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Grading the Game: Washington vs. Oklahoma State

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Washington sleep-walked through the first half, and the 24-0 hole they dug themselves was too much to overcome. They played much better in the 2nd half, but it wasn't enough as they fell to Oklahoma State 30-22. We grade the position groups.

Miles and the Huskies had a tale of two halves
Miles and the Huskies had a tale of two halves
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently someone forgot to tell the Huskies that the game started at 7:15 PT last night, because they acted like they were still scrimmaging and the results didn't count.  By the time they came out for the 2nd half they found themselves down 24-0, and while they battled back and played much better over the final 30 minutes, the hole they dug themselves was too much to overcome.  They had a final chance to try to tie the game after the Cowboys hooked a short FG attempt, but with only 43 seconds left, no timeouts and 80 yards to go, it was a tall task that fell short when QB Cyler Miles was intercepted and Oklahoma State took over with 5 seconds remaining.  We take a look at the schizophrenic performance and try to assess grades for each of the position groups:

QB:

This game was a microcosm of Miles as a QB - the good and the bad all on full display.  In the first half Miles was not in rhythm, well off-target on some throws and not giving his receivers much chance to do anything with the throws he completed.  He labored even more than usual to get the ball out with any kind of velocity and once again found himself removed in favor of Lindquist to throw an end of half Hail Mary pass.  He found a rhythm in the second half and the offense - or the passing game at least - started to click.  But the severe limitations imposed by his slow release and lack of velocity were still on display, as he simply couldn't drive the ball downfield effectively for big pass plays.  While he wasn't terrible in the pocket, he looked overly skittish at times, and he wasn't quite fast enough to pick up needed first down yardage with his legs.  I would expect that the competition for the starting job in 2015 will be in full effect this spring.  Grade:  C

RB:

After a nice run of games to close out the season, this was a big step back for Dwayne Washington.  If you give him a clean hole he has the speed to take it to the house, but he still struggles when the running lanes aren't wide open and too often finds himself getting caught up in the wash and unable to create his own yardage.  It's also becoming increasingly clear why he was moved from WR, as once again he showed difficulty in making a relatively easy reception, missing a chance at potentially significant play.  The combination of the ineffectiveness of the run game along with the score led the Huskies to mostly abandon the run in the second half.  Deontae Cooper mostly saw action as a blocker, and Lavon Coleman got just a handful of snaps.  Grade:  D+

WR/TE:

Jaydon Mickens has had statistically more impressive games, but he's never been better than he was last night.  He was not only the most visible vocal leader on the field, he backed up the talk by walking the walk, consistently finding seams to get open and showing off perhaps his best - and most decisive - open-field running as a Husky.  He led the way with 7 catches for 82 yards including a TD that brought the Huskies to within 1 score late in the game, and his reverse for a 31 yard TD early in the 3rd quarter capped an impressive drive for him and gave the team life.  Kasen Williams was finally targeted downfield by Miles as he should have been most of the year, showing off his impressive leaping ability and hands as he closed out a massively disappointing Sr. season with his best game of the year, tallying 5 catches for 73 yards and leaving UW fans wondering why it took this long for the offense to utilize him properly.  So. TE Darrell Daniels showed glimpses of his tremendous potential with 2 catches for 34 yards.  Grade:  A-

OL:

It's hard to know for sure just how much the absence of Dexter Charles affected this group, both physically and mentally, but this was a poor showing by the OL.  They simply could not handle a big, strong Oklahoma State front in the run game and were unable to create much in the way of clean running lanes as the running backs could manage just 43 yards on 15 carries.  Pass blocking was somewhat better, but they still allowed 2 sacks and numerous hurries that flushed Miles from the pocket with little chance to find any receivers.  This is an area of significant concern as the Huskies head into the off-season, with Charles being the only returning full-time starter and Sifa Tufunga and Coleman Shelton being the only others with starting experience.  Grade:  D+

DL:

This group was being counted on as a major factor favoring the Huskies in this game, but it didn't turn out as hoped.  Yes, they tallied 3 sacks (one each for Hau'oli Kikaha, Andrew Hudson and Evan Hudson) and forced a fumble (Kikaha), but the pass rush was not consistently effective enough to rattle Cowboy QB Mason Rudolph.  Worse, they were unable to control the line of scrimmage in the run game, rarely clogging their gaps or shedding blocks to make plays.  The final stats don't show a dominant OSU run game, but this is an example of where stats can sometimes be misleading - if you watched the game, you saw the Cowboys consistently picking up needed yardage for first downs on the ground.  The youngsters got some action in this one as Joe Mathis, Elijah Qualls and Tani Tupou were rotated in multiple times throughout the game.  The significant playing time the backups saw this year should hopefully help allow this group to not face a massive fall-off in performance in 2015 as all four starters graduate.  Grade:  C

LB:

