The Brotherhood: Closing Thoughts on Boise State, and Other Musings....

Dawg fans and players celebrate legalized marijuana at the grand re-opening of Husky Stadium - Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Darin and Brad ramble on. I know the time, the time is now. Sing my song.

Brad talks o-line:

My biggest takeaway from the game Saturday with the offensive line was simply how big a factor they weren’t outside of a few too many penalties. That’s mostly a good thing. The holes in the running game weren’t exactly gaping for the most part, but it’s not like Bishop Sankey was having to avoid tacklers in the backfield. He had to avoid defenders a little earlier than you’d ideally like, but 1. He’s really good at it, and 2. It’s getting better.

It's tough to really quantify how much better the pass blocking was. Of the 35 or so “pass” plays, I’d say that maybe half of them at most involved the offensive line forming a traditional “pocket.” But when they did, Keith Price didn’t exactly feel a tremendous amount of pressure. The one time he was sacked was entirely his fault; there was literally no pressure, but he got happy feet and ended up running right smack into a defender. The number of packaged plays really meant that most of the passes involved the line zone blocking the exact same way they did in the run game. Ben Riva in particular really looked good on Saturday. He went up against Boise State’s best rusher, and completely shut him down. I can really only think of two instances where you’d say Riva lost the one-on-one battle. He didn’t always win, but a tie is good enough most of the time. Another important thing from Saturday – zero truly bad snaps. In that offense, timing is so critical, and the center/QB exchange was a non-issue. The way it should be.

The offense the Huskies run really does a lot to mitigate the play of the line. Fewer people in the box means fewer reads and less importance on getting to the second level. And their job is just so much simpler because their action is the same on ¾’s of the plays. It’s tough after just one game to gauge how much of what we saw was legitimate improvement and how much was the change in scheme. One is probably the chicken, and one is the egg. I just can’t tell which is which yet. Regardless, the net is that the line wasn’t a negative in any real way, and was mostly a positive. I’m moving the needle on their performance for the year from “Fearful” to “Cautiously Optimitic.”

I was really surprised how little effort Boise State put in to pressuring Price. The rarely blitzed, and were mostly content to just rush 4. It’s tough to know how good the Broncos really are. They shredded an overmatched FCS team on Saturday, just as they should’ve. But that game doesn’t really give us any more insight.

Did you watch the Cougs play USC? More than just the fact that the Trojans couldn’t – or wouldn’t – throw the ball, they just looked so….archaic. Slow and plodding. And in a way, a little arrogant, like they were saying, “We’re simply more talented than you, and don’t think your defensive line can stop us. But we’re going to give you plenty of chances to prove us wrong.” I never really thought I’d say this, especially after just one game, but watching the Trojans line up again and again and play right into their offense’s weaknesses, while at the same time playing into WSU’s strength, really made me a fan of the offense the Huskies are running.

Darin pours cold water

Watching the Boise State game with an eye for the lines was a pretty good reality check for where this Husky team actually is. As you correctly pointed out (good job, you’re getting the hang of this, by the way) the style of offense masks the line to a degree, and it’s a good thing. The Huskies’ offense makes you pay for stacking the box or even blitzing – there’s a lot of pressure on the edge. There’s been a lot of discussion about how effective the bubble screen was, and that’s a great example. The Huskies basically made Boise State defend multiple “fronts” at the same time. Smart.

That being said, my general takeaway is that while the o-line is much improved from last year, we’re still talking about a relatively raw unit that will need to be better to compete with the upper tier of the Pac-12. Boise State got pressure on obvious passing downs. There were guys in the backfield at times – whom Sankey was able to avoid with his shockingly good jump cut. Bottom line, we’ll need more from them.

The defensive line… well. The Broncos rushed for 171 yards. Not a shocking number, but remember that Boise State was playing from behind most of the second half. The Huskies had trouble stopping the Broncos’ inside zone read even though a) it was the slowest-developing play since Hamlet, and b) Joe Southwick was not much of a threat to keep the ball. I saw too much of Danny Shelton being pushed back, too much of Evan Hudson being slow off the ball, and not enough from the defensive ends.

