Darin is up, Sans Graphs
So, what, then? Was the game against Stanford a mostly good performance with bad parts, or a mostly bad performance with good parts? I can't decide.
It's hard to find things to be happy about on the offensive side, but then Stanford does that to a lot of people. On the other hand, the defense played very well. Really, they did, you can look it up. I know Stanford is not the best offense in the Pac-12, but the Dawgs held them to 365 yards and 20 points. That's probably good enough to win with any average-or-above offensive performance.
But I'm worried. You can't win without at least some offense, and I'm not sure I see where it's going to come from. The running game will look better against other defenses -- and it wasn't all that terrible against Stanford, all things considered. We didn't do much better in 2012 when we won.
The difference is (dum-dum-DUMM) the passing game. What I don't understand is why nobody is pointing this out.
Let me ask you this. If you were the head coach, how would you be spending these next two weeks? Here's what I'd be doing.
I thought the defense started off a bit slowly (mostly in tackling), but really settled in through the last 2 1/2 quarters. They were opportunistic, and mostly pretty stout. I'm not sure if Stanford could've taken the ball 80 yards on that last scoring drive without eventually bogging down. Maybe.
I was wondering when someone was going to bring up the passing game. I'm surprised it hasn't been a topic around here. It was bad. I'm a little disappointed at the commitment to run the ball as well. You aren't going to pick up 5 yards a carry against Stanford. But the backs and receivers picked up 80 yards on 23 carries, in an offense that didn't make an attempt to establish them. In the second half, in a tie game, the run was largely forgotten.
I love me some packaged plays. The Huskies obviously have them in their playbook; the TD pass to Kasen Williams against Georgia State came on one such play. If the foundation of them is going to be the zone read, though, the Huskies need to become far more proficient at running it. I don't know if the calls to give or keep are coming from the sideline (like they were with Jake Locker in 2010), but it doesn't look like a real "option" play right now. The last two weeks, the defensive ends have crashed hard on the running backs and Miles hasn't seemed to look to keep the ball.
If you haven't yet, read this excellent article that RedmondLonghorn linked (http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/11/26/5143258/read-option-plays-scheme-2013-eagles-49ers-seahawks-panthers) about the wrinkles that NFL teams are using with the zone read.
I keep coming back to the notion that, if the Huskies' offense was going to look different than what we saw the first 4 weeks with Miles at QB, they should've been practicing those plays in live game action. Unless the team is going to spend all week running first team offense against first team defense, you aren't going to come close to simulating a game.
I'm worried too.
Darin Takes the Back Turn
As has been the case for a couple of years, the Dawgs are a reasonably good team, but a flawed one. It's not like the bad-old days, when we didn't have many guys who could start elsewhere in the Pac-12, but it's also not like the good-old days when every position was solid. That was an extremely short period of time, by the way. We tend to talk about "the Don James era" as if it were 18 years of 1991 all strung together, but it didn't go down like that. Remember how frustrating the offense was in the 1980s.
Last year, the Dawgs offense was very productive. We lost a bunch of guys who were responsible for that, including our QB, and we're not going to see that kind of production this year. Fine. Just come to terms with it.
The offensive line is so-so. It will improve (barring a bunch of injuries) but it's not going to be the best in the conference. Fine.
The quarterback, assuming Miles is the guy, is athletic but limited. Fine.
The obvious questions are things like, What plays can we run that take advantage of our strengths? That seems like getting good at running power. That seems like read option. That seems like slants and crossing routes and play-action.
I wonder how much Miles missing Spring practice hurt the offense. Instead of having all summer to say, "You know, Miles does some good stuff, but I'm not sure all those bubble screens are going to work for us this year," or, "We really need to spend three months breaking down Miles's motion or our passing game is going to be in trouble," they had one month of Fall camp. Plus they had to be preparing Lindquist for the opener. Put his suspension down as the Under-Appreciated Fact of the Year.
We don't play Stanford again this year. A question for you is, is it possible to play 1984-style football in the Pac-12? Can the Dawgs run and punt and not turn the ball over and kick field goals, all the while relying on their defense to keep them in the game, and expect to win? Can you beat Oregon that way? UCLA? My guess is no. We need to score some points.
There are couple other mysterious decisions regarding personnel. We've discussed the quarterback to death, but what about the following?
