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Grading the Game: Oregon State Edition

It was a cathartic win Saturday night as a Washington team that has struggled to meet expectations this year and was winless in conference play on the road entered a stadium where they had lost their last 3 games and proceeded to obliterate the Beavers, scoring the most points Oregon State has ever allowed and the highest point total for Washington since 1944.

RB Deontae Cooper showed there's still a lot of life left in his legs with a huge game
RB Deontae Cooper showed there's still a lot of life left in his legs with a huge game
Steve Dykes

When your team posts a 69-27 win on the road against a conference opponent with a winning record, there's probably not much that went wrong.  But let's take a look at each position group anyway and see how they did:

QB: Cyler Miles broke a losing streak of Husky QB's making their first career starts on the road in the state of Oregon (Nick Montana vs. Oregon State 2010, Keith Price vs. Oregon 2009) and looked pretty good doing it.  Miles has the size and running ability to be a threat on the keeper, and while his arm strength isn't great, he has great anticipation and touch.  He did a much better job on the swing passes than he did vs. UCLA, nicely leading his receivers and showed (mostly) good decision-making.  He wasn't perfect by any means - he forced a pass near the end zone that could have been picked off and had a few passes sail on him.  But he was efficient, made good passes when needed to keep the sticks moving or took off and ran when nobody was open, and in general made Husky Nation feel a little more comfortable about the QB situation for next year.  Grade:  A-

RB: Bishop Sankey was Bishop Sankey, which at this point is a compliment of the very highest order.  He slashed and darted and busted his way to the second level so often he had compiled 125 yards by the end of the 1st quarter.  And while he earned some tough yards, his work appeared to break the will of the Beaver defense and cleared the way for the rest of the crew to run wild.  And run wild they did.  Jesse Callier got some nice carries in while the game was still relatively early, and then Dwayne Washington got his turn and looked pretty good.  But when Deontae Cooper went in and busted out two long runs (68 and 70 yards), the dam really burst.  Not to be outdone, Washington went back in and busted out two long runs of his own - both TD's (32 and 71 yards) - as Sankey, Cooper and Washington all finished with well over 100 yards on the ground.  You actually had to feel a little bad for Callier that he only got 4 carries, and that Ryan McDaniel didn't get any.  It's hard to find any fault with this group, and like Miles did for the QB spot, seeing Washington and Cooper bust out gives Husky fans hope for next year if Sankey opts to leave early for the NFL.  Grade:  A+

WR/TE: As it turned out, this wasn't a game where the receivers were needed to make a ton of spectacular plays in the passing game, but they looked good when asked to do so as Kevin Smith hauled in a terrific TD grab and very nearly had another long grab along the sidelines that was eventually overturned by the length of his heel which was over the sideline boundary.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins had some vintage ASJ catches over the middle to move the chains, and Jaydon Mickens continued to show why the bubble screens and rocket motion swing passes are such an effective part of Sark's arsenal.  And it shouldn't go unmentioned that when the run game is picking up huge chunks of yards, the receivers are doing their part blocking.  Grade:  A-

OL: It's been easy to be critical of the offensive line this year, but give them their due - you don't roll up 530 yards on the ground and 692 overall unless you dominate the line of scrimmage, and dominate they did.  Sankey is capable of making a lot out of a little hole, but the OL was opening huge holes and getting to the 2nd level with regularity last night.  As well, they neutralized a pretty good pass rusher in Scott Crichton and didn't allow any sacks as they gave Miles the time he needed to feel comfortable in the pocket.  I guess it bears noting that Dexter Charles got another hands to the face called against him, so there's clearly a reputation our line has in general and he has in particular among Pac-12 officials.  Grade:  A+

