Offensive Game Ball Goes To: Jake Browning
A week off of missing the Stanford game due to injury, Washington's true freshman quarterback put together the finest performance of his collegiate career by throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for a fifth. As might be expected of an inexperienced signal-caller, Browning's production has been a tale of peaks and valleys this year—his ESPN Total Quarterback Rating has ranged from 15.4 against Cal to 92.4 against Arizona—and it is encouraging that he bounced back from a couple of so-so performances and a week off to get healthy with the most dominant display of quarterback play Washington has seen since Keith Price outplayed Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.
Defensive Game Ball Goes To: Travis Feeney
In summing up his game against USC three weeks ago, I wrote that Feeney turned in "the most productive performance of his career" against the Trojans "by tallying seven tackles, 3.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks." On Saturday, he decided to outshine that effort by accounting for 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumbles and one pass breakup. It's not out of the ordinary to consider those TFL, sack and fumble numbers to be good for the entire team, let alone one BUCK linebacker. Feeney is playing the best football of his career as a fifth-year senior, and is doing his part to challenge Azeem Victor and Elijah Qualls for the distinction of the front-seven's premier player.
Most important play: Psalm Wooching's fumble recovery
Midway through the third quarter, Washington held a sizable (but not insurmountable) 28-3 lead against Arizona, with the Wildcats facing a third-and-four at the UW 28-yard line. Anu Solomon threw a clear backwards pass that Samajie Grant failed to catch, and committed a mental error of the worst kind when he assumed the play was over. Psalm Wooching immediately picked up the ball, and after a half-second of confusion, realized that the whistle had not yet blown and took off running, gaining 41 yards before being brought down. That mental miscue and turnover seemed to break the will of Arizona, and with a Washington touchdown three plays later on a 12-yard Jake Browning quarterback sneak (!), the rout was on.
Most Important Statistic: 49 (Myles Gaskin's rushing yards)
After posting three consecutive 100-yard performances against USC, Oregon and Stanford, Gaskin came back down to Earth Saturday against Arizona, rushing for 49 yards and no touchdowns on 11 carries. So why is this the most important statistic, you ask? Because the Dawgs found a way to play efficient offense without relying on their breakout star tailback for the first time since beating Utah State. As good as Gaskin is, he can't be the only functional part of Washington's offense, which is exactly what he was when the Huskies went 1-2 in their previous three games. Washington took a huge step forward Saturday in finding ways to be effective on offense without relying on Gaskin's services, and it will be vital for them to continue to learn to do so in the season's final games.
Most Encouraging Takeaway: Washington's defensive performance following Elijah Qualls' exit
Husky fans everywhere had a sharp intake of breath when they saw that Elijah Qualls suffered an ankle injury on the game's opening drive, and for good reason: The sophomore nose tackle has filled the shoes of first-round draft pick Danny Shelton better than many had dared to hope, and has been an all-around wrecking ball against opposing offensive lines this year. Losing him for virtually the entire game against the league's then-No. 1 scoring offense could have easily spelled doom, but Greg Gaines and Vita Vea did yeoman's work in replacing him, as did the remainder of the front seven. Chris Petersen and Pete Kwiatkowski have often talked about the need to build depth on the defensive side of the ball, and the value of their work in that realm was on full display Saturday.
Biggest Source of Frustration: An absurdly late kickoff time that took the crowd completely out of the game
First of all, I get it: Nothing that I or anyone else says is going to change a damned thing. Late kickoffs are here to stay, because that's the deal the conference made when it sold its
soul television rights for $3 billion over 12 years. That being said, it's completely shameful that the conference and athletic department would allow an 8 p.m. kickoff on Halloween. By doing so, they actively ensured that families with young children would not be able to attend, and that any crowd noise that comes inherent as a home field advantage would be extremely minor at best. If this game had played out closer to the 4.5-point line that Vegas had projected, a full house and ample crowd noise could have easily become the difference between victory and defeat. Make no mistake: By rolling early and creating an insurmountable lead, the Huskies dodged a bullet that could have made reaching the postseason all but impossible had Arizona came away with the win in a close fourth-quarter game.