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The Brotherhood Breaks (down the) Vegas (bowl)

An email exchange reviewing the Vegas Bowl on the eve of opening night...

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Darin (djohnson) and Brad (Brad Johnson UW) watched the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl (Can be seen here) so you won’t have to. A few thoughts in preparation for the Dawgs’ opener/rematch.

Keith Price

Darin lays it out:

The biggest thing that jumped out at me was how shaky Keith Price’s performance was. He got hit more than he should have, no doubt, but he didn’t get hit as often as I remembered, yet he never looked very comfortable. He seemed to struggle in four areas. First, moving in the pocket. At the first sign of pressure, he wanted to take off running. Rather than stepping up or evading the first guy and sticking with the play, he ran. I thought his single biggest strength in 2011 was his ability to evade rushers in the pocket and still make something of the play, but I didn’t see much of that at all. You might argue that he’d been beaten up so much throughout the year that he wasn’t comfortable back there. It would be hard to refute that, but it raises the issue of Price’s mental state going into 2013.

Second, when Price did scramble, he did not keep his eyes up-field. He was more running for his life (in his mind at least) as opposed to putting pressure on the defense. You never saw him “directing traffic,” pointing out spots for his receivers to go. Part of the blame for this surely belongs to the young group of receivers, but Price deserves his share, too.

Third, just plain accuracy. A big deal was made over the fact that Seferian-Jenkins had so few catches in the first half, but Price had thrown about half a dozen passes to him, many of which were simply un-catchable.

Finally, both of Price’s interceptions were probably bad reads. In the first case (at 42:40 in the video), he tried to throw a fade to Williams into cover-two. He made a strangely half-hearted pump-fake, then threw it short to avoid the safety coming over the top. Unfortunately the corner was underneath for an easy pick. You might argue that throwing a jump ball to Williams is a good bet, but Boise State’s corner was Jamar Taylor, who was drafted in the second round by the Dolphins. So maybe not.

Let’s turn our attention to the second pick, to end the game. Go to 2:22:20. This doesn’t have anything to do with the interception, it’s just a cute blonde. Now, go to 2:22:34 to watch the play. You can see Price looking to his right at Williams, who is running a short curl. Williams is open, but for some reason Price doesn’t throw. Instead, he hitches and throws to Bruns running between the safeties. Boise State was in cover two, not Tampa two with the middle linebacker running deep, and Bruns would have been open if Price had thrown on time. But by the time Price makes the throw the on-side safety has made the read. He made a good play, but Price made a bad throw. Hesitant, poorly timed, poorly read. I’m trying to think through the logic of the route, and it’s possible there was a mistake somewhere. There’s very little pressure on that safety who made the pick. Seferian-Jenkins ran a short curl from the right side, Bruns ran right at the safety, and Williams ran a curl way off by the sideline. I suspect the play was designed to make the linebacker decide between covering Seferian-Jenkins or Bruns. If that’s true, Bruns was too deep. In the other hand, maybe the plan was to pressure the on-side safety by having Bruns split the middle seem and Williams was supposed to push further up-field. That would explain why Price didn’t throw to Williams, and it would explain why Bruns was so deep, but it wouldn’t explain why Price threw to Bruns, since that safety – you know, the one who cost the Dawgs a chance to win – was now free to jump Bruns’s route.

The other interesting action was on the left side. The inside zone defender followed Bruns, and the backside safety followed Price’s eyes to the Dawgs’ right. This left the backside split end, Mickens, with single coverage, running a hook. It also left Bishop Sankey in the flat with literally nobody within fifteen yards of him. He easily would have picked up the five yards needed for a first down, and probably a lot more.

All in all, this looks like pretty poor decision-making by Price. I think he forced it. This is just one play, so I don’t want to make too much of it. But it does suggest some reason for concern about the passing game generally and Keith Price in particular.

Brad corrects the record:

I think Price’s play that game was actually fairly typical for him for 2012. He was all of those things you mention pretty much throughout the season. I really think he got damaged (mentally) early in the season, and was never able to get out of that rut. Even against San Diego State in game one, he was hit more often than you’d like to see. Yes, the Aztecs blitzed just about every play. But even when they didn’t, or a d-lineman had a one-on-one matchup with a Husky offensive lineman, the Dawgs got blown back way too easily by a physically inferior team. Then, he got pummeled by LSU, and the dye was mostly cast for the season as the injuries mounted on the line.

In 2011, he had a great feel for the rush. Especially in the first half of the season. He didn’t really look at it, and he was incredibly crafty in stepping up in the pocket, or taking a couple of lateral steps without a full run away from pressure like he was prone to doing last year. He also had receivers that were better able to help him out when a play broke down. I agree that part of that is on Price (directing traffic as you say), and when watching a game on TV, you could actually see the fact that his eyes were on the rush instead of staying downfield.

I think a big part of Price’s problems in 2012 fall on Sarkisian. When you have a “guru” as a coach, it seems like a lot of the times they think the answers are in them, (more reps, increasing the focus, breaking down fundamentals, more film study, etc.); that they can just “coach” the problem away. It’d be one thing if Price had a poor practice work ethic, or just didn’t put the time in on his own. I don’t think that was the case. He was like a batter in a slump. It reminds me of a story I read in Sports Illustrated a long time ago. Wade Boggs was in the worst slump of his career. He took extra batting practice for weeks, spent extra time with the hitting coach, and watched tape incessantly. Finally, his hitting coach arranged for Boggs to be a guest photographer at a Playboy photo shoot. That night, one of the premier contact hitters hit two home runs and went on a tear that lasted for the rest of the season. That’s the sort of shakeup that Price needed last year – something to change his mindset and focus. Maybe adding Tuiasosopo does that for him this year. Increasing the tempo should certainly help, both functionally and mentally.

