Brad's Up First
This was the first time that the offense and defense both played "good" in the same game. While neither side was "great," both made great plays. It was the most complete game of the season, for what that's worth at this point.
It doesn't really seem like one should be complaining about the offense heading into halftime with a 38-12 lead, but for the 24 points it actually scored, it seemed to be stuck in the mud against a truly bad defense if it didn't hit a big play in a drive. Otherwise, the Huskies simply had to grind, and those results weren't near as dominant or impressive as you'd hope to see. The drives went 12 plays for 46 yards (TD), 1 play for 75 yards (TD), 8 plays for 75 yards with a 28-yard receiver pass (TD), 4 plays for -8 yards, (safety), 12 plays for 52 yards (punt), 9 plays for 79 yards with passes of 25 and 28 yards and 30 yards in penalties against Illinois (FG).
I get that you can't just take away the best plays an offense makes to try to show they didn't play as well as the score would indicate, and Illinois deserves a lot of credit for bottling up Lavon Coleman, but this wasn't a matter of being vanilla. It's likely that if Shaq Thompson hadn't returned both of those turnovers for scores that the Husky offense would've scored on one or both of them. The Huskies just didn't run the ball particularly well with Coleman early. Fortunately, Jesse Callier had a very good first half, and Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington both had some very nice runs to keep things looking up. But of the Huskies' 25 rushes in the first half, 13 went for 3 or fewer yards. I certainly hoped for a little more consistency. The offense seemed to go to sleep in the third quarter as it rained yellow flags. But to their credit, they managed to find their stride in the running game late in the third and through the fourth to just play keep-away from Illinois.
The right side of the offensive line concerns me. Coleman Shelton's struggles are to be expected, but I'm not seeing much from James Atoe. He's just not very mobile, and he tends to lunge at his opponent instead of moving his feet. Seeing the two of them together against Stanford could be ugly. Hopefully Riva can get healthy, and that his presence solidifies that side of the line to some degree.
John Ross has four TD receptions thus far in his Husky career. They've been 57, 91, 55, and 75 yards. He's also had two (at least, it might be three) 50+ yard kickoff returns called back due to penalties. He's a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Will the Huskies have to figure out a way to get the ball in his hands more than they have so far? Sure seems like it to me.
Cyler Miles again seemed to struggle with his accuracy, particularly on the short stuff. The passes were complete, but just not where they needed to be, and when they needed to be there. I'm not sure how the short passing game evolves, but it certainly appears that there's stuff that Petersen and Jonathan Smith are going to have to shelve. And with the amount of time it takes for the ball to get to his receiver once it leaves his hand, I can't help but picture smart, athletic safeties gambling a bit more than they might against a guy that can generate more velocity.
Even with the time-consuming drives and two defensive touchdowns, the Huskies still ran 80 plays to Illinois' 56. The defense did its job. There were still a few big miscommunications in the secondary (that sound like they were more on the corners than the safeties), but considering the personnel out there (two true freshman starters in the secondary), things were better. Much credit to Sidney Jones. He looks like a real player at cornerback. He might be the best of the true freshmen DB's that have played so far.
Danny Shelton was his normal dominant self. Thompson made two spectacular plays, and was rewarded as the Defensive Player of the Week. And while it might be sacrilege to some Husky fans to say this, he wasn't the best defender on the field. Hau'oli Kikaha was by a long way. 3 sacks, and at least that many more pressures. It sure looks good to see him playing in the offensive backfield as opposed to the defensive backfield.
What do you want to see this week? After winning the game, coming out healthy is the most important thing to me. If I was Pete Kwiatkowski, I'd probably play as vanilla as possible and use this game as one last opportunity to shore up the secondary. The only "exotic" thing I might do is experiment with Elijiah Qualls at end with Danny Shelton at nose. Qualls has earned the snaps, if he can handle the position. And against Stanford, a little more power up front is going to be needed. On offense, I'd mix things up. A lot. This is the time to put things on film for Stanford. The other thing I'd like to see is meaningful snaps for Troy Williams. Even if Jeff Lindquist has a lead for the backup position, I think there's a big benefit in seeing what Williams can do in live action as opposed to just practice.
Admit it. Isn't this what you thought the Huskies would look like at this point in the season? Strong defense, led by a good front-seven with some struggles due to inexperience in the secondary; decent offense, run-heavy with a mediocre passing game and line. So I'm less concerned about you throwing out offensive plays and more focused on throwing out the first two games.
Is that reasonable? No. But if the Dawgs continue to play about like they did against Illinois we'll mostly forget about the weirdness of Hawaii and Eastern. Who knows, maybe those games really were weird for whatever reason. Maybe.
I think the offense was actually pretty effective. In the first half, they had six possessions. Three resulted in touchdowns, one was a punt, one was a disaster, and one was a field goal as time ran out. I'd like to see them not get pinned inside the five and screw up the punt, but I don't see how you can complain about these results too much.
My copy of Excel is busy doing something billable, so I can't check this to verify, but I suspect the offense consistently increased the expected points when they had the ball in the first half. As you pointed out last night, even some of the low yards-per-carry can be explained by picking up short first downs.
In the second half, the objective changes. The Huskies had a big lead, so maximizing expected points is no longer the objective. The objective is, rather, to minimize the variability of the outcome. Here's what I mean. If you Google the Advance Football Analytics Win Probability Calculator, and enter the scenario at the start of the third quarter (26-point lead, possession on our own 36 yard line) you'll see that the Huskies win probability was way over 90 percent. Higher if you factor in that the Dawgs are a better team than Illinois. The only way for Illinois to win would be for them to increase the uncertainty of the outcome -- they needed to take chances. The Huskies on the other hand, should not help them with that. Play it safe. Punt. Run -- which also has the advantage of using up the clock.
That's what they did.
(Note that win probability is based on pro games. I expect that the Huskies' actual win probability was a bit lower, since the college game has more plays and more uncertainty. Quibbles.)
I agree with you that Kikaha was the true monster on defense. When I watched the game at the stadium, I didn't think he did much pass coverage, but watching again on TV there was more of that than I thought. I guess we should just get used to the idea. Shelton was dominant again, but Illinois handled him in the way most teams handle a tackle like that: they put lots of guys on him. So he didn't have the stats, but that couldn't last anyway.
I really wanted Travell Dixon to play better. I was of the opinion that he had looked like our second-best corner now that Kelly is out, but there seem to be just too many mental mistakes. Plus, he doesn't seem to react to the ball like a senior. I'm with you: Jones-Peters is probability the combo, although we'll see how Hale, Gardenhire, and Beaver shape up. It's early. Major bummer about Jermaine Kelly. I told him not to jump off the swing, but you know how headstrong kids can be. I sure would like to see one of the freshmen get a pick.
The gripes about the offensive line and Miles's release are pretty well-known, so I won't rehash them, except to say they appear to be real.
You mentioned the other day that you didn't like the fact that we have a bunch of running backs with a few yards instead of a single dominant one. I still disagree. The only reason it's better to have a dominant back is if you have... a dominant back. Giving Polk or Sankey the lion's share of the carries was good because they were that much better than the next back in line. All things equal, it's better to share the load, though. Playing running back is about physical attrition -- over a career, but also over a game. (Pat Kowan talks about teams blitzing in the first quarter solely for the purpose of putting hits on the running back.) Sometimes you'll hear running backs say they get better of the course of a game. I think that's probably nonsense. I suspect what really happens is the defense tires, so the running back feels like he's gaining momentum. No such thing.
Saturday is a scrimmage. In order of priority: no injuries, clean execution, playing time for backups. I really wish they wouldn't schedule games like this