DL: Grading the defense will be a little tougher due to the liberal amount of subbing that happened in the 2nd half after the game was well in hand.  The first team line was terrific - the Beavers haven't had much of a ground game this year, and they weren't about to start last night as Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and Evan Hudson were controlling things up front.  Kikaha was also getting consistent heat on Sean Mannion, and when he wasn't getting the sack he was still knocking him down as the QB was throwing and affecting his passes.  Hudson, Shelton and Cory Littleton also got into the act as the DL accounted for all 3 sacks by the Huskies.  The backups got a lot of run in the 2nd half and weren't as effective, letting RB Chris Brown rip off some big runs and failing to get heat on Mannion or Cody Vaz.  They'll hear about it from Tosh in the film room.  Grade:  A

LB: This was a game that reminded why folks were so excited about Travis Feeney after last year.  He was all over the field making big sticks and showing the combination of athleticism and big hitting that suggests all-conference potential.  Shaq Thompson was in more of a coverage role rather than blitzer last night and was very effective in keeping the Beaver TE's out of the picture, and his pick-6 was a thing of beauty and showed why some wouldn't mind seeing him get a few carries at RB.  The backups didn't look as good as the benches emptied in the 2nd half and Oregon State was able to put up 27 4th quarter points and push the yardage total from the low 200's to 414 by game's end.  Grade:  A-

Secondary: Marcus Peters didn't exactly need a "breakout" game to announce himself as he entered the season with a lot of hype and has played quite well all year, but in a conference with corners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Josh Shaw, Rashaad Reynolds, Robert Nelson and others, this was the kind of game that will get him serious consideration for 1st team All Conference status:  2 picks, 3 pass breakups, a strip and fumble recovery and basically rendering Brandin Cooks a non-factor when lined up against him.  Greg Ducre wasn't as good, but was good enough along with Will Shamburger, Sean Parker, Tre Watson and (at times) John Ross in man coverage that Mannion rarely had any open looks.  The sticky coverage from the secondary - along with a strong pass rush - rendered the nation's most productive air attack useless until the backups entered the game and the outcome was long-decided.  Grade:  A+

Special Teams: For the first time in a long time, this was a game where the Husky special teams outplayed their counterparts.  From the opening kickoff return by Ross which immediately set the tone for the game to the continued fantastic punting by Travis Coons, to reasonably good kickoff coverage - at least until late in the game - to a blocked extra point (not that it mattered as the UW was up 48-6 at the time, but it still felt nice to keep the Beavers from getting 7), this was a nice job.  If not for a delay-of-game penalty, they were poised to execute yet another successful fake punt as Coons showed off a nice arm on a throw to Thompson.  The breakdown that led to Victor Bolden taking a kickoff 98 yards for the score took a bit of luster off the performance of this unit, but they did their part when the game was still in some doubt.  Grade:  A-

Coaching: While it's impossible to ever know how much credit or blame to a coaching staff for how their players perform, ultimately they are the players the staff recruits, develops and teaches, and they players reflect to a large degree what their coaches teach them.  Sark made note after the game how fired-up and focused his guys were this past week in practice, and it was evident watching them on the sidelines - their energy was the best I've seen since probably the opener vs. Boise State.  Whether it's the leadership within the team or something the staff preached, it worked, and they came out with an attitude.

It was interesting to hear the comments of Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker on Sark's play-calling, saying he's very tough to get a read on and anticipate in terms of knowing what Sark will do in any situation.  Play-calling is the easiest thing for the casual fan to critique in hindsight, but if Banker's statement wasn't strictly game-week flattery, it does speak well to the respect Sark gets from his peers as a play-caller.  There certainly was little to criticize in this one, especially with the ground game working as well as it did.  I loved the attempt to go for another fake punt, even if the execution failed, because it shows Sark is really taking to heart one of the things I most respect about Chip Kelly - his attitude of always putting pressure on your opponents, always making them have to give their most focused effort.

You also have to tip your cap to Justin Wilcox and the defensive staff as their gameplan worked to perfection - while the 1st string was out there, Oregon State was completely stifled and their prolific air attack rendered toothless.  It was impressive to see, even if the backups let the Beavers get some garbage-time yards and points.  Make no mistake - the Husky defense played extremely well, as good as any team the Beavers have done against them this year.  Grade:  A+

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