Shaq Thompson is widely expected to declare for the draft in the coming weeks, and this game was a good reason why - you could see his explosive athleticism and physicality as he was all over the field; you also likely noticed the big cast on his left hand showing what was probably a broken thumb which both limited his ability to wrap up and finish some of his plays as well as illustrating the downfalls of returning for his senior season (i.e. getting hurt and damaging his draft stock).  John Timu led the way with his 12 tackles, but he also struggled at times by taking poor angles, whiffing on a big sack and being unable to take runners down quickly enough to prevent first down yardage.  Cory Littleton flashed has pass-rushing ability as it was his pursuit that led to Kikaha's strip of Rudolph in the 1st quarter.  Grade:  B-

Secondary:

A young secondary that has improved over the course of the season and largely limited big plays took a small step back last night, but also showed reasons for optimism moving forward.  Sidney Jones gave up a few big catches, but he also shows the size, speed and physicality to think that he may be the next in line as a top NFL CB prospect from the Huskies in recent years.  He very nearly pulled off a spectacular interception in the end zone (it was initially ruled as such before replay correctly overturned it) and was the best CB on the field for Washington.  Budda Baker did get a spectacular interception - his first of the year - when he showed off his speed and leaping ability to cut in front of a long Rudolph pass and one-hand the ball, then turned upfield and put his impressive open-field running skills to use by returning the pick 44 yards.  He also had a big miscommunication with CB Naijiel Hale that led to a long TD pass in the first half.  John Ross and Hale both had their struggles opposite Jones, and Kevin King took some poor angles and bounced off a few too many tackle attempts.  When the opposing QB completes 65+ % of his passes for an 11.2 ypa figure, you know the secondary was not playing great.  Grade:  C

Special Teams:

A mixed bag for this group.  Ross was feast or famine on kickoff returns; the 96 yard TD was a thing of beauty, but his other 5 returns picked up just 80 yards as he often made bad decisions to bring kicks out of the end zone or danced around too much trying to avoid contact and reverse field.  Baker saw some duty in the punt return game and made a rookie mistake when he failed to warn off his blockers away from a punt he really should have fielded, resulting in a short field for Oklahoma State that they were able to turn into 3 points and a 27-7 lead.  Miles had a couple of pooch punts that didn't go that well, particularly the 2nd one which came on a 4th and 20 situation when it should have been Korey Durkee in there punting.  Durkee had a good day, netting 45 yards per kick on his 3 punts.  Cameron Van Winkle bounced a 43 yard FG attempt off the right upright in his only attempt, while the kickoff coverage team allowed the Cowboys to break a few too many tackles, turning what should have been short returns into pretty good ones.  Grade:  C

Coaching:

Chris Petersen himself admitted after the game that the team opened the 1st half in "practice mode" and acknowledged that he needs to learn from this and vowed he will "look at everything" to prevent this from happening again.  It was a frustrating and curious half, as it seemed that this team had put slow starts to rest over the latter half of the season and bought in to the Petersen process.  But this looked much like the Georgia State game, except Oklahoma State is a program of a far higher caliber and you can't simply give away a half against them and expect to blow them out in the 2nd half.  We've seen a lot of positive talk from players on the team about "buy-in" and whatnot, but I think this process is not yet complete - to come out in this game and sleepwalk through the opening half suggests that there is still work to be done.

The more I watch this offense, and the more I compare them to other programs, the less I think that the offensive schemes are the problem and the more I think that the severe limitations of Miles holds them back.  Timing is critical in football, and his inability to deliver the ball quickly results in lost opportunities to pick up yards after the catch in the passing game, or to even complete longer throws downfield due to the window of opportunity being small.  That's not to say that I give Jonathan Smith a pass - I think his play-calling is below average, and I was frustrated at the inability of the offense to properly execute a hurry-up offense late in the game as they frequently wasted precious seconds getting lined up, getting the playcalls in and snapping the ball quickly.  This is an area that will need a lot of critical self-examination in the coming months, though I also wonder what it would look like with a different QB at the helm.

Defensively, they struggled a bit more than I expected in rushing the passer and gave up a few more big passing plays that I had anticipated.  That said, their problems appeared to be more a matter of executing than strategy - I thought Pete Kwiatkowski called a pretty good game.  However he and his staff have a lot of work to do this off-season to replace guys like Kikaha, Shelton, Thompson and the Hudson boys, and it will be interesting to see what strategic changes they make to account for those losses.

In all, the team and how they perform is usually a pretty good reflection of the coaching they've received, and this was one of the poorer efforts we saw this season.  Give credit where it's due - the Huskies looked much better in the 2nd half, and had they played with that type of effort and execution all game, it would have been a Husky win (and probably a comfortable one at that).  But that start sabotaged their chances, and it's troubling to see the sluggish first half struggles for this program return.  Grade:  D