Not since the dreaded 2008 season have Husky fans seen a half bad as the 1st half yesterday. For Chris Petersen though, this was a new low:
I thought the first half was probably about as bad of football as I’ve been around maybe ever.
Players we expect to be leaders on the team admitted afterward they took Georgia State lightly. Cyler Miles:
We took them lightly. Plain and simple. I’m not gonna sugarcoat nothin’. Our team took them lightly, and we can’t do that. I saw from the middle of the week, we were sloppy, and we came out kind of just ‘whatever.’ We can’t ever do that.
Really, we didn’t expect them to come out with a fight. Personally, I didn’t. Got to give them props. They came out fighting and did a great job, and kind of woke us up, and that’s what we really needed, so I appreciate them for that.
Now, this is far from the first time a team has taken a significant underdog lightly. What concerns me are two things:
1. Given the close calls already this season, it's surprising that this team is still capable of overlooking an opponent.
2. Even if they didn't take this game that seriously, the talent discrepency should have produced better results in the first half - they didn't just look like they were sleep-walking, they looked bad, like they didn't know what they were doing.
We can presume that Stanford will capture their full attention, but will the execution improve? On to the grades:
This was a major step back for Miles. While he got better in the 2nd half, he was a mess in this game. His decision-making was poor, he missed seeing a lot of open receivers (Marvin Hall was WIDE open in the end zone on his scramble-fumble early in the 3rd quarter) and he looked panicked out there. He made some good throws and better decisions in the 2nd half, but this was not a good game for him. I liked the package with Lindquist and Miles in there, and while the Huskies ran the same read-option off the fly sweep look all three times, you can easily imagine there's a lot more there they can build on from that look. Lindy impressed with his running - while he's probably not as fast as Miles, he's a physical runner and gets upfield. Grade: D+
While holes were not plentiful, this was not a good showing by this group. Lavon Coleman got the start again, and it was his 2nd straight sub-par game. It's perhaps not fair to compare him directly with Bishop Sankey, but you can see the differences in burst and cut-back ability. When he's at his best he runs with good power and just enough speed and wiggle to make defenders miss. That wasn't on display yesterday. Dwayne Washington was better, finding some creases and picking up a few nice gains, but - like Coleman - he never really broke free into the secondary. Cooper got some carries in garbage time and had a nice 33-yard burst, but you could see how his knee injuries have robbed him of his top-end speed - a pre-injury Cooper might have taken that one to the house. Grade: C-
Jaydon Mickens continues to be the go-to guy for the passing game in getting things going. While he didn't do a whole lot downfield, he provides excellent quickness on the edge on the bubble screens and needs just a moment of blocking to turn a 2-yard loss into a 10-yard gain. More impressive was the all-around game by DiAndre Campbell: not only did he provide terrific blocking on the edge, he had his best game as a receiver, hauling in 6 catches for 71 yards and providing the only real downfield threat for Miles (at least, the only downfield threat Miles saw and threw to). Kasen Williams continues to struggle to gain separation and be targeted, but he was the beneficiary of a well-designed package play for an easy TD. Kendyl Taylor had a really nice catch on slant route for a 10-yard TD, and Braden Lenius picked up his first catch as a Husky. The TE group was mostly quiet, though Miles misfired or didn't see Darrell Daniels on multiple occasions. He's a guy that feels on the verge of a breakout. Grade: B
When your QB is continuously being chased out of the pocket and is sacked 3 times by a team that had just 2 sacks in their prior 3 games; when your running game produces an average of just 4.4 yards per rush against a defense that has allowed 4.3 on the year against much weaker competition; and when your offense as a whole averages just 4.9 yards per play against a group that has allowed 5.9 on the year, then you know you played poorly. For a group with so much experience and success in run-blocking the last couple of years, their inability to do more against a 5th year football program that still hasn't filled their 85 scholarships since moving up to FBS last year is puzzling at best. And they looked terrible trying to pick up the blitzes from Georgia State and didn't give Miles much of a chance to feel comfortable in the pocket. There was more experimentation along the line as Coleman Shelton again had to fill in for an injured Ben Riva and Sifa Tufunga got some time in place of James Atoe at RG; hopefully OL coach Chris Strausser can figure out a grouping that can handle Pac-12 competition. Grade: D
