Against a talented and 18th ranked UCLA, things started off on the right foot - Washington won the coin toss and deferred, and the Husky defense forced the Bruins to punt on the opening drive after a Hau'oli Kikaha sack of Brett Hundley on 3rd down. However, in an ominous sign for the game, Kikaha suffered a stinger on the play and would not return. While it's probably too simplistic to say that doomed Washington's chances, it was a big blow for a defense already missing Marcus Peters (kicked off the team) and losing Shaq Thompson to offense for most of the game. And that was in addition to the OL missing Ben Riva, Coleman Shelton and Dexter Charles.
The Huskies still had their chances, and were down just 14-10 early in the 2nd quarter, but a 17-0 blitz by the Bruins to close out the half gave them a commanding lead, one that proved too much for an undermanned team to overcome. Were there any signs of optimism to come out of the game? Let's look at the position groups:
This was not a loss that should be pinned on Cyler Miles. While it wasn't a great game by the embattled QB, there were some good things to take away from his performance. It was encouraging to see him be more forceful in the run game and with his scrambles - he ran harder than we've seen since at least the Eastern Washington game, if not back to last season. There was one notable scramble where he slid short of the first down mark, but other than that he was using his feet effectively. He also had some nice throws, including some deep shots to Dante Pettis and Braden Lenius. A couple of them fell incomplete due to great plays by the Bruin defender and the receiver not getting much (if any) separation, but Miles put them right on target. The long strike to Lenius on the Huskies' first scoring drive was a thing of beauty. He is also finding the TE down the middle, and had nice touch on the beautiful screen play to Cooper. We should also note that he was under duress much of the night as the patchwork OL was routinely getting beat by the UCLA front four. On the other hand, he also had some wildly off-target throws mixed in, including badly missing on a nice package play. His slow release and weak arm continues to be a liability on bubble screens, and his interception was a result of not having enough juice on his attempt to throw the ball away. If he can get better protection and see his receivers creating more separation, Miles is showing that he can make enough plays. Grade: B
Shaq continues to show he's the best RB on the roster. The quandary though is figuring out where he provides the most value, and then maximizing that value. He was the primary back, getting 16 carries on the night (for 100 yards), but the staff also clearly wanted to spell him some so he had some snaps on defense. That allowed Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington to get some looks. Cooper was dependable, grinding out 29 yards on his 6 carries and busting out 36 yards on a well-executed screen play (aside from the holding penalty that moved it back 10 yards). Washington showed some nice things on his return from injury, picking up 33 yards on 7 carries including a nifty 12 yard TD run. We're far enough along on the season that it's clear the run game is at its' best when Shaq is at RB, but you have to wonder if it would be good enough with Cooper and Washington if the staff were dedicated to sticking with it. You also wonder what the run game could do if the staff gave Shaq 25-30 carries... Grade: A-
It's becoming increasingly clear that for whatever reason(s), Kasen Williams, John Ross and now even Jaydon Mickens are not going to be contributors in the passing game. It's puzzling to be sure, but it also appears to be the new reality. Which means the receiving staff has suffered a tremendous talent drain and is reliant on a couple of true freshmen in Pettis and Lenius, and holdovers DiAndre Campbell, Kendyl Taylor and TE Josh Perkins. TE Darrell Daniels returned from injury but had little impact on the game (count him as another talented player that just can't seem to find a fit so far in this offense). Pettis and Lenius both flash nice potential, but both also are true frosh and are still learning and getting bigger, faster and stronger. Perkins is quietly developing into a nice safety valve for Miles as he's frequently finding space in the seam and led the team with 4 catches for 49 yards. Campbell is a hard-worker and willing blocker, and he does a serviceable job in the passing game, but he lacks the explosiveness to break open a game. Until this staff and these receivers can figure out how to utilize talents like Ross, Williams, Mickens and Daniels, there's a limit to what we can expect from the rest, and unfortunately - right now - that limit isn't very high. Grade: C-
This was very much a page out of previous years as the run blocking looked at least decent - if not pretty good - while the pass blocking was poor. To be fair, they were down three starters as Riva, Charles and Shelton were all out to start the game (though Shelton apparently was healthy enough to step in when James Atoe came out with an unspecified injury). Regardless, the pass blocking was a problem as Miles suffered 3 sacks and was flushed from the pocket several times resulting in throw-aways when he couldn't find an open receiver. This has generally been an area that's improved this year, but the Bruins had the upper hand last night. Where this group was more reliable was the running game. While they weren't clearing huge holes, they created enough daylight for a terrific back like Shaq to do some damage, and enough for Cooper and Washington to pick up 62 yards on 13 carries (4.77 ypc). On the night the Huskies gained more yards (211 vs. 162.8) on a higher ypc (4.4 vs. 4.1) than the Bruins have allowed on average on the ground. Grade: C-
When Kikaha notched his sack on the first drive, it looked like the hope that the Husky front four could take advantage of shaky UCLA pass protection would be a reality. But he suffered a stinger on the play and couldn't return, and neither could the Washington pass rush. While there were a few times that Hundley was flushed from the pocket, the Dawgs couldn't bring him down and he either found a receiver downfield or scrambled for positive yardage. For most of the game he had plenty of time to stand in the pocket and carve up the Husky zone. When he wasn't doing that, he was handing off and watching his RBs pick up healthy gains on the ground as the front four rarely plugged the gaps or shed their blocks to make a play at the LOS. Danny Shelton faced double and triple teams, but it wasn't enough for the Hudson boys or backups JoJo Mathis, Jarret Finau or Taniela Tupou to find much success on their own. We got a glimpse of life after Kikaha, and it wasn't pretty - hopefully Mathis and the young ends like Will Dissly can make significant strides in the off-season. Grade: C-
