Grading the Game: Oregon Edition

Bishop Sankey's big day wasn't enough for the Huskies - Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tough reality check for the Huskies as they hosted the #2 Oregon Ducks, dropping their 10th straight to the rivals from Eugene. Were there any bright spots in the loss? Time to take a look at the position groups and assess how they did.

This was a hard loss for Husky fans.  There was hope that this might be the year when the Huskies had closed the gap enough on the Ducks that the losing streak would end.  With a strong start to the season and all the hype that came with hosting ESPN's College Gameday for the first time, I know a lot of Husky fans were feeling good about our chances.  Instead, what we saw is that the gap between the two programs is still significant, and that's a painful truth to accept.  This wasn't simply a case of one team playing really poorly and the other one playing at their absolute best (though there was some of that involved) - the Ducks are simply at an elite level right now, and as much as the Huskies have improved, they still have more work to do to catch up.

QB: A week after the grittiest, guttiest effort we've seen from Keith Price, we saw a step back from him.  Some of the old bugaboos of 2012 resurfaced - happy feet, indecisiveness, late on his throws.  As his pass protection started consistently breaking down when Oregon brought more pressure via blitzes, Price began to revert back to old bad habits.  It wasn't a bad game - you have to give a lot of credit to the quality of the opponent - but this was a game that exposed some of his limitations.  While KP has shown flashes in his career of running ability, the reality is that he's not a great runner, and when given opportunities to hurt the Ducks with his feet, he did what he could but showed there's a wide gulf between himself and a guy like Marcus Mariota.  He seemed OK from a health standpoint, but it's quite possible his thumb cost him a bit of accuracy and/or velocity.  Hopefully he came out none the worse for wear, because the team will need him to bounce back next week and get a new win streak started.  Grade:  C+

RB: Another week, another huge game for Bishop Sankey.  It's actually kind of scary to think how bad the loss would have been without his big plays yesterday.  Shades of 2012 vs. Stanford, he busted a 4th and 1 play wide open, bouncing outside to evade tacklers and then showing surprising speed in sprinting down the sidelines and outrunning the Oregon secondary to the end zone for a 60 yard TD to bring the game back to a 7 point deficit.  His 2nd TD, a 25 yard beauty through the right side once again brought the Huskies to within 7 points, but that proved to be the last gasp for the Husky offense.  Had the game not gotten away from the Huskies, he almost certainly would have approached 200 yards on the ground; as it was, he tallied 167 yards on 28 carries with another 38 yards on 5 catches.  That would normally be enough to earn an A+ given the level of opponent, but his fumble early in the 2nd quarter as the Huskies were driving and the score was knotted at 7-all was a killer.  Grade:  A

WR/TE: Not the greatest day for this group.  They had trouble gaining separation downfield, and there were multiple times KP had reasonable protection only to find nobody open to throw to.  There were drops from Kevin Smith and Jaydon Mickens - the latter of which very nearly turned into another turnover when the ball bounced towards a Duck DB and was inches away from being a pick.  It's also becoming a bit worrisome that Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins still haven't produced big games.  I'll leave it to the film-room experts to analyze, but it seems as though their strengths are either not being utilized in this offense, or KP is not comfortable throwing those routes.  There were flashes, as both Mickens and ASJ had big gains, but the passing game is not as explosive as the talent on hand would seem to suggest.  Grade:  C

OL: While this group has improved over last year, they are still a work in progress.  This game looked an awful lot like last year, with decent run blocking and poor pass-blocking.  While they deserve some credit for the 167 yards Sankey put up, they also allowed 4 sacks and several more hurries.  It wasn't all on them, as there were times they gave KP 4-5 seconds, but he simply couldn't find anyone open.  Against a front 7 as talented as Oregon rolls out, that's going to spell trouble.  And as the game progressed and Oregon got more aggressive with their rush and blitzes, the OL was simply overmatched and could not give KP enough protection to allow the passing game the time it needed to mount a comeback.  Grade:  D+