We're going to run out of great things to say about the play of Danny Shelton. He again led the team in tackles with 13, including 2 tackles for loss and another sack. For a massive man, he showed off his quickness on at least one play where, with 1-gap responsibilities he blew into the backfield almost untouched to drop the GSU RB for a 4-yard loss. Hau'oli Kikaha notched another 2 TFL's and a sack and the Hudson twins both notched a sack apiece. They started a little slowly as they let the GSU run game find early success and were having troubled getting consistent pressure on Panther QB Nick Arbuckle, but as the game wore on they began to look like the talented, veteran unit they are. Grade: B+
This was probably the best game of the year so far for MLB John Timu, picking up 10 tackles and a pick-6 to help put the finishing touches on a respectable final score. Shaq Thompson had a decent day, but with him you can't help but feel like there should be a little more there. GSU was heavily focused on the pass so Shaq was frequently back in coverage; all 5 of his tackles came off running plays. Travis Feeney continues to show flashes, but is often the LB subbed out when the defense goes to a nickel look. I like the burst he provides when he blitzes, but more often he was dropping into coverage. Grade: B
They were picked-on early as Arbuckle did a good job of taking advantage of soft coverage underneath or finding open spots in the zone, but as the game wore on and the pass-rush up front picked up, they did a better job of taking away easy outlets for him. They also avoided getting beat deep, with no passes completed longer than 24 yards. Marcus Peters had a terrific return from his 1-game suspension as he picked off 2 passes (a 3rd was negated due to him being flagged for interference). His second was a spectacular diving grab right at the sideline as he just got his left foot down in bounds. He's an aggressive player that plays right on the edge of getting flagged (and will get some calls against him) but more often than not makes the play and can be counted on to shut down his side of the field. It was a little less successful day for Sidney Jones who was picked on often and early before the defense made some adjustments. Like most of the team, the safeties played better in the 2nd half and Kevin King finished 3rd on the team with 9 stops. Grade: B-
Give a ton of credit to Fr. WR Dante Pettis - his punt returns in the 2nd half were the spark the team needed to shake the doldrums of the terrible 1st half. His first return in the 3rd Q went for 35 yards to put the Huskies on the GSU 18 yard line where they quickly scored. His next return also went for 35 yards and his 3rd went for big yardage before being called back on a penalty. In all, he finished with 98 yards on 4 returns and showed he's a major threat to bring one back the distance. GSU was deathly afraid of the Washington kickoff return team (even with John Ross out) as they pooch-kicked and kicked one out of bounds before hitting a touchback on their 3rd (and last) kickoff. Cameron Van Winkle made a late 25-yard FG, Miles nailed his one quick-kick to the GSU 1 and Durkee did a good job pinning the Panthers inside the 20 and preventing returns. Kickoff coverage was excellent as they limited GSU to 107 yards on 7 returns. Also of note was the fake punt look the Huskies gave where Shaq motioned into position at QB before the Panthers quickly called time out. It's probably safe to say we'll see that look again this year. Grade: A
Chris Petersen was about as mad as you're going to see him in public after the game (which is to say he was very composed and tried to emphasize the positive). He was surprised to hear that his players admitted to taking GSU lightly as a reason for the poor 1st half, saying he thought the players worked hard during the week. Regardless, that falls on the coaching staff for not doing a better job getting the players to have the right mentality heading into this game. And he admitted afterward he didn't think his team is ready to take on Stanford given what we saw on Saturday, so you can probably expect that the team is going to get a particularly intense week of prep.
On offense, it's hard to pin too much on Smith's play-calling as his QB looked rattled and spooked and the OL wasn't producing much in the way of running lanes. I liked the wrinkle they introduced with Lindquist, and that package play that went for the TD to Kasen was a beauty. Still, the offensive staff has to put their heads together and figure out how to bounce back, because the execution we saw yesterday isn't going to get it done in conference play, especially against a defense like Stanford's.
Defensively I thought they looked OK - there wasn't a ton of exotic looks or creative blitzing, but they did a nice job of adjusting the coverage to provide some help to Jones, and I suspect that DC Pete Kwiatkowski is trying to keep some stuff under wraps still.
Let's give Jeff Choate some props for the Special Teams - this was their best showing, and in general this is a group that has looked improved over last season.
Overall though, you have to be a bit concerned about how the Huskies sleep-walked through the 1st half. Even if they came back and had a big 2nd half, the order in which they happened does matter, and the slow start robbed the staff of the luxury of getting much longer looks at the 2nd & 3rd stringers in action as they didn't get subbed-in until midway through the 4th quarter. Grade: C