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Grading the Game: Washington at Arizona

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Despite a surprisingly strong performance from the offense and a terrific effort by the defense, costly mistakes doomed the Dawgs in the desert as they fell to Arizona 27-26 on a game-winning FG as time expired. The Huskies missed a golden opportunity to notch their first win over a ranked opponent this year.

There was a lot of good but too much critical bad from the Huskies yesterday
There was a lot of good but too much critical bad from the Huskies yesterday
Christian Petersen

While all losses hurt, some sting more than others.  Those are the ones that stick with you, the ones you can't shake out of your mind - the ones you almost refuse to believe actually happened.  Against Washington State in 2008.  At Arizona State in 2009.  At Washington State in 2012.  After yesterday, you can add another one to the list - at Arizona in 2014.

It was kind of a weird game all the way around - instead of the 14th ranked Wildcats looking like the superior team, it was Washington that filled that role as the offense - for the first time all year - looked potent against a decent team and the defense mostly held Arizona's prolific offense in check.  But the Huskies shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with penalties, poor snaps, special teams errors and turnovers as they gave away what should have been a significant win for Chris Petersen.

Let's take a look at how the position groups played, both good and bad:

QB:

In many ways this was an important step forward for Cyler Miles.  He was generally on-target and making good decisions with his reads as well as when to tuck and run.  As much as any game this year, he ran with purpose and intensity as 5 of his carries went for first downs.  He worked the middle of the field, both in the seam to the TE and on slants and crossing routes.  He finished 20-29 on the day (69.0%) for 223 yards (11.2 ypc) and no picks.  But like much of the offense and the game as a whole for the Huskies, there was some significant bad to go with the good - namely 3 fumbles, 2 of which were recovered by Arizona.  The first (a Dave Krieg soap-dish special) killed a great drive deep into Wildcat territory, and the second (a bad decision by Miles to not simply eat it on a bad snap) gave Arizona the ball deep in Washington territory and led to a TD that put them up 21-17 at the half.  Both were key mistakes that came back to haunt the Huskies.  Grade:  C

RB:

With Shaq Thompson back to defense full-time, there was a need for one of the backs to step up and give the Huskies a reliable threat in the run game, and Dwayne Washington delivered.  Showing the combination of power and speed that has tantalized Husky fans since last year, he produced a career-high 148 yards and 2 TDs on 19 carries, including a 66-yard TD burst in the 2nd quarter to give the Dawgs a 17-7 lead.  But with the good came some bad - the former WR dropped two throws that could have helped sustain drives.  Lavon Coleman returned from injury but really struggled, looking slow and indecisive as he finished with just 31 yards on 12 carries. Deontae Cooper struggled early, picking up just 4 yards on his first 4 carries, but found a bit of a groove as the game went on.  However he had the most glaring fumble of the game as he coughed it up with the Huskies clinging to a 1-point lead and just 1:33 left in the game.  While we can argue about whether he should have been in that position in the first place, his top priority on that play was to hold on to the ball with both arms, and he did not do so.  Still, there was a lot to like about the Husky run game on the day, and hopefully this game is a springboard for #12 as the Huskies look to close out the season on a positive note.  Grade:  B-

WR/TE:

There were a lot of things like from this group, but perhaps the most important was the emergence of Kasen Williams as a factor.  While he didn't have any long gainers, his 5 catches for 39 yards included 2 first downs, and more importantly showed that he's getting close to being the big-bodied, tough running receiver that this offense needs.  TE Josh Perkins continues to emerge as a key target for Miles down the middle and a guy he can count on for critical 3rd downs as three of his four catches went for first downs, and the fourth came on a well-executed trick play double pass from Miles to WR Marvin Hall who threw perfectly to Perkins for a 36-yard TD.  Kendyl Taylor had just one grab, but it was an impressive one showing good hands that went for 28.  TE Michael Hartvigson even got in on the action, coming up just short of the goal line with a 18 yard grab (the Huskies would score one play later).  Jaydon Mickens re-emerged as a factor with 4 catches for 69 yards including a 48 yarder.  On the downside, a holding call on Darrell Daniels nullified a Cooper TD and the Huskies ended up settling for a FG - one of many mistakes that would cost them a win.  Grade:  A-

OL:

Chris has been beating this drum for a few weeks now and it's true - the run blocking from this group is starting to improve.  Yesterday was another step forward in this regard as they were clearing just enough space for Washington to find creases and use his speed, particularly out on the edge.  The Dawgs totaled 245 yards on the ground, averaging 4.1 ypc against a unit that had been allowing 158.8 ypg and 3.9 ypc.  The pass-blocking was a little more iffy as they gave up 2 sacks and let Miles get forced from the pocket a number of times.  More troubling, the snapping issues that have been affecting Colin Tanigawa lately were worse than ever.  One snap was so off-target it ended up a direct snap to Cooper instead of Miles, and the Huskies are fortunate he lined up to the left of Miles or it would have gone for a big loss and potentially a lost fumble and even a scoop and score.  The snaps have become a significant issue that needs to get fixed.  Grade:  C+

DL:

This was a terrific effort by this group when you consider the opponent, and was one of their best showings on the season.  Hau'oli Kikaha returned, and while he didn't record a sack, he was a major factor in the pass rush and was the instigator on Andrew Hudson's sack.  Danny Shelton was a beast in the middle, recording 2.5 TFLs (including a sack) and a team-high 9 tackles, and was a major factor in the Huskies limiting Arizona to 133 yards on the ground on 40 carries (3.3).  Both Hudsons were active in gumming up the line of scrimmage, and Elijah Qualls and JoJo Mathis did well when they were subbed in.  Arizona was off their rhythm offensively most of the day, and it started up front as the Huskies won the war in the trenches.  Grade:  A

LB:

Shaq returned to LB, and while he didn't rack up a ton of stats, that was as much due to the effectiveness of the DL in shutting things down before it got to the backers.  He was a factor in limiting the run/pass options in the Wildcat playbook as well as being Johnny-on-the-spot with a fumble recovery.  John Timu was playing a solid game before falling hard on his ribs on another near-pick and being replaced by Scott Lawyer.  Lawyer was OK filling in and showed himself to be a big hitter, but he's also not as athletic as you'd like against a spread team.  Travis Feeney was effective in space at times, notching 5 tackles.  All of these guys however had some issues with missed tackles or less than ideal tackling form.  This wasn't a huge deal given how well the DL was playing, but they need to work on their technique.  Keishawn Bierria had a frustrating piling on penalty that took yards away from the first pick by Sidney JonesGrade:  B-

Secondary:

There were some notable broken coverages as Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and John Ross all got beaten pretty badly on pass plays, with Jones and Ross making the cardinal mistake of taking their eyes off the route and looking back at the QB.  However they all bounced back from their mistakes to play pretty good games overall.  Jones in particular redeemed himself with two huge interceptions, the second of which appeared to have ended Arizona's last best chance to win the game.  Ross was generally pretty good in coverage aside from the one play, and Baker had a really good game both in coverage and run support.  Brandon Beaver got some run in place of Kevin King and was called on a highly questionable holding penalty that kept alive an Arizona drive that ended up netting them their 2nd TD on the day.  On the day they helped limit Anu Solomon to less than 50% completion as he finished just 17-39 (43.6%) for 242 yards and 2 picks.  Grade:  B+

Special Teams:

First, the good:  the Huskies won the kickoff battle, netting 39.8 vs. 38.6 for Arizona.  Korey Durkee had a good game, netting 41.0 yards on his 5 kicks.  Cameron Van Winkle nailed 2 more field goals, from 39 and 31.  Now the bad - he also doinked a 43 yard attempt off the right upright, the return units were just OK and most notably long snapper Ryan Masel misfired on the XP snap for Washington's last TD, leaving Arizona the opportunity win with a final FG instead of tying it and sending the game to OT.  The FG defense team was also burned big-time as they had no edge contain on a well-designed and executed fake by Arizona that got them back in the game as Casey Skowron scored from 18 yards out to close the gap to just 3 points.  Grade:  D+

Coaching:

Before we discuss the bad - and there's plenty to discuss - we have to acknowledge the good, namely the Husky offense looked far more effective than they have since at least the Eastern game, and against a much better opponent.  Whether this was simply the team executing better, or whether the play-calling really was better (the former always makes the latter look good), it was a notable improvement from a heavily criticized unit and provided some reason for optimism for the remainder of the season and going into next year.  And the defensive gameplan and execution was quite good, limiting a potent Arizona offense to well below their season averages in all significant categories.  Most telling was Washington converting 13 of 22 third downs while holding the Wildcats to just 3 of 15.

Now the bad.  First up are the penalties - 13 in all for 111 yards (compared to just 2 for 14 yards for Arizona), and a ridiculous 9 penalties to none in the first half.  Yes, we can complain all we want about "Pac-12 Refs", but the Huskies deserved most of those calls, and for all the talk about discipline and fundamentals, the Huskies under Chris Petersen, they have only marginally in penalties from last year, ranking 92nd in penalty yards/game compared to 119th in 2013.  Next is the hesitation to actually go for it on 4th down or go through with the fake punt.  Washington had a 4th and 1 at the Arizona 49 late in the first quarter, lined up in punt formation then moved Lindquist under center with Shaq behind him.  But rather than actually go for it, he was simply trying to see if he could get Arizona to jump offsides (of course they didn't).  With a 240 lb running QB and a beast of a part-time RB in the backfield, why get cute with trying to draw them offsides?  Why not just go for it like the numbers suggest you should?

Worse of course was the end of game decision making by Petersen.  The Huskies had stopped an Arizona drive with the second pick by Sidney Jones and had converted two first downs on their subsequent drive, leaving the Wildcats with just one timeout remaining and just over 2 minutes left.  This meant that the Huskies wouldn't be able to run out the clock with victory formations, but they could have brought it down to roughly 10 seconds with simple kneel-downs and then a punt which you would figure would leave Arizona with more than 80 yards to go and enough time for just one play.  And had they been a little more creative in killing the clock they might have indeed been able to run the clock completely out.  Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and Cooper is generally a sure-handed back. But the ball was acting like a greased-pig all game (7 total fumbles on the game, 6 by the Huskies), and while there would have been some risk to a punt, it would have minimized Arizona's chances by giving them only 1 shot to score a TD by hoping for a botched snap on the punt, a punt block or a return for a TD (or perhaps a Hail Mary on one final play).  Obviously we're only talking about this because Coop fumbled, the refs didn't rule him down first, Arizona recovered and then got within range for a FG try that Skowron nailed after missing a warm-up kick when Petersen tried to ice him.  But it shouldn't have even been a possibility.  Grade:  D