The worst part about Boise State’s ability to pressure Price is that they were able to do it without their best pass rusher. Without major improvement from the line, it could actually be worse on Saturday with him back. It’s amazing how a group of players can be so relatively proficient in doing part of their jobs (run blocking) and so incredibly poor in the other (pass blocking). I’ve no doubt that they’re being coached to do the correct things, but I do question their motivation. It can’t be much fun to be a lineman at practice working with Cozzetto, especially when you see what it’s like for the rest of the position groups.

Offensive Line (and Bishop Sankey)

Darin calls it like it is:

We all know that the offensive line was sketchy last season. Pass protection, in particular, was abysmal. But what stood out to me in the Las Vegas Bowl was how good the run blocking was. The Dawgs ran power effectively, they ran zone effectively. Sankey had over 200 yards, averaging about six per carry. That didn’t happen because there weren’t holes. There were. That being said, Sankey was a monster. He ran hard, he ran fast. In fact, the OL can share the blame for his one bad play – the fumble in the first quarter, in which somebody got a hand on the ball about the same time Sankey got it. Anyway, I thought the OL played well enough to win the game, especially given what the reasonable expectations were. Watch the drive starting at 21:00, just as an example.

• Power right, Sankey cuts backside for seven hard-fought yards.

• Sweep right, huge hole for 33 yards.

• Draw play, four yards.

• Outside zone left (wildcat) for four yards.

• Then Williams dropped an easy catch for the first down, resulting in a field goal.

I hate to suggest that 30 carries were not enough for Sankey, but it’s hard to avoid the notion that an outside zone on third down would have resulted in a first down, here. Another credible back is a must. As good as the running game was, it was limited by the number of carries Sankey could withstand.

Brad fills in the gaps:

I don’t think Sankey goes for 200 yards Saturday. Boise State would be wise to take him away and make Price and a mostly unproven receiving corps beat them, especially if Sefarian-Jenkins is out for one reason or another. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Sankey ended up as the second leading receiver though. He’ll probably be able to do some damage on the ground no matter what, but I’d be very pleased if he ended up with 200 combined yards (something like 120 rushing and 80 receiving).

Wide receivers

Our experts agree:

Lots of drops…. Also, the conventional wisdom seems correct: a second wideout, besides Williams, is needed.

Defensive front

Darin states the obvious:

Watching the game again, I’m reasonably pleased with how the defensive line played. First, the Dawgs gave up just over 100 yards rushing. Second, I thought the pressure on the quarterback was fairly good. It did appear that the line got tired pretty early – still in the first half. But they were able to put some pressure on Southwick at key moments throughout the game. He didn’t hang out in the pocket with nothing but time on his hands.

I would describe Boise State’s offensive line as technically proficient although not physically overwhelming. Clearly, the Husky defensive line was more athletic, but there’s not really anything to be embarrassed about with this part of the game. Certainly it could be better, but the defensive line (and the whole defense) played well enough to win.

There was no more athletic group on the field than the Dawgs’ linebackers. I thought there were some mistakes here and there, but this group was clearly a strength and will presumably continue to be so in 2013. Remember the Arizona game in 2011, when the Wildcats threw one bubble-screen after another, up and down the field and the Dawgs inside zone defenders were not fast enough to make the play? Nobody will say anything like that about Thompson or Parker (who tend to cover slot receivers in four-receiver sets).

Brad belabors it:

The defensive line was their usual less-than-stellar selves in finishing tackles at the QB on the times they did manage to get pressure. Southwick isn’t immobile, and he’s not a small guy, but for whatever reason, Husky defenders simply failed to get him to the ground, just like most of the season. Maybe they close their eyes when they get the QB in their sights. Maybe they forget that they have thumbs. I don’t know what it is.

Defensive backs

Darin gets on a roll:

Boise State threw for nearly 300 yards. That’s a lot, but it’s not an embarrassing amount, given how solid an offense they run and how good their quarterback was. There were some breakdowns leading to big plays, and at least a couple missed opportunities by Boise State, but that’s part of the game. The credibility of the back-end has made a step-change from years past. How long has it been that defensive backs were a liability for UW? A decade? Not in the Las Vegas Bowl. I would say that the defensive backs were among the best position groups on the field.

We will miss Desmond Trufant. A lot. The advantage of a shut-down corner is obvious, and that’s what he was. We will also miss Justin Glenn, but not as much. Will Shamburger has been champing at the big to get on the field, and let me tell you Will brings the big lumber with him. He can hit.

Other comments

Darin has issues:

The kickoff return following the Huskies’ go-ahead field goal was a disaster. A major special-teams breakdown at exactly the wrong time. (The missed field goal at the start of the fourth quarter didn’t help, either.)

The fourth and one play on Boise State’s last drive was probably short. The fact that there was no measurement or review is inexcusable. Did the refs have a plane to catch?

This was a winnable game last year on a neutral field, and it’s all the more winnable this year at home. The world won’t come to an end of the Dawgs lose, but it wouldn’t be a good sign. On the flip side, Boise State is a good team, and a victory over them means something.

Brad gets fed up:

Boise State was good defensively, but very mediocre on offense, even with a soft schedule. They’ll probably be better on offense and a little worse on D. Petersen is a good coach, and you can’t discount that fact, but the Broncos aren’t nearly as good as they were with Kellen Moore. The Huskies should win this game. In year freakin’ five, it’s time to just be better than this version of the Broncos.