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Grading the Game: Washington vs. Arizona State

Like the loss to Stanford a few weeks back, this was a game of "what-ifs" where the Huskies had opportunities to knock of a ranked team at home thanks to their defense, but they couldn't seal the deal. Now the Huskies sit at 5-3, 1-3 in conference and looking for answers - anything really - to kick-start a moribund offense.

It was a rough first start for QB Troy Williams as he battled difficult weather conditions
It was a rough first start for QB Troy Williams as he battled difficult weather conditions
Stephen Brashear

I don't know what the game looked like on TV, but this was one of those classic Seattle late-fall windstorms that happen every year; it was windy with gusts reported up to 61MPH in the area and many power outages and lots of rain.  In short, it was the kind of weather conditions that have a real impact on the field, and that showed up for both teams.  It was also far from ideal conditions for a RS-Fr QB from Los Angeles to be making his first collegiate start.  Because of the weather the passing game for both teams was hampered, special teams were hampered and both defenses got a big assist from Mother Nature.  While the conditions helped the UW defense keep a terrific ASU offense mostly in check, it also hurt an already anemic Husky offense and put even more of a burden on a struggling run game.  With that in mind, let's take a look at how the team played:


This was probably the least fulfilling outcome for HC Chris Petersen in terms of his QB situation; it wasn't exactly a fair situation to judge first-time starter Troy Williams who, even considering the weather, did not have a good game.  He clearly didn't win the job - and Petersen was quick to announce that Cyler Miles will return to the starting job next week at Colorado - but it's also hard to say that he was any worse than what Miles would have done under the same circumstances, and there will be cries from the fan base to give Williams another shot.  Certainly you could argue that much of what Williams struggled with (other than the weather) was what you'd expect of a young first-time starter - not having a good feel for the rush and when to throw the ball away, not making good reads or going through his progressions, forcing the ball into tough spots and looking rattled in the face of pressure.  And the best way to fix those issues is more reps, particularly live reps.  I'm not so sure the gameplan really exploited what Williams can do, but you could also see why the coaching staff has hesitated to hand him the ball prior to last night - on the critical penultimate drive when the Huskies were trying to answer ASU with a TD drive of their own, Williams couldn't find (or couldn't pull the trigger) on an open Josh Perkins on 3rd down and instead took a sack, and then on 4th down misfired over his target and right to ASU DB Armand Perry who took it to the house to seal the win for the Sun Devils.  He also had a mystifying pick earlier in the 3rd quarter right into the arms of ASU safety Jordan Simone on a play where the receiver never even looked for the pass, so it's hard to know who was to blame on an obvious miscommunication.  Jeff Lindquist got a few looks with his running package with John Ross in pistol formation behind him.  It worked great the first time, then failed the subsequent two times.  I think they need to be willing to let Lindquist throw from this look to keep the defense honest.  Grade:  D


When you consider that the combination of Washington's lack of success this year in the passing game, Williams making his first start of his career and the terrible weather conditions made it a no-brainer for ASU to load the box and play the safeties close, the running game was quite good.  Due to injuries to Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman, LB Shaq Thompson moved over full-time to RB along with Deontae Cooper, and they combined for 168 yards on 32 carries (5.25 ypc).  Shaq showed his combination of power & speed and Cooper showed nice vision as they were able to gash a Sun Devil run defense that has been vulnerable all year.  When the Huskies finally truly committed to the run game early in the 4th quarter they put together their only impressive drive of the game, racking up 6 of their 19 first downs and picking up 71 yards on 13 carries before a curious 3rd down sweep call forced them to settle for a FG.  While Shaq clearly has value on the defensive side of the ball and has NFL scouts excited, you could also make an argument he's just as much of a prospect at RB.  I would guess that as Coleman and Washington heal up he'll return to LB and his part-time RB role, but he gave the coaching staff something to think about.  In the meantime, I'd like to see them continue to feed Cooper (11 carries for 70 yards) who has earned the shot to be the lead back.  Grade:  A-


It really is remarkable how little production this team is getting from a group that has some definite talent.  Between Ross, Jaydon Mickens, Kasen Williams, Josh Perkins and Darrel Daniels, there is enough there to expect a lot more than we've seen this year.  At this point you have to think that Kasen simply isn't 100%, but for the number of snaps he gets he may as well be invisible as he simply isn't getting targeted by the QB's.  Ross was a non-factor in the passing game and ran himself into an 11-yard loss on a Lindquist play; someone really needs to make it clear to him that this isn't high school and he can't juke and outrun entire defenses - find a line and go, and if it's not there take the short loss rather than compound the problem.  Mickens was a non-factor as well.  Obviously there were limitations due to the weather, but this group was not providing much help for their young QB.  Grade:  D-


It was a vintage 2013 performance from the OL as they couldn't pass block (5 sacks allowed) but they did pretty well blocking for the run game, particularly between the tackles on that 4th quarter drive.  There was also a critical holding call against C Colin Tanigawa in the penultimate drive that wiped out a 6 yard gain on 3rd and 10 that would have set up a manageable 4th down and instead left the Huskies facing 3rd and 20 which allowed ASU to pin their ears back and come hard after Williams.  It's hard to say which group is underperforming more at this point - the OL or the receivers?  Hopefully they can build off the bursts of success they had with the run game and get that aspect of the offense going the rest of the way.  Grade:  C


