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Grading the Game: Washington at Colorado

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It was a slow and sloppy start for Washington yesterday against Colorado, but they turned things around with a 28-3 run to win going away. How did each of the position groups play? We take a closer look...

Shaq Thompson made his case to play RB the rest of the way
Shaq Thompson made his case to play RB the rest of the way
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There's little doubt that Colorado has taken some significant steps forward in year 2 of the Mike MacIntyre regime.  While they remain winless in conference, they have rarely been blown out and have kept three of their conference games within 6 points, with two of them OT heart-breakers.  So while it may feel like a step down to win by 15 after thrashing the Buffs by 52 last year in Seattle, the Huskies won by a wider margin over Colorado than did ASU and UCLA.  It wasn't pretty and there's a lot of work to do, but it was a solid - and needed - win.

QB:

It was a mixed-bag for Cyler Miles in his return to the starting lineup after a concussion.  In a homecoming game for him (he hails from Mullen H.S. in Denver), he posted solid numbers and looked pretty good in the passing game as he completed 13 of 19 for 206 yards and 2 TD's against no interceptions.  Unfortunately three fumbles - two of them recovered by Colorado - marred his performance.  Those mistakes helped the Buffaloes establish an early lead - without them this game likely is a blowout for the Huskies.  And he definitely benefited from a lights-out performance on the ground by Shaq Thompson.  But give credit where it's due - he made some good throws and some good decisions, including a beautiful strike on a package play to a wide-open Dante Pettis for his first TD reception.  He also made good decisions in the old-school option game, was decisive about scrambling when routes weren't open and showed hope that this offense can start turning things around this year.  If he can clean up the bobbled snaps, this would have been a great game for him - as it is, it was a good one.  Grade:  B-

RB:

Fans of Shaq on defense are going to have to come around to the reality that he's by far our best RB and seems likely to stick on that side of the ball the rest of the way.  How can you move him back after an electric performance like he put up yesterday?  Yes, it was against a Colorado run defense that ranks last in the conference and had been yielding 6.2 ypc going into the game.  But Shaq blew that away with his 174 yards on just 15 carries (11.6 ypc), adding another 41 yards on 2 catches.  Even with a limited number of reps in the offense to this point, his athleticism and instincts shine through.  His burst and his tough running give him an edge that the other backs just haven't shown so far this year.  It was a bit disappointing to see Deontae Cooper get only 6 carries in the game, but it also served to show the difference between him and Shaq.  While Cooper was serviceable with his 23 yards (3.8 ypc), he wasn't the weapon that Thompson was.  Grade:  A

WR/TE:

The good?  This looked like a break-out game for talented true frosh WR Dante Pettis as he took advantage of a well-executed play-action package play to get behind his defender for a 28 yard TD catch, his first of what should be many as a Husky.  He also had a terrific 48 yard catch earlier in the game.  Miles also found TE Josh Perkins up the middle on a seam route for a 28 yard gain early in the 3rd quarter, and WR Kendyl Taylor showed off impressive hands in hanging on to a 9 yard TD catch despite a good effort by the Colorado defender to swipe the ball away.  And Kasen Williams even got a target - and a catch! - on a quick slant for a 1st down.  The bad?  Jaydon Mickens was mostly a non-factor with just 1 catch for 8 yards and no gain on a fly-sweep.  John Ross was even less of a factor with no catches or carries.  DiAndre Campbell had 3 catches but coughed up the ball inside the 3 yard line to kill a great drive that had the Huskies poised to take the lead.  Grade:  C+

OL:

It always makes the big uglies look good when they have a dynamic RB behind them or a QB making good, quick decisions.  It also helps to go against a porous defense.  The positive thing for this group is they overcame another injury that forced more re-shuffling of the lineup.  Already missing LG Dexter Charles with Sifu Tufunga stepping in, the Dawgs lost RT Coleman Shelton early in the game which forced OL coach Chris Strausser to shift RG James Atoe outside to replace Shelton, with former starting C Mike Criste coming in to take over at RG.  With just 1 sack allowed and 236 rushing yards gained on 40 carries (5.9 ypc), they appeared to do a serviceable job, though this was roughly what Colorado surrenders on average in conference play.  C Colin Tanigawa will also need to clean up his snaps, as he was frequently off-target and likely contributed to two of the fumbles credited to Miles.  It will be interesting to see if this lineup continues next week - they may look to give Charles another week off to heal his foot.  Grade:  C+

DL:

A week after a dominating performance against ASU, it was a let-down to see this group get gashed in this one as they missed gaps and had trouble giving the LB's clean shots at the Buffalo running game.  It wasn't all bad by any means, and there were a number of nice plays as this group tallied 5 TFL's.  DE Andrew Hudson was a bright spot as he had another strong game, posted 2 TFL's, 1 sack, a pass break-up and 6 tackles total.  BUCK Hau'oli Kikaha picked up another sack to give him 15.5 on the season and a new school-record.  I was also impressed by how the 2nd unit looked, as Elijah Qualls, JoJo Mathis and Will Dissly all showed promise that the drop-off next year won't be severe.  But they had a tough go - especially in the 1st half - as they were partly to blame for the way RB Michael Adkins was carving up the defense on his way to 109 yards on 13 carries (8.4 ypc).  Grade:  C+

LB:

The other component in the difficulty the Dawgs had in slowing down the Buff offense in the first half was some questionable tackling by this group.  It was enough that MLB John Timu found himself getting some time on the pine in favor of Scott Lawyer, and Lawyer did his part with a forced fumble early in the 3rd quarter that allowed the Huskies to quickly regain possession after a deflating lost fumble by Campbell as it appeared the Huskies were on their way to a go-ahead TD.  Travis Feeney overcame a tendency to bobble the ball in practice and secured a beautiful pick-6 shortly after Washington had gone ahead 24-23, and that really seemed to stick a fork in the Buffs.  Kieshawn Bierria had a quiet game in place of Thompson, notching just 3 tackles.  They'll need to improve their tackling next week vs. UCLA or risk getting steam-rolled by Paul Perkins and Brett HundleyGrade:  C

Secondary:

Marcus Peters continues to put together an All Pac-12 season that should garner All-American consideration.  Not only was he terrific in coverage, he shows great physicality in blowing up bubble screens and is very strong in run support.  A great play that doesn't show up in the stats happened when he blew-up an attempted reverse as he jumped all over the receiver before Sefo Liufau could make the hand-off, forcing him to eat the ball for no gain.  That was the good news.  Sidney Jones had a tougher day as he was frequently matched-up against Colorado's top receiver Nelson Spruce who frequently found big gaps in Washington's zone defense and picked up 13 catches on the day.  Credit Jones with generally making the tackle and limiting the gains by Spruce, and he nearly made a great pick in the end zone late in the game.  It was also a mixed-game for S Budda Baker - he got beat badly for a TD pass early and whiffed on a couple tackles, but he stayed focused and ended up with 8 tackles.  He'll learn from it and get better.  Grade:  C+

Special Teams:

Washington finally busted a long return with no yellow hankies on the field as Pettis put the nail in the coffin on the day with an 87-yard TD for the Huskies' first punt return for a TD since 2003.  That was the highlight of what was otherwise a solid day for the special teams.  Korey Durkee rebounded with a nice day, averaging 47.2 yards on his 4 punts and allowing just 6 yards on 2 returns.  Cameron Van Winkle nailed his 35 yard FG attempt and Tristan Vizcaino consistently put his kickoffs right at the end zone line with decent hang-time.  The kickoff coverage was spotty as they allowed an average of 28.0 yards on 4 returns, but Cory Littleton got a big strip and recovery on the kickoff following the Feeney pick-6.  Kudos to Miles who did a good job on his quick kick, pinning Colorado on their 5.  Grade:  B+

Coaching:

It was an inauspicious start for the Dawgs - untimely turnovers, poor tackling and a generally slack defense allowed Colorado to build up leads of 10-0, 17-7 and 20-10.  This was exactly what the Huskies didn't want to do - give an upstart program that has been thisclose to picking up a conference victory some hope against what appeared to be one of their best remaining chances for a win.  But give the team, and by extension the coaching staff a lot of credit: they didn't panic and they showed resolve, determination and confidence as they cleaned up their mistakes, forced some big mistakes by the Buffaloes and made the plays they needed to make as they finished on a 28-3 run to win comfortably.

I've been heavily critical of OC Jonathan Smith this year, so it's only fair to give credit to what was a more creative and sound gameplan.  There were some well-executed package plays, zone reads and old-school option runs, and he also rode the hot hand as the Buffs had no answer for the explosive Thompson as a RB.  There were passes over the middle and passes downfield.  While the offense still only accounted for 24 of the 38 points, and against arguably the worst defense in the conference at that, it provided some hope that this group can grow from terrible to at least OK as the season heads into the home stretch.

DC Pete Kwiatkowski continues to focus on taking away big plays, and the Huskies have been very good at limiting explosive plays.  They were content to play zone much of the day, and the bad news is Spruce and Liufau were very good at taking advantage in gaps in that scheme and putting together long drives while RB Adkins exploited a below-par effort by the Husky front-7 in the 1st half.  The good news is the heavy emphasis on turnovers showed-up again as the Huskies scored yet again on defense on an interception and forced another 3 fumbles (recovering all 3).

This team showed some grit and resolve, and while it wasn't the blowout some fans were hoping for, it was a solid win over a team that has played much better than their record suggests.  Grade:  B