Like Washington, Boise State threw a lot of quick passes as part of run packages. This makes pressure from the DL difficult for three reasons. First, there isn’t much time to get there. Second, the DL has to be reading run, and since they played a lot of two-gap defense which requires the line to engage the offensive lineman as opposed to penetrating, we saw Husky defensive linemen sumo wrestling with the offensive line on pass plays. Finally, Southwick is mobile, and you’d hate to flush him out of the pocket only to have him run for a big gain. I hate to say it, but watching the DL reminded me of that feeling wherein Southwick had as much time as he wanted. He could have grabbed a quick Gatorade. He could have checked his stocks on eTrade. He could have built a model ship in a bottle. You get the idea. Fortunately, the back-end of the defense was strong and Southwick missed a few open throws, so the Dawgs didn’t get hurt very badly by this. Only 175 yards on 40 attempts. I believe you can thank the back seven for this.

It was great to see Hao’li Kikaha (née Jamora) back on the field. He looked solid, and I expect we’ll see more dynamism from him going forward. Unfortunately, neither he nor Shirley nor anybody else was able to generate as much disruptive chaos as we’re going to need. Those guys are on the small side of 250 (and the DL is undersized generally), which means they can’t stand up to a 300-plus OL very effectively, which means there’s always a double-team available for Shelton. I admit I don’t fully understand the trade-offs between one- and two-gap defense, but it sure seems to me that a DL built for speed, like ours is, would be successful shooting the gaps. Maybe the thought is to keep the linebackers clean, or maybe playing nickel makes penetration too big a risk. I’ll ask Wilcox about this next time I see him.

The Boise State game was a great win against a quality team. There’s no taking that away. But it also seems clear that this happened because our skill players on both sides of the ball were much superior to the Broncos’. What will happen when we’re playing a Pac-12 team against whom we don’t have that advantage? I don’t know. The offense looked really good and it was tactically sound. It’s going to be hard for anybody to stop. But a team with a good defensive line may be able to screw things up by being in the backfield more.

On the other side, will a better OL be able to put their guards onto the inside linebackers faster? Will a better quarterback with better receivers make the Huskies pay for their lack of pressure? Again, we’ll see. My point isn’t that the Dawgs are pretenders. Like I said, beating Boise State is for real. However, there are some areas where improvement is needed, and those areas are exactly where you thought they’d be. In the trenches.

I watched only a portion of the USC-WSU game. I didn’t get the idea that USC was arrogant about their ability to beat the Cougars without trying. In fact, just the opposite: USC lacked confidence. When the Trojans were great, they had five guys on offense who were better athletes than anybody you had on defense. They would find a mistake and make you pay for it in spades. That’s when they had QBs who could do that. When they didn’t have a QB (e.g., in Seattle in 2009) they looked much more pedestrian. I have never understood where Lane Kiffen’s reputation for genius came from.

Brad responds

Thank you for repeating pretty much exactly what I said about the o-line. They weren’t “good,” but they were better than they were last year in pass blocking. I’m not sure I agree that Boise State got pressure at will on passing downs if that’s what you’re implying (which it seems like you are). Yes, they did on occasion. Maybe even more than you’d like. If this was Portland State doing it, you’d be worried. And even if Boise State isn’t what they’ve been the last several seasons, they didn’t just drop off a cliff in 2013. Take the best offensive line in the country, and Boise State is going to, at least some of the time, get pressure on the QB. Even on those obvious passing downs, Price remained upright on just about every play. And the pressure got to him at 3 alligators instead of like last year.

One last time – they weren’t good, and it’s hard to discern how much of what we saw was scheme-based improvement, how much was improvement by the Dawgs, and how much of it was Boise State playing coverage instead of attacking the QB. There’s a ton of room for improvement. We’ll have to see how it goes.

