It's been an up and down year for the emotions of Husky fans, from the frustration of coming up just short in game one at Boise, to a big game by Jake Browning in the win over Utah State, to the disappointment of too many turnovers vs. Cal, to the major statement with the tough win over USC, to the bitterness of losing a winnable game vs. Oregon and then getting flattened by Stanford. Nerves were frayed, frustration with the offense was boiling over and bowl hopes were fading.
Into this stew stepped an Arizona team leading the Pac-12 in scoring but struggling on defense and missing key players such as Scooby Wright, Nick Wilson and Derrick Turituri and facing a growing QB controversy between Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall. The betting public saw this as a close game favoring the Huskies; what we got instead was near-complete domination as the Pac-12's #1 defense held what was arguably the Pac-12's #1 offense to just 3 points while a struggling Husky offense torched Arizona's embattled defense for 49.
There was a whole lot that went right in this one and not much that didn't - let's dive into the details:
It was a triumphant return from injury for Browning as he had his best game as a collegian, completing 16-24 passes for 263 yards, 4 TD's and no picks. He was on-target all night - three of the incompletions were drops (Jaydon Mickens, Brayden Lenius and Isaiah Renfro), one was deflected by a referee and one was a throw-away out of bounds. Of the remaining three incompletes, one was a long pass to Dante Pettis that fell a bit short as Browning was hit as he released the ball and couldn't properly follow-through. He looked much like the guy from his H.S. game film, fitting passes into tight windows by relying on tremendous anticipation and accuracy. Anyone wondering whether Browning was regressing and needed to sit got their answer tonight, and it was an emphatic "no". He was making good decisions on his RPO plays and his improvisation off a QB sneak that instead saw him run untouched around the left end for a 13-yard TD (his first rushing score of his Husky career) was a thing of beauty. Jeff Lindquist got a few chances in the "Lindcat" package and for the first time all season it was clicking as he picked up 18 yards on 4 rushes, including the final TD of the night for Washington. Grade: A
On a night where Myles Gaskin was merely "good" instead of "fantastic", he got some support in the run game from his teammates. Gaskin continued to display nice patience and vision and surprising toughness with his runs. He didn't get the big creases he's seen in previous games and was relatively quiet with his 11 rushes for 49 yards, but he remains the most consistent running option on the team and will greatly benefit if the passing game can build off this game and find their own consistency. Dwayne Washington bounced-back nicely with perhaps his best all-around game of the season, showing off his speed both as a receiver and runner. Matched-up twice on wheel routes against a LB, he showed what a mismatch that was by converting those for 36 and then 13 yards, the latter marking the first score of the night for the Huskies. Later in the game he took a sweep around the right end untouched for a 69-yard TD run as he read the blocking beautifully and turned on the jets as he turned the corner. Chico McClatcher got into the act too as he got 3 carries and turned those into 32 yards off the jet sweep. Getting him more involved in the run game is a savvy move by the staff as he has terrific wheels and needs the ball in his hands. With the game well in hand in the 4th quarter Deontae Cooper got some extended playing time and did a nice job reading the blocking and picking up 25 yards on his 4 carries. Grade: B+
While these guys continue to have their issues with drops and blocking on the edge consistently, there were also some bright spots. TE Josh Perkins continues to be the guy Browning can rely on in the middle of the field and he once again led the way with his 4 catches for 58 yards including a nice catch and run for 13 yards as he broke a tackle to score the 2nd TD of the night for the Huskies. Mickens had a bad drop on a slant and was the victim of a ref in the wrong place at the wrong time on an early crossing route that would have been a nice gain, but he also showed his explosiveness when he turned a quick hitch into a 40 yard gain down the right sideline and terrific feet when he just dragged a toe in-bounds for a first down. Renfro bounced-back from his drop with a couple catches for 30 yards, including a nice catch-and-run where he broke multiple tackles for 13 yards to set the Huskies up on the Arizona 5, followed by a terrific catch by Lenius on a fade for the TD. Dante Pettis only had one catch but it was a big one as he got open for a 31 yard TD catch and run. Blocking was also improved - it still needs to be more consistent, but the big gainer by Mickens and the TD run by Washington don't happen without well-executed blocks on the perimeter. Grade: B-
This was probably the most well-rounded performance of the season for this group. They weren't dominant in either pass-blocking or run-blocking, but they did well in both phases. The pass-blocking in particular was a step-up - while Browning did get taken down twice, for the most part he didn't have to move around much and had time in the pocket to find his receivers. The run-blocking was pretty good overall, highlighted by the big run by Washington and they held their edges nicely on the jet sweeps for McClatcher. The inside power and zone wasn't as consistently terrific as it has been in prior games, but Gaskin was still able to average 4.5 ypc. OL Coach Chris Strausser continues to play multiple guys - while Andrew Kirkland and Coleman Shelton got the starts on the right side of the line, but Kaleb McGary and Jesse Sosebee got extended playing time. Grade: A-
