Brad's up first...
So, the offense was fine on Saturday. Pretty bland, but I suppose you'll take 6.2 yards per carry regardless of the competition, especially when you're looking to cycle backs through the offense at the expense of truly establishing a rhythm. Cyler Miles was just fine as a passer, but he's a second running back out there. He's still a concern for me moving forward with that arm, though. Without the dominating blocking on the outside the team had last year, better defenses are going to blow that bubble screen up. The great anticipation he has as a passer is useless on a play designed to get the ball out of the QB's hands as quickly as possible. With most teams, bad execution by the offense (or really good execution by the defense) on that play results in a minimal gain or a tackle for a moderate loss. With Miles, I think you're looking at a much higher potential for a pick six by the defense. Moving forward, I'm not sure how viable a play it'll be against a lot of teams. I want to see how he does throwing the ball down the field, but I'm a little nervous about the intermediate passing game. As good as he played coming in to a tough spot against UCLA, he's been equally as non-descript as a passer in almost all of his other action. Efficient, but also the beneficiary of a pretty impressive running game.
I'm not sure what to think about the offensive line. Even when the running game is more suited to the backs they have now (power, as opposed to the zone predicated on a cutback runner), they just don't look as good yet as they did last season, and even the last half of 2012. It's entirely possible that it's all just the difference between Bishop Sankey and Lavon Coleman/Dwayne Washington/Deontae Cooper. Hopefully Ben Riva's recovery from that knee injury helps the right side of the offensive line, because even against Eastern, it was still pretty mediocre too much of the time.
I know it's only been 3 carries, but is Shaq Thompson's best position running back?
The Kikaha-in-coverage thing has been mostly beaten to death, but wow. It's quite possible that, as a lot of people seem to think, what the coaches have done these first two games defensively is just playing around with personnel and concepts. If that's the case, it's a real dangerous game they're playing, but okay. If that's the case, though, why would they be spending so much time practicing things they aren't going to run in the future, and so little on what they actually intend once the games get real? What some people think is playing conservative I'd call playing pretty fast and loose, based on the fact that the team hasn't actually won a game yet prior to the last couple of minutes.
This defensive staff was 90th in S&P+ against the pass last year at Boise State. Ouch. We've obviously talked about this a lot, but if you had to pick your poison of a death by paper cuts or getting your head lopped of in a single swoop, which is actually better for the overall health of your defense? For a young player, is it better to get beaten physically, or because he's overthinking things and can't play aggressively? I absolutely can't stand the "Well, you must think you know better than the coaches" reply to questioning what's being done on the field. Smart people make bad decisions all the time, and become married to a philosophy that isn't necessarily correct. And it seems the higher up the food chain they progress, the more tightly many of them will hold on to those ideals because "it's what got them to where they are."
Darin prattles on...
When the Huskies hired Chris Petersen last year, my brother is on record as being concerned about the defensive staff. It's perhaps a bit early to award him a gold star for that, but I hope you'll admit he's looking a bit prescient. Is that too much for you? To admit that somebody else might be right? It is for me.
Now, my brother is a reasonably smart guy -- upper three-quarters of his graduating class, "some college," as they say. Knows how to program his DVR to record to shows at once. That sort of thing. But he's no genius. (Believe me.) And his incentive to be right about defensive assistant coaches is a lot lower than Chris Petersen's. If Brad is right, he gets to remind everybody until we want to kill him. If he's wrong: meh, par for the course. Coach Petersen, on the other hand, if he's right he protects his reputation as a football genius and his multi-million-dollar salary. Furthermore, Petersen knows more about football than Brad does. More on Monday morning than Brad knows all week, actually. And he knows the defensive coaches personally, he watched their film, he interviews them.
To sum up, Coach Petersen has every reason to be right, and he knows everything there is to know. So I have a question for you. Can you guess what it is?
On to the team.
I find it very difficult to evaluate both the offensive line and the defensive front based on the Eastern game. The physical differences were substantial up front, and it showed. I thought they both played well, but I don't know how much we really learned beyond a few obvious things:
Danny Shelton is the best Husky. The linebackers look like a work in progress (see, e.g., discussions elsewhere of Kikaha, Hau'oli; Thompson, Shaq). The offensive front has looked decent against sub-standard competition -- TBD how that translates to, say, Stanford.
The trouble with games like Hawai'i and Eastern is that you can learn if there's a problem -- run defense and pass offense against Hawai'i, pass defense against Eastern -- but you really can't learn if anything is right. We ran for a thousand yards against Eastern. Does that mean our running game is good? Beats my pair of jacks.
A hat-tip: Vernon Adams, QB at Eastern, played a truly great game. He was a Pac-12 QB that day. You can't pin all this on the Husky defense -- he was spectacular.
Some other fans have raised this point on the radio and here at the Dawgpound. The Huskies were 9-4 last year, and played really good defense at times. Why are we hearing, "it takes time," and "it's a process," like we're rebuilding from scratch? I'm sick to death of rebuilding. Coach Petersen deserves time to implement his system and make the team his, but haven't we made some progress?
Regarding your question about whether it's better defensively to face an anthill or a tiger, I'm of the opinion that it's much better to take on the tiger. Roll up your sleeves, spit on your hands, and wade in there. There are three reasons why I think this is a better approach.
First, as you point out, it's better psychologically for defensive players. They're aggressive, they want to go get the ball and knock somebody's head off and get a sack-fumble. When you tell them to play soft, to read and react, you take the edge off that natural inclination. I also suspect, though I can't prove it, that a fifteen-play drive is more discouraging than a 60-yard touchdown.
Second, we play several teams, most notably Oregon, who win in part by attrition. They force your defense to be on the field for 80 plays, and by the fourth quarter the defense is just flat tired. The defense should refuse to participate in its own destruction -- at least to the extent possible.
Third, I think aggressive defense is most likely to succeed at stopping the offense. If any offensive team can get an average play on every down, they march right down the field, first down after first down, and score. three-point-seven yards per rush, six-point-eight yards per pass, or whatever. Touchdown. To stop an offense, the defense has to string together three below-average plays in a row. So the best defense isnt' the one that prevents big plays, it's the one that makes bad plays (for the offense) most likely. Pressure. Tight coverage. You've only got to do it for three plays -- then it will be a touchdown or a punt.
I agree with you that it's entirely possible that coaches have missed at least this third argument. Maybe we made it up. We're like the "Moneyball" of college football defense, I guess.
Marcus Peters deserved his suspension. He acted like an ass, and not just for that one play. Did you see him getting on Kevin King after the first TD pass? Not cool. Didn't leave Petersen a choice. I really hope he gets his act together. There's a lot on the line, both for Husky football and Peters himself.
And there you have it, folks. If you've made it this far, collect your prize at the door on your way out. Go Dawgs.