While I didn't think the dropoff in the LB crew without Shaq was that significant in the ASU or Colorado games, it was clear last night. Keishawn Bierria got trucked multiple times, while Shaq really stood out on the few snaps he got on defense. John Timu had a tough night, both shedding blocks and filling lanes in the run game and taking good zone drops vs. the pass. Scott Lawyer got a lot of time in his place, but he struggled as well. It was a better showing for Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton. Fenney showed his athleticism at various times including a nice 5 yard TFL late in the first quarter. Littleton was a mixed-bag - he has better range and coverage skills than Kikaha, but his pass-rush skills are not nearly as good. He did have an impressive play where he fought through a block to drop the UCLA back for just a 1 yard gain. In all, this group took their lumps vs. the UCLA ground game and too frequently came up short either in rushing the passer or defending their zones in coverage. Grade: C
Regardless of the reasons of why Peters had to go, there's no doubt he's a significant loss in terms of talent. Sidney Jones and Naijiel Hale show promise and should end up being very good corners for this program, but they're true freshman and they are going to take some lumps as they learn the game at this level. Hale was burned on the long TD pass to Kenny Walker, something this pass defense has generally been good at preventing, though I did think his PI call later was bogus. I saw some nice flashes from Jones - he set himself up nicely for a pick in the end zone before the Bruin receiver interfered with him. Ross appeared to be strictly in man coverage for the night, and as you'd expect, he shows great speed and change of direction. But his (lack of) size and physicality made him a frequent target on bubble screens against the bigger Bruin receivers - this will be something all future offenses will try to exploit if he continues to play D. The safeties didn't have their best games either, often late in closing in their areas of zone coverage and having trouble in run support. While it certainly didn't help that the pass rush was MIA after Kikaha's injury, you also have to look at these guys in explaining how Hundley completed 29 of 36 (80.6%) on the night. Grade: D
Ross finally got a clean return as he took a kickoff 100 yards (the NCAA doesn't count yards in the end zone like the NFL) to the house with no yellow laundry on the field. But like the special teams as a whole, it was a mixed-bag for him as most of his other returns were not great. Part of that was due to good hang time on the UCLA kickoffs mixed with poor blocking on the return team, but he had returns of just 19 yards (to the 24), 18 yards (to the 20), 15 yards (to the 16) and 13 yards (to the 13) mixed in. The Huskies generally tried to avoid kicking it to Ishmael Adams, but the squibs and pooch kicks resulted in the Bruins averaging a 31.8 yard starting position on kickoffs. Can't either Van Winkle or Vizcaino kick the ball out of the end zone? Van Winkle nailed his three field goals and Korey Durkee had a good night with a net average of 40.2 yards on his four punts. However the punt team also blew a golden opportunity to convert a critical fourth down fake when they could get the snap off in time. Yes, there was some bungling by the officials on the illegal substitution call/no-call, but the bottom line was the Huskies let the clock get to zero - if they'd been quicker getting the play in and executing it, there wouldn't have been any chance for the refs to blow it. Grade: B-
There's nothing quite like moving key players around from position to position to open up a coaching staff to critique. Clearly Shaq Thompson and John Ross are freakishly athletic players. And I can sympathize with this staff in struggling to decide where best to deploy them - Shaq is not just a gifted playmaker at LB, he's also our best RB and the only one currently showing the ability to bust big plays. Ross clearly has the athletic talent to be a sticky CB, but you also have to scratch your head at the inability to get him the ball on offense when he's by far the most explosive player on the roster. You also have to wonder why, if the staff is going to play Shaq at RB, that they don't just commit to it and give him a workload befitting a stud RB. Why not give him 25+ carries?
Even more controversial is dismissing a star player at a position where he's by far the best player. We've hashed out the Marcus Peters issue to death this week, so the question after the game is whether his dismissal had an impact on the locker room. That's impossible to know, and it would be foolish to draw any conclusions based on how the team played. Yes, the Huskies had a rough first half, but that's been happening much of the season. Whether that's a result of the Peters dismissal or not, it's a significant problem that needs to be fixed - this team simply isn't good enough to stumble for a half and beat any of the decent teams in this conference.
I saw a mix of good and bad in the offensive gameplan. The sweeps and power running plays found a lot of success and there were some nicely designed pass plays. But it still feels like OC Jonathan Smith doesn't trust his base run game and gets too cute in the red zone. I don't mind some trick plays here and there, but when they aren't executed well and stall drives, they become magnets for criticism. I also wonder why we don't see more traditional screen plays, especially in a game like this where the Bruins were getting a lot of pressure on Miles. The bubble screen is not a play this team can rely on as a foundation play given Miles and his inability to get the ball out to the edge quickly, but he can execute other screens. I also was scratching my head at the play calling and lack of urgency and tempo for the offense in the 4th quarter - they burned nearly 3.5 minutes to go 54 yards midway through the quarter, and burned another 2:18 to gain just 18 yards on their last drive.
Defensively, Kwiatkowski struggled to find an answer for the Husky pass rush after Kikaha went out. That lack of rush did not work well with the primarily zone looks the defense gave Hundley, and he had little trouble moving the Bruin offense against it. It was also disappointing to see how easily the UCLA run game gashed the defense. A halfway decent showing by the defense might have been enough last night with the 30 points the offense and special teams was able to generate, but the breakdowns - particularly in the 2nd quarter when UCLA extended their lead from 14-10 to 31-10 - were too much to overcome. Grade: D+