The second half of Saturday's game was less about the effectiveness of the man under center for the Huskies as it was a coronation of the newly designed University of Washington offense. Everything (almost literally) worked. Nevertheless, we'll examine the second half passing offense to determine if Keith Price should maintain his starting job, or if he should have his scholarship, and maybe even his newly-minted diploma, revoked.
1. 3rd and 6 from own 43. Twins right, tight end left, Bishop Sankey left. Straight pass action. Keith Price is looking left most of the way to Kasen Williams, who was split on the left side. The cornerback over Williams is playing outside leverage, looking for help from the outside linebacker on the inside. The single deep safety is well to the offense’s right. Price makes a half-hearted pump fake to Williams on a slant, and Williams fades back to the sideline. The cornerback isn’t exactly fooled, and is in fairly good position, maybe a half-stride in front of Williams. Price reads this, and throws the short back shoulder fade. Three Boise State defenders manage to get in each others’ ways as Williams weaves back into the middle of the field before eventually being corralled at the 19-yard line for a gain of 38 yards. Price read the cornerback’s position very well; had Williams managed to get in front of him with the slant fake, the ball would’ve been lofted over the top. As it was, Price stopped the route short with his throw, and momentum and poor angles taken by BSU’s defense allowed the big play to happen.
2. 1st and 10 from the BSU 19. Twins right and left, Sankey left. Straight pass action. The inside receiver on the left side of the formation, Jaydon Mickens, runs straight for the post, drawing the safety away from Williams, who’s split left. Price’s action and Williams’ action are exactly the same as the previous play (the 38-yarder to Williams) – Price pump fakes to Williams on a slant, and Williams fades to the corner. This time, Price’s fake is much more deliberate, and the cornerback bites hard. At this point, it’s a simple pitch-and-catch, and Williams trots into the end zone to receive the perfectly-placed pass. When I saw this live, it appeared that the Dawgs had used the first play to set up the second one. Watching the replay, it was simply the same play, out of different formations. The difference in the throws was the reaction of the cornerback to Price’s pump fake. Just as with the first pass of the game to Williams that resulted in an interception, both of these looked like they were premeditated to go to Williams. While Williams spent most of the first half on the right side of the formation, he was on the left for this drive.
3. 2nd and 11 from own 35. Trips left in a tight bunch right at the sideline, tight end left (Michael Hartvigson is covered, so he’s not an eligible receiver), Sankey left. Play fake to Sankey. Mickens is in the middle of the bunch set between Kevin Smith and Williams. Price hits on the quick look, Smith drives the linebacker that has come out to cover 3 yards out of bounds, Williams gets a clean block on the cornerback, and by the time the safety on the play side is able to track Mickens down, he’s 21 yards down the field. This play was an absolute gift from Boise State. They are confused by the alignment, yelling at each other and motioning to get people lined up correctly, and never properly cover the play. With three receivers to one side, Boise State only has a single defensive back on them, and a deep safety that’s 15 yards off the ball and 15 yards inside them. An inside linebacker finally realizes what’s going on, and moves out into coverage. Even with that, the Huskies still have a man advantage on that side of the field, with a deep safety that’s in no position to help quickly on this type of route. It couldn’t have been easier. It’s interesting to note that the Huskies lined up in the same formation on the next play. Boise State covers it much better. Because the defense is more spread out, Price reads the advantage the Huskies have in the box, and hands the ball off to Sankey for a gain of 6 up the middle.
4. 2nd down and 8 from the BSU 19. Twins right and left, Sankey left. Play fake to Sankey. Boise State blitzed from the outside on the offense’s left. Price reads the pressure, and sprints to his left around it. Williams is split left, and runs slant-fade action into the end zone. Mickens is in the slot left, and moves laterally for the bubble screen. Josh Perkins is slot right, and is running a post. Kevin Smith is wide right, and looks to be running hitch action until he nearly immediately reads that Price is in trouble and begins working his way across the field to help. He’s so far to the right that he’s essentially a non-factor though; a pass to him is far too dangerous. Perkins also did a great job reading the QB in trouble, and flattens his route to the sideline while still drifting back. But this play was vintage Keith Price. After eluding the rush, he looks first to Williams in the corner of the end zone, while working up field just enough to square up his shoulders. He sees Perkins coming open, and fires a great pass to the back of the end zone. Touchdown. Sirens. High fives around.