What you call Sumo wrestling by the d-line I’d refer to as “titty fighting,” in deference to a crotchety old high school coach we had. Even though Boise State was playing from behind, they didn’t give up on the run. They had 18 carries for 83 yards in the first half, and then 25 for 93 yards in the second. So, they averaged about a yard per carry less in the second. The good thing was that they shut down that inside zone in the second half. Jay Ajayi’s long in the second was 6 yards (on the first play of the second half). After that, his longest was only 4. Boise State started hurting the Dawgs getting outside with their change of pace guy a little, but they weren’t really gashed to badly. The best part to me was that Boise State had 5 carries in the Husky red zone for the game, and gained a total of 5 yards.

Yeah, Southwick had more time than you’d like. Especially in the first half. In the second, I thought the Dawgs did a better job of getting to him, particularly on the line. He didn’t seem nearly as comfortable, and while the Huskies didn’t record a sack, they did pressure him out of the pocket four times in the second half (which, unfortunately, turned into 4 runs for 20 yards), and made him throw the ball away a handful of times. Still not good, I agree. The line won’t win them games. But you have to have a little hope that Evan Hudson is going to get a little better after his first game at the position and two more weeks of practice. Really, the guy has only played the position for a month now. I have some hope that Kikaha will get a little more comfortable after his first game in almost two years.

What do you think about Illinois? I’ll be perfectly honest – they don’t worry me a ton, even with the showing against Cincinnati. The Dawgs’ strength on defense matches up fairly well with Illinois’ strength on offense, and the Husky offense should simply be able to move the ball relatively easily against a bad defense. This game is way more about how the Huskies play than how the Illini do. I think the team is different enough, and that Sarkisian is different enough, that the psychological road hurdle can just be done. Over. Of course, they have to prove it, but I just don't see any reason why past road play is prolog here.

Darin concludes

You’re welcome. I felt like it was important to say the same thing you did because it’s mostly true but the readers are unlikely to believe it coming from you. Next week, maybe you should just send me your comments in advance and I’ll write them up.

“Titty fighting” is indeed the preferred term. I am not completely clear about the code of conduct at the Dawg Pound, so I bowdlerized it. I had hoped that the image of Sumo wrestlers would evoke “titties” even if I wasn’t comfortable coming out and saying it. Interestingly, Microsoft Word does not recognize either “titty” or “titties.” I guess Bill Gates is an ass-man.

Illinois. You don’t think the past is a “general purpose logic programming language associated with artificial intelligence and computational linguistics” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prolog)? I would have to agree with you. I would go a step further and say that the fact that the Dawgs have played poorly on the road in the past is no reason to think they will this year. Anyway, here are some data to work with.

• Vegas (http://pregame.com/sports/stories/b/news/archive/2013/09/10/ncaa-college-football-odds-washington-vs-illinois-1609332.aspx) favors the Dawgs by 9.5.

• Moneyline (http://msn.foxsports.com/collegefootball/odds/moneyline) is in the range of 350 (i.e., something like 75-percent chance of a Husky win).

• College Football Matrix (http://cfbmatrix.com/portfolio/week-3-game-predictions-2013/gallery/weekly-predictions-2013/) shows a 26-point edge – comparable to South Carolina over Vanderbilt. The big takeaway from the Matrix is that Illinois’s four-year recruiting ranking is 53. Fifty-third-best in the country. What’s Washington’s? Twenty fifth. You immediately want to start talking about trends and attrition and whatever, but the basic fact is that Washington will be putting better players on the field by a fair margin. Now, a team near 50 can still succeed: Arizona, Oregon State, Wisconsin are all around 50th. But all things equal you’d favor the team with the better players.

A lot has been made of Illinois’s offense. It was fine. Great. Whatever. But mediocre by Pac-12 standards. If the Dawgs can’t stop Illinois decisively it may be a long season. All-in-all, I’d favor Washington solidly. Three-to-one odds sounds about right to me. Illinois is a losable game, but the Huskies should be able to win it. We agree. I’ll let mom know.

Brad gets the actual last word

You're a donkey hole.

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