For the first time in seemingly forever, the Huskies entered their annual game with Oregon as the favorites. Upgrades in talent and coaching on the Washington sideline and the Ducks adjusting to life after Marcus Mariota had conspired to set up two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. Fate however had other plans.
Of course Vernon Adams would be healthy enough to play against Washington after sitting out most of the last four games. Of course Darren Carrington's suspension for a failed drug test in last year's Rose Bowl would end prior to this game. Of course the multiple offensive linemen dinged-up against WSU would heal up for this game. Of course each of Oregon's three fumbles would bounce back to the Ducks. Of course Dwayne Washington would injure his knee warming up for the game and Jojo Mathis would be too dinged-up to play. Of course Jake Browning would injure a shoulder on the last Husky TD drive and K.J. Carta-Samuels would be forced into action cold off the bench to try to engineer a game-winning drive with 1:11 left in the game, 1 timeout and 80 yards to go. Of course.
It's probably too much to expect of a true freshman QB to carry an offense in a league as tough as the Pac-12. Jake Browning has shown enough flashes to believe that he's going to develop into a QB that can carry an offense, but he's not quite there yet. Against a woeful pass defense he had his moments, but not enough. That wasn't all his fault - he threw a beautiful pass on a wheel route to Deontae Cooper, and the 6th year vet simply couldn't make the catch for what would have been a TD. He also suffered some drops from - and miscommunication with - Jaydon Mickens. And he was getting harassed most of the night by a strong pass rush from the big, talented, veteran Duck DL. He did a good job stepping up when he could and taking wide-open scramble lanes when they appeared, but he couldn't get away from all of them. But he also got away with a few throws, including one that was converted into a terrific catch by Brayden Lenius that could have easily been picked instead. I liked the poise he showed on the last TD drive to put the Huskies within one touchdown, but I would have liked to have seen him show more urgency. Carta-Samuels was thrust into a tough spot, and it's not surprising he looked shaky given this was his first serious game action. Let's hope Browning's injury isn't too serious. Grade: C
Before the season, Husky alum Greg Lewis suggested that true frosh Myles Gaskin would win the starting RB job outright before the year was done. With six games down, that prediction is looking prescient. Even if Dwayne Washington hadn't suffered a pre-game injury, Gaskin's performance the last two weeks would likely be enough to anoint him as the new starter. Gaskin continues to show excellent patience, vision and burst to find holes and then exploit them. While there weren't a lot of holes last night against Oregon, Gaskin found them and had the play of the game for Washington when he turned one such hole into a 72-yard TD run to give the Huskies life just when the game appeared headed into blowout territory. He finished with 155 yards on just 18 carries, and even setting aside his big run, he was averaging just under 5 yards per carry. He's still not a real factor in the passing game as either a receiver or blocker. With Washington out, Cooper and Lavon Coleman got some reps - Cooper as the 3rd down back and Coleman for short-yardage plays. Coop did a nice job blocking and got a step on the Oregon defender on a wheel route, but couldn't make the catch. Grade: A-
When you consider the difficulty Oregon has had defending the pass so far this season, this has to be considered another disappointing performance by this group. They struggled to get separation from the Duck secondary which was part of the reason Browning kept finding himself under duress. Mickens had a key drop and another miscommunication with Browning which helped stall a couple of drives, though he later came back with a difficult and critical TD catch to pull the Huskies within 6. Dante Pettis had probably his best game of the season as he caught 4 passes for 65 yards, often the beneficiary of some effective play-action. Lenius bailed-out a poor Browning pass and turned what should have been an interception into another highlight-reel catch. Josh Perkins remains the most consistent target in the passing game as he caught another 4 passes for 40 yards, but he also whiffed a block on a bubble-screen as Isaiah Renfro was dropped for no gain. Darrell Daniels remains a frustrating afterthought in the passing game - his speed mismatch is going to waste. Drew Sample thus far is contributing only as a blocker. Now would be a good time for someone - anyone - to take a step forward and provide Browning more help, and if you're a 2016 WR recruit, you have to think that there's a wide-open path to immediate playing time available. Grade: D+
It shouldn't be too surprising that matching up a (mostly) 4th and 5th year group of physically impressive DL against a younger group of OL would result in that OL looking over-matched much of the time. True frosh Trey Adams getting bulldozed onto his back (and reaching up to hold so as to save Browning from getting killed) was symbolic of how the night went. Pass protection was iffy at-best much of the game as the Ducks got 4 sacks and forced Browning out of the pocket several times and tipped at least two passes. These are the lumps that they are going to take as they continue to gain experience, and while there should be payoff down the road, right now it's tough to watch. They were better in run-blocking. While they weren't consistently blowing the Ducks off the line, they were able to able to create some gaps and creases that Gaskin was able to exploit. This is something they should continue to build upon as the season progresses. Grade: C