Where is Mike Criste? He's on the Rimington watch list (by virtue of being a senior center, I admit), yet I don't know that he's seen the field.
Evan Hudson. Is it really the case that he's playing better than any other defensive tackle?
Bishop Sankey. He was possibly the top running back in the conference last year, yet scanning through the statistics, I don't think he's had a single carry this year.
Danny Shelton. I was looking forward to him possibly making a step forward this year. Mop-up duty.
Shaq Thompson. I heard he played some safety, but he's been invisible.
A while back you speculated that Marcus Peters might get fed-up and quit. Since then, he missed at least one series against Stanford for disciplinary reasons. He's a bit... headstrong. Yet he's playing at a high level, and there's a LOT of money at stake. You still think he might say screw it?
Do you think we could tempt Georgia State with a rematch during the bye week? No sense sitting on our hands.
Brad on the Anchor
Yeah, that's all true. I think a number of players from the D would start on just about every team in the Pac 12. Shelton, Kikaha, Peters....A handful of others would see the field for just about anybody. Who can you come up with on the offense? John Ross would be a luxury item most teams would take just because of his speed. A couple of teams at the bottom might pick up a lineman or two. Beyond that.....?
The thing is, I don't actually think the offense is as untalented as it looks right now. Do you remember that 3 of the offensive linemen were honorable mention all-conference last year? Maybe it's because they blocked for an 1,800 yard rusher and a 3,000 yard passer, so they must've been good. Maybe the conference coaches are just that lazy. I don't know.
It's not just a matter of not meeting last season's production. It's missing it so badly. This is the worst passing offense in the conference by 85 yards a game. It's fourth in rushing yards per game, but completely mediocre in yards per attempt. Maybe I'm being too harsh - it's going to be tough sledding for anyone when you play Alabama, Wisconsin, and Stanford (twice!) in a four-week period. Oh, wait....
The problem right now is I have no idea what the team's strengths are - or should be - on offense. I'd love to run power. I used to think of Dexter Charles as a guy that moved pretty well when he pulled. This year, not so much. Do you want to see James Atoe leading a play? Do you want to start pulling tackles, or your center? Like I said, I don't know how they're actually running the read option. But it's a bad play from a decision-making level right now.
I like the idea of the passing game into the middle of the field. I don't know what the thought process is there. They had routes into the middle (mostly late) against Stanford. Miles never looked there. But Darrell Daniels and Josh Perkins (if he's healthy) seem like mismatches. Mickens is fast enough to get open against teams that will play him man. A play that I'd also like to see is one that you mentioned. If Kasen Williams is covered man with a high safety, he's open, even if he's not. Throw him the ball.
I'm not sure how much I attribute where Miles is today to missing spring. It obviously didn't help. But due to the rules changes, coaches have some access to players during the summer now. And if you were going to rebuild Miles' motion, you don't do it in the spring, you do it between December and the start of spring. Or in the summer. (Sidenote: The real issue with Miles' motion falls on Steve Sarkisian, not Chris Petersen). Miles' motion shouldn't have been a surprise at the start of fall - Petersen et. al. had literally thousands of hours of practice tape they could've watched, as well as the 60 passes he threw last season. If a change was going to be made, Petersen should've said that part of his getting back in good standing with the team was to throw 250 passes a day with 2 1/2 feet of rope tied between his feet.
No, they can't just play D, kick field goals and punt to win in the conference. Definitely not against Oregon or UCLA. I'm concerned that no matter how good the defense is, they're still going to give up points to the likes of Cal, WSU, Arizona, etc. Can the offense do enough against those teams, even?
The biggest headscratchers personnel-wise would be the Colin Tanigawa/Mike Criste/James Atoe rotation (or lack thereof) on offense, and the fact that maybe the second-best tackle on the team in Elijiah Qualls only gets about 15 snaps a game. Doesn't a team like Stanford just scream "Put him on the field more!"?
Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson both transferred to FCS teams this summer. Bishop Sankey gave up the game to take his interpretive dance troupe on tour. Surprised you missed this stuff.
I said Peters might not last the season, not that he'd quit. It obviously gets less likely with each game, but he'd already missed almost a game and a half prior to missing the start against Stanford. It's pretty clear the message hasn't gotten all the way through yet.
Georgia State? I want no part of that. As Apollo Creed said best, "Ain't gonna be no rematch."