5. 1st and 10 from own 36. Twins left, two tight ends right. Sankey is left. Play fake to Sankey. Price keeps the ball on the zone read action, and begins running up field as if he’s keeping the ball. He attacks BSU’s outside linebacker, who is closing toward Price while still keeping his outside containment. Price could’ve kept the ball and run for what would’ve been 5 or 6 yards, and maybe more. Instead, about one yard behind the line of scrimmage, he pulls up and fires the ball to Williams, who was in the slot to the left on screen action. Williams takes the ball and gets upfield for 7 yards. Technically, this one went in the books as a rush for 7 for Williams, as the pass was actually a backward lateral. It’s also one of the clearest examples of the packaged plays the Dawgs ran on Saturday – hand off to Sankey, or Price keeps, or he pulls up and throws.
6. 1st and 10 from the BSU 35. Twins left, two tight ends right. Sankey behind Price. Play fake to Sankey. Price pump fakes, and then throws toward the sideline to Perkins on a vertical route from the H-back position. Short and incomplete. This pass looked like one of two things – either a bad pass from Price, or an attempt to throw the back shoulder fade. As a firm believer in Occam’s Razor, it was probably a bad pass. But Perkins was actually working toward the coverage by continuing downfield, and it’s possible Price was making the read to have Perkins stop short and use his size over a smaller defender to go up and get the ball. Regardless, this wasn’t the best read on the play. Hartvigson was coming open down the middle of the field on a seam route, and had Price noticed it, would’ve had his third TD of the second half. WE WANT CYLER MILES!!!!
7. 3rd and 10 from the BSU 35. Trips left, with the inside slot (Williams) tight to the formation. Sankey right. Play fake to Sankey. Williams and the outside slot on the left (Mickens) run hitches. Smith is outside left, and gets tangled with the cornerback. Williams’ hitch is short and draws a ton of attention from the short zone coverage. Mickens is wide open about 7 yards down the field. Price hits him, Mickens turns back to the middle, and ends up with a gain of 12. Simple stuff right here.
8. 3rd and 12 from own 47. Twins right and left, Cooper left. Straight pass action. Damore'ea Stringfellow is wide right, and looks to be working his way on a shallow in route. Mickens is slot right, and releases vertically, then slows down in the open space between the outside linebacker that’s dropped to cover and the (very) deep safety. Price drops three short steps and fires to Mickens about 3 yards past the line-to-gain. Mickens is somewhat slowed by the safety coming up, and then brought down by the outside linebacker chasing the play down, but not before he gains 25 yards.
9. 1st and 10 from BSU 28. Twins right and left, Cooper left. Play fake to Cooper, then Price hits Mickens coming from his right inside slot position on the little bubble screen. Boise State has this one sniffed out, and Mickens is immediately dropped for a loss of 3. Unless this one was a designed pass, the read should’ve been the handoff to Cooper just based on numbers in the box and how well BSU had their defense spread. It’s obvious that Price doesn’t have a handle on this offense, and should be benched.
10. 3rd and 11 from BSU 29. Twins left and right, Washington right. Straight pass action. Good coverage by BSU. There’s some pressure from Price’s left, so he steps up and to his left. The field is wide open, so Price tucks the ball and runs, picking up 15 yards and a first down. Maybe he could’ve kept his eyes down the field a bit longer, but it’s tough to argue how open the running lane was here.
Price was as “on” this half as he’s ever been. It’s made much easier when the defense makes some of the mistakes that BSU did in alignment, coverage, and the angles they took. The Broncos wore down mentally and physically because of the pressure that the Huskies kept on them by attacking them relentlessly and methodically. It’s interesting that after spending the majority of the first half on the offense’s right side, Williams played on the left side most of the second half. And Price, whether due to matchups or simply his comfort level, continued to look left most of the time in the second half.
The design of this offense is so much simpler than the version the Dawgs ran in 2012 or 2011. While Price may have more options with the number of packaged plays the Dawgs run, the decisions are mostly made by counting numbers in the box pre-snap, or reading the post-snap reaction of a single defender. There are definitely still some traditional pass plays mixed into the offense, but even the threat of the multitude of other ways the offense can attack makes those reads seem less daunting. This team is going to be fun to watch this season.