why didn’t it happen in the game, then?” Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be here talking to you. Would I.

You make a good point about the trend of the game going Washington’s way as it progressed. This isn’t much more than a subjective sense, but it did feel like we wore Stanford down, at least more than the other way around.

Not many linemen from West of the Mississippi? Hm. It looks like 24 of 85 or so on the NFL draft –tracker are from West of the Mississippi. That’s more or less in line with the total population (about one third in the West), and also roughly with the distribution of major college teams . So I don’t think your theory of there not being enough linemen holds up. Next.

Top guys not wanting to be part of a mediocre group? If the program is on the rise, that seems like an argument for the UW, not against it. Next.

Cozzetto. Well, now. Based on what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t want to play for him. Lucky for him, I’m quite sure the feeling would be mutual. He seems the opposite of the laid-back, let’s have some fun while we work hard, in loco parentis attitude that Sarkisian projects. Maybe that’s good. Maybe not. UW used to be a ladder to the top of a pro lineman slide, but not anymore.

One argument in Cozzetto’s favor is that we’ve had trouble with defensive linemen, too. Tackles, anyway. Maybe the UW training table has a bad rap. Is the Northwest a bad place to be 300 pounds?

I’m 75 percent confident Sarkisian is a keeper. That’s not to say there are no better coaches out there. But I believe the cost to change him is higher than the risk of keeping him. At this point, it’s not just a question of giving him a fair shake. I believe we can conclude we want him to stay. Not for sure. But probably.

Vegas is giving the Dawgs about a one in six chance of winning. Which way would you bet the assortment of foreign currencies in your bug-out-bag?

Brad Grows Tired of This

Listen, if you’ve got a theory about the line and recruiting (and you’ve got theories about everything), let’s hear it. I can’t find the draft tracker info you reference. How many are from Texas versus the traditional Washington recruiting footprint? It’s the same argument for defensive tackles. They just don’t grow very many in the places that Washington successfully recruits. And the ones that are around (generally from California and Hawaii) are recruited by most of the country.

For skill players, yes, immediate playing time is an incentive. Linemen are mostly anonymous. And collaborative. It’s much tougher to shine when you’re the best guy in a group of mostly bad players on the line than it is at running back. Or receiver. Or quarterback.

I don’t bet on college football, so the questions about odds or bets are largely inconsequential to me. But I’d probably agree with the one in six chance. Maybe one in five. The issue is, what do the Dawgs have to do to maximize the odds of that 18% or so chance of manifesting itself on Saturday? If you look at the advanced stats, even though Washington’s defense is “good,” they’re pretty susceptible to the run. And running quarterbacks. It’s tough to see a scenario that the UW simply shuts Oregon down on the ground. So, how does Washington actually win on Saturday?

Darin Steps Back Up

Well...we used to get linemen. Did all the big people settle to the bottom of the continent or something?

Losing is my most likely hypothesis for why we don't get linemen. Along with rational prioritization. Given how things have been the last decade, you have to sell harder to get players at Washington than you might have in the past. You need lots of linemen: we tend to think of "offensive line" as one position, but really that's five guys. Although those five together are incredibly important, any one of them is much less important than, say, Keith Price. If you're a coach trying to rebuild a program it probably makes sense to focus on skill players first. (And offense before defense, since a small number of offensive stars can be productive in a way that defensive stars can't. This is why WSU has often been a good on offense even when the team is bad.)

I don't bet either, but I find that thinking in terms of, "If I actually were to wager money on this, how would I bet?" makes more more honest (i.e., less of a fan). We use this trick all the time in my line of work (i.e., shepherding).

I am coming around to thinking the Dawgs' defense is actually good. Unfortunately, Oregon's offense is spectacularly good. In a way, I'm glad the Dawgs gave up some cheap plays against Stanford because it showed them they can afford to make mistakes against a good team and still stay in the game. Oregon will score. They'll score fast and probably often. Honestly, the biggest factor might be the offense. Can they move the ball, can they keep the defense off the field, can they answer scores, can they wear down Oregon like Oregon will try to wear us down?

The Dawgs will win. Bet on it.

Brad Wraps Up This Mindless Tripe

Yeah, losing is probably a large part of it. But if that's the case, why has the recruiting at the offensive skill positions been as good as it has?

I go back and forth as to whether the key to beating the Ducks is great offense or great defense. The answer is obviously both, but if you could only pick one, which would it be?

If the Oregon offense and the Washington defense both play "average" games, you have to figure the Ducks are going to score somewhere in the 40's likely. Do you really think the Husky offense, even on their best day, is going to put up that many points against Oregon? I have a tough time seeing it. If you look back at the losses in the Chip Kelly era, the common theme is that the Ducks end up throwing the ball far more than they want to. In some cases, it's because the running game is being largely contained. In others (most notably the BCS title game against Auburn and USC in 2011), it seemed like Kelly gave up on the run exceedingly early.

It's going to take the offense playing very well, no doubt, but I think the way to beat Oregon is with a superlative defensive effort and good offense. Washington's run defense isn't great, but I think they're more capable of stepping up than in Sankey going for 200 yards on the same day Price passes for 400. And a lower-scoring game, with the Husky defense playing great, puts more pressure on the Ducks than matching them score-for-score does in my mind.

Of course the Huskies win. Duh.

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