While they certainly got an assist from the elements, this was still a fantastic game from the front four as they were constantly in the backfield getting pressure on Taylor Kelly and stopping ASU runs at the line of scrimmage.  Hau'oli Kikaha was a constant thorn for ASU coming off the edge for 2 more sacks to claim the UW career sack record (31.5) and tie the single-season record (14.5) and also out in coverage as he blew up bubble screens and inside screens.  Danny Shelton was his usual disruptive self in the middle and at his best on an epic 4 down goal line stand at the Washington 1 yard line in the 3rd quarter as the Huskies stuffed the Sun Devils on four straight run plays to avoid being put in a 17-0 hole.  Andrew Hudson got in on the sack parade and picked up 2 of his own to go with his game-high 10 tackles, and Evan Hudson blew up an inside screen.  Kikaha was just a fraction of a second late on Kelly's game-winning TD pass as Kelly only just got off the pass before his knee was down due to Kikaha's hit.  Grade:  A


With Shaq full-time on offense for this game it was a chance for Keishawn Bierria to shine and he played well, racking up a sack, two tackles-for-loss and 6 tackles total.  Sr. MLB John Timu had a big game with 8 tackles, a forced fumble on the 4th down of the goal line stand and a huge pick-6 to get the Huskies on the board and give new hope to the fans and the team that Washington could win the game.  Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton split time on the outside and both were active on the edge, getting pressure on Kelly (Feeney had 1 of the 7 Husky sacks) and helping contain the Sun Devil run game.  Unfortunately this group was also gouged on the game-winning drive late in the 4th quarter as they missed some tackles and lost contain on the running game as ASU quickly marched 75 yards in 9 plays.  They also allowed another big gain on a RB route out of the backfield that went for 36 yards and helped set up the FG that put ASU up 10-0 before the half - this has been a consistent problem for the defense.  Grade:  B


You can give Mother Nature a big assist here as Kelly was reluctant to really test the secondary much on a wet, windy night that made for less than ideal passing conditions.  Budda Baker continues to show a lot of promise - especially in run support - but on the game-winning play he let his man cut back in front of him to secure the wobbly pass in the end zone.  I thought Sidney Jones looked good at times, including a critical pass break-up on Washington's other goal line stand early in the 4th quarter.  Marcus Peters had a couple of pass-break ups but also allowed a TD in a good battle with outstanding ASU WR Jaelen Strong before going down with an injury.  This group mostly did what was asked of them as they kept ASU from making any long pass plays over the top (other than a freak tipped ball on the first Sun Devil drive).  Grade:  B

Special Teams:

Rough game for this group.  Punter Korey Durkee was the hardest hit, as a combination of poor snaps and terrible weather led to an ugly night as he averaged just 30.1 yards on his 7 kicks before finally getting replaced by Tristan Vizcaino.  Cameron Van Winkle saw his first FG attempt - to give Washington an early 3-0 lead - blocked as the low line drive attempt through the wind wasn't high enough to clear the ASU DL.  John Ross had yet another long kickoff return called back for a hold, and both Dante Pettis and Deontae Cooper narrowly avoided disaster as Pettis fumbled and recovered a punt and Cooper barely covered a short kickoff that nearly bounced away.  About the only thing that went well was the kickoff coverage as Vizcaino had a touchback on one kick and the kickoffs netted 40.7 yards.  Grade:  D


You have to give Petersen some credit for a willingness to give Williams a shot; while Miles sat most of the week in practice due to concussion symptoms, he was cleared to play, but Petersen decided to see what Williams could do.  It was obviously poor conditions though, and it was a bit disconcerting afterwards to hear him say they were surprised by the wind as the weather advisories were in effect on Friday warning of the storm and what to expect.

At this point I'm really struggling to find something positive to say about Jonathan Smith.  This was a game made for running the football, and despite the Huskies having some success with it from the start, he refused to believe that they could control the game with it and put his young, inexperienced QB in a tough spot.  When the Huskies finally did commit to the run on their first drive of the 4th quarter, they marched right down the field until a...I'll generously say...curious play call on 3rd and goal from the 2 for a sweep that resulted in a 2-yard loss and necessitated a game-tying FG attempt instead of a go-ahead TD.  The thing is, the run game was there all night but Smith simply refused to fully commit to it.  And with a QB in Williams that can deliver a bubble screen quickly, he ditched that part of the playbook after one poor result.  I continue to be befuddled at how infrequently they are getting the ball in the hands of Ross and how they can't find any way to get the ball to Kasen or Daniels.  While there are some glimpses of creativity in the offense, there's not nearly enough - why not use Perkins or Daniels out wide to block for the bubble plays?  Why not put more package plays in the mix, or if they're there, coach up the QB's to make better reads instead of always handing off to the RB?  Petersen has a rep as an offensive guy - it's time for him to help out his OC and find some way to get this offense out of neutral.

Pete Kwiatkowski's group rebounded from a tough game at Oregon and played well enough to win.  They were mostly disciplined (a few big pass plays to RB's out of the backfield being the exception), tackled well and the DL played a great game with two big goal line stands including an ultimate four-down stop from the 1.  They benefited from the weather, but if they can play like this the rest of the way they'll have a chance in every game.

This will go down - much like the Stanford game - as a missed opportunity.  Arizona State is a good team, but like Stanford they were vulnerable, and this was a game Washington could have won.  They need to figure out something for the offense and get the QB position right, whether it's Miles or Williams (or Lindquist for that matter).  At 5-3, they could still win out or lose out - there's still time to get to double-digit wins and move the program forward in the eyes of fans and recruits, but it's got to start next week.  Grade:  C-