It should be said right off the bat that Vernon Adams is a slippery SOB and Royce Freeman is a beast of a back that will make a lot of money in the NFL, sooner rather than later. That said, it was frustrating that the line wasn't getting a more effective rush against Adams and was allowing as many wide open running lanes as they did. It wasn't all bad - they certainly had their moments as Freeman's runs were typically either big chunk plays for 10+ yards or he was stopped cold at the LOS. Elijah Qualls got a lot of upfield penetration to get in the face of Adams, and Taniela Tupou was active with 7 tackles on the night. And it should be noted that the defense held Oregon below their season averages for points, yards and yards/play. Still, it was frustrating to see the Huskies get heat on Adams only to lose contain and let him slip away, and they were gashed enough on the ground to allow Oregon to sustain five scoring drives. Grade: B-
For all the talk about Azeem Victor having to sit out the first half, the Huskies held Freeman to 51 yards on 11 carries going into halftime. Scott Lawyer, Sean Constantine and Ben Burr-Kirven all had extended playing time in his absence, and BBK in particular looked good, playing like a heat-seeking missile as he notched 4 tackles and a sack (despite being held on the play). Keishawin Bierria and Travis Feeney both got dinged-up in the game, though both also later returned to action. They were both active on the night, each picking up 5 tackles and Feeney added 2 TFL (including a sack). They did a good job of swarming to the ball on most run plays and bottling up Freeman before he could build up a head of steam or stringing out Taj Griffin before he could turn the corner. This group is playing at a high level. Grade: B+
For an experienced and talented group that has been a stalwart all season, this game was a definite disappointment. You can give Adams a lot of credit for his ability to escape pressure and buy extra time with his scrambling, but the secondary has to do a better job of staying with their receivers during scramble drills. Sidney Jones - who has looked like a future 1st rounder much of the year - was burned at least twice in these situations to give the Ducks big gains and a TD. Oregon receivers were consistently able to gain separation as Adams picked up 272 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 14 completions. They were much better in run support, particularly Budda Baker who led the team with 8 tackles and picked up 1 TFL and a couple of critical open-field tackles. Brian Clay picked up a targeting call for a hard hit on Darren Carrington in the 4th quarter and will have to sit out the first half next week at Stanford. With Brandon Beaver getting dinged-up, this will open up more reps for Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner. Grade: C-
The margin between this being a really good game for this unit and not was less than a couple of feet, or the gap between the Huskies blocking the final Duck punt (and setting themselves up for a game-winning TD) and Ian Wheeler getting it off cleanly. They did not, and so their failure to contain the Oregon kick return unit after the big Gaskin TD run was all the more glaring. While that 87 yard return didn't end up costing the Huskies points (the Ducks missed a short FG), it did flip the field and sucked away the momentum that Washington had just grabbed and put them back on the defensive. Cam Van Winkle was nails as he hit 40 and 46 yard field goals and Korey Durkee was effective with some ugly punts that still averaged 44 yards. Chico McClatcher was close to busting some really big returns, and as it was he averaged 25.3 yards on his four returns. The Ducks were able to bottle-up Pettis on punt returns as he had to fair catch 3 kicks and managed just 1 return for 3 yards. Give the Huskies credit for defeating the early 2-point attempt by Oregon which put them in the position to win the game with a TD. Grade: B-
In what has been a troubling trend all season, the Husky offense was unable to score on their first four possessions of the game. They had a nice opening drive, but stalled at the Oregon 39 and opted to pooch punt on 4th and 1 instead of going for it and wouldn't come close to crossing midfield until finally breaking through late in the 1st half for a FG. The gameplan wasn't terrible - there were some good-looking plays on display - but execution was often lacking (busted pass-protection, dropped passes). It's curious that the Huskies didn't use screen plays to try to burn the Duck pass rush. But the most glaring issue was the lack of urgency on that final Husky TD drive that consumed almost 5.5 minutes and burned the 2nd UW timeout in the process. The Huskies have to be able to execute an up-tempo attack in these situations.
Scheme wasn't the main issue on defense - breakdowns in containment and scramble drill coverage were the biggest culprits. As it was the defense held Oregon to their 2nd lowest point total of the season despite the return of a healthy Adams at QB (and he was clearly much better than what we've seen from Jeff Lockie and Tyler Alie so far this season). Tackling was improved as they did a good job of wrapping up on Freeman. You can bet that the staff will be working on scramble drills with the secondary during practice this week.
Coach Petersen has thus far in his Husky career shown himself to be quite conservative when it comes to 4th down plays, rarely opting to go for it. Hindsight is 20/20, but that first drive last night was a prime situation to buck that trend and try to keep continue that drive and answer the Ducks opening drive. I get that the Huskies have a terrific defense and Petersen was hoping to play field position, but that was a lost opportunity for a big emotional boost had they converted and especially if they'd gone on to score. The effectiveness of the Husky defense was a good argument to go for it, content with the knowledge that had the Huskies not converted, the defense was stout enough to minimize any damage from losing 20+ yards of field position.
As a whole, I thought the Huskies did a good job of not looking too flat following a big win as an underdog last week. This didn't look like an issue of focus and emotion so much as it was facing a very talent Oregon team that had a difference-maker at QB return and make them much more dynamic. But the ongoing issues on offense need to improve if this team is to take advantage of a terrific defense and keep the bowl game streak going. Grade: C