It could have been a bad sign when Elijah Qualls went down early in the game with an injury; instead, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea stepped-up and filled the gap. Gaines and Tani Tupou both did a nice job inside gumming up the interior and preventing the Arizona run game from opening big creases, and they occupied enough blockers to allow the UW linebacking crew to stay clean and make play after play. With the route in effect in the 2nd half we got to see more of Jaylen Johnson, Will Dissly and Shane Bowman out there. Dissly in particular flashed and looks like a good candidate to take over Tupou's spot when he graduates. Grade: A-
When these guys are on it's hard to imagine a better linebacking unit in the country. Travis Feeney was outstanding off edge, abusing Wildcat LT Layth Friekh on multiple occasions and putting together perhaps his best game as a Husky, tallying 11 tackles, 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks. His partner on the other side of the line Cory Littleton also was outstanding, picking up 7 tackles, 1.5 TFL and a sack. Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor were rocks in the interior as usual, filling gaps and playing assignment-sound against the zone-read and RPO plays that make up most of Arizona's playbook. Ben Burr-Kirven again looked good, picking up 7 tackles in a backup role. Psalm Wooching had a big play when he picked up a dropped lateral and, after a moment of hesitation, took it 40 yards to set up Washington's 5th TD of the night. Connor O'Brien and Tevis Bartlett got extended reps in the 2nd half on the edge and played well - a good sign as replacing Feeney and Littleton will be the major question marks for next year's defense. Grade: A+
After some below-par games, this unit stepped up with a big game, registering 3 picks, 4 pass break-ups and limiting Arizona's passing attack to 203 yards on 42 attempts and 25 completions. Sidney Jones was all over the field, notching his 2nd interception of the year to stop the 2nd Arizona drive and racking up 6 tackles. Jojo McIntosh got extended playing time as Washington's nickel look featured Baker in the slot in place of the injured Kevin King with McIntosh playing FS, and he made a terrific play to pick off Randall for Washington's 2nd interception of the night as well as delivering numerous bone-crunching hits on his was to 7 tackles. Darren Gardenhire made multiple nice plays in coverage and was credited with 1 pass break-up officially (though I recall at least 2 in watching the game). Baker made a key play at the end of the first half when he came up with a Hail Mary that came very close to being a TD for the Wildcats and did a nice job in coverage of shadowing his man. Brian Clay was the victim early of a highly-questionable PI call that kept Arizona's first drive alive and led to their only points on the night - otherwise the Huskies might well have recorded a shut-out. Grade: A
A solid job overall for this group. Korey Durkee and Browning both dropped punts inside the 20 against Arizona and allowed no returns, though Durkee did have one go for a touchback. Tristan Vizcaino was solid on kickoffs with 3 of his 7 going for touchbacks and the coverage team limited Arizona to 80 yards on their 4 kickoff returns. Pettis had 1 punt return for 11 yards before giving way to McClatcher after getting dinged-up, and Chico didn't get much of an opportunity against the wild rugby kicks from Arizona's punter. Grade: B-
One thing you can count on with Chris Petersen is a steady hand - he keeps an even keel and you have to think it's rubbing off on his players. Whatever frustrations they may have felt over the past two weeks wasn't evident last night - they stuck with their gameplan and they executed at a high level, and the result was their most complete performance of the Petersen era.
Over the first part of the 1st quarter it looked like OC Jonathan Smith was going to be in for even more heat after the game as the Huskies went 3-and-out on their first two drives and didn't seem interested in trying to establish Gaskin in the running game. But then a funny thing happened: the Huskies started executing their plays, and all the things that have driven Husky fans crazy - the "Lindcat" plays and bubble screens - started working and the Huskies went into the half up 21-3 and then continued to pile on in the 2nd half on their way to their highest scoring output vs. an FBS foe under this staff. It wasn't perfect - there were a few trick plays that didn't really work, and it still felt like they could have gone to Gaskin more - but it's hard to argue too much with the results. This was a positive sign for the future of this offense and this staff, and more games like this would go a long way toward quieting the complaints.
What more is there left to say about this defensive staff? They clearly have their guys playing at a very high level. They are assignment-sound, they made plays when the opportunity was there and they did a great job of tackling to keep Arizona from busting some big plays. Were it not for that questionable PI call against Clay we might be talking about a shut-out against what had been Pac-12's highest-scoring offense. Add in three other fumbles that just didn't bounce Washington's way and it's reasonable to say that as well as the D played, it could have been even worse for Arizona.
With Utah headed to town next week this is a great opportunity for this program to build off this game and ensure another bowl game and make a statement to the rest of the conference that Washington is on the rise. Grade: A