DL: Danny Shelton is somewhat quietly having a terrific season.  His role is such that he's never going to pile up gaudy numbers, but he's finding the consistency that he lacked in previous years and is making it tough for teams to find a lot of success running the ball up the middle.  Unfortunately, Evan Hudson and Hau'oli Kikaha were less effective in holding the edges.  They weren't terrible, but as the game wore on Oregon was finding success hitting the perimeter for 5+ yard gains.  More problematic, they simply couldn't generate much of any pass rush, and the few occasions where they did get some heat on Mariota, they couldn't make the tackle or keep contain and he burned them with big runs.  Lack of a pass rush against good teams has been a consistent problem for this program for a while now, and it's keeping this defense from being a great one.  Grade:  C+

LB: A mixed-bag.  John Timu was active, leading the team in tackles, notching the team's only sack and accounting for another tackle for loss.  But there were too many missed tackles on the day including a long gainer early by Bralon Addison on a swing pass that should have been stopped for little or no gain.  They also had trouble stringing out perimeter runs and were burned multiple times on Mariota scrambles when they took poor angles and didn't properly account for his speed.  Grade:  C

Secondary: This has been - by far - the strength of this defense this year, and they were - by far - the weak link yesterday.  We saw it early on when Keanan Lowe got wide open behind his man only to flat-out drop what should have been an easy 41 yard TD.  DC Justin Wilcox had his group playing a lot of zone yesterday - something they haven't done much of prior - and by the 2nd quarter Mariota was feasting on it, consistently finding Addison, Lowe and others running wide open through those zones for big gains.  When Wilcox moved back to more man coverage they were burned again, as Josh Huff blew past Will Shamburger for a 65 yard TD on a perfect throw by Mariota.  In all, Mariota carved up the Huskies for 366 yards, completing 24 of 31 passes (77.4%) and averaging 15.3 yards per completion.  Oh, and Mariota still hasn't been picked off this year.  The Huskies needed the secondary to keep the Duck passing game in check to have a chance, and they didn't come close.  Grade:  D-

Special Teams: It was a minor victory of sorts that the kick coverage team didn't allow the Ducks a TD, but they did allow a 57 yarder to Huff, and lost the kickoff battle, netting just 32.2 yards per kickoff compared to 44.0 for the Ducks.  John Ross had one decent return, but in general looks tentative and makes freshman mistakes of hesitation or bringing out kicks when he should just take a knee.  Travis Coons had another consistent day of punting, and while the style isn't pretty, it's effective as Oregon was only able to return two of his 6 punts, and for -1 yards combined.  Coons also nailed his only FG attempt, and he remains perfect on the season.  Grade:  C-

Coaching: It's tough to critique play-calling these days - there are often a dizzying array of options at the disposal of the QB that it's hard to know when to fault the play-caller and when to fault the decision-making process of the QB.  So while it's easy to say Sark isn't calling for enough passing plays to find Kasen or ASJ in the middle of the field, it's on KP to throw those routes, and the body of evidence in his career so far suggests he's not as comfortable with those throws.  I don't think Sark necessarily called a bad game yesterday, but the execution clearly wasn't there in the passing game, with plenty of blame to go around between poor pass protection, receivers not gaining separation and KP not trusting his reads or the ability of his receivers to make a play on the ball.

Justin Wilcox had what I would consider his first poor game of the year.  Yes, Oregon's offense is elite and it's a matter of pick your poison, but the amount of zone coverage played was surprising, and was a big reason Oregon was able to go up 21-7 by half as Mariota carved it up.  He ultimately had no answers for the Ducks as they rolled for 631 yards, and could have had more if Mark Helfrich hadn't slowed things up in the 4th quarter.

On some level you have to wonder if this staff is setting the right tone when taking on Oregon - have the Ducks gotten into the heads of this team and this coaching staff?  The Huskies showed fight in this one, clawing back twice in the 2nd half to cut the lead to 7 and put themselves in position to get back into the game, but each time the defense was quickly gashed and the Ducks were able to quell the uprising, and by the 4th quarter the Huskies seemed to run out of gas.  Whether it's coaching or recruiting or player development, there's still a big gap between where the Huskies are and where they need to be to beat Oregon.  They'll need to rally the team and bounce back to get ready for a potential turning-point game down in Tempe.  Grade:  C-

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