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The Brotherhood - Boise State Edition

Summer is over. It's time to get serious again.

Loren Orr/Getty Images

Darin is up first:

When we walked into Boise State's stadium, I was impressed.  It's small, but it's a good looking building.  The actual game-day experience was terrible.  First, they constantly blared music and commercials (actual commercials!) through the loudspeakers right by my ear.  Second, the announcer sounded like an eleven-year-old doing an impression of a radio ad for a tractor pull.  Finally, the wind kept blowing on me.  Now, you're going to tell me that the wind is not the fault of the stadium.  But my question to you is, then whose fault is it?  I didn't do it.  I know you didn't do it.  That leaves people from Boise and their stadium with its absurd blue turf.

Discussion post-game has focused on a few areas.  Let's summarize the correct answers to The Big Questions.

The re-worked offensive line

The Dawgs started a brand-new shiny offensive line, and played a bunch of freshmen and other newbs.  What did we get?  Perhaps unexpectedly, I saw decent pass protection and not-so-great run blocking.  Most of the passes were pretty quick, so I'm sure that had something to do with it.  And Boise State didn't blitz much, so I'm sure that had something to do with it.  And the wind made passing very difficult, so I'm sure that had something to do with it, too.  But I'm still sticking with the view that pass protection was okay.

A quick look at the stats tells you what you need to know about the run blocking.  It was not good.  At all.  Dwayne Washington has come into a lot of abuse from Husky fans on this site, but in my view that's completely undeserved.  Just totally off-base.  Washington has already shown he's a credible back -- maybe not Bishop Sankey, but then who is.  The OL had a terrible time getting to the second level in their zone blocking, which left the second level (linebackers and safeties) free to tackle.  And they did.  BSU tackles well.  They block well.  They play good football.

The rebuilt defense

The story of this game was the Husky defense.  Given all that we lost, we had no business expecting a performance like that.  They gave up all their yards on a couple drives in the first half (which were admittedly poor), but beyond that Boise State had no success.  As noted before, the conditions limited passing.  But we're still looking at a very, very good defensive effort.

The defensive backs weren't tested much.  But aside from the long pass over Gardenhire, which was dropped (whew!) I didn't see receivers running free.  Did you?

The QB

Browning played like a really good freshman quarterback.  Is there more to be said than that?  Yes.  Although the offense struggled all day, at the end of the game when we needed a drive, Jake put one together -- including a couple spectacular plays.  The freshman ran the offense, he played playground style, he did what was needed.  And he got to the Dawgs to the 14 yard line.  Don't forget that.  Without the holding penalty and the sack we're kicking a chip shot for overtime.

And the Dawgs win overtime on that day.  Does anyone doubt that?  We had momentum.  We had a better kicker.  We win.

The play calling

Criticism of Jonathan Smith and the play calling has taken on a life of its own on the Dawgpound.  Although this case is slightly better than the one against Dwayne Washington, it's still a pretty bad one.  Chris Landon wrote a great post highlighting some of the complexities of the Huskies' offense.  It was just a little peak under the hood, without the benefit of actually knowing what was going on.

There are like six plays in football: zone, power, screens, draws, options, and a million permutations on the basic route tree that everybody uses.  There is no advantage to be had here.  The advantage comes in a) proper selection of plays, which comes down to being as unpredictable as possible, and b) tiny variations on formation, motion, and personnel that are virtually invisible to all but the most sophisticated fan.

The offense was bad.  But it seems clearly to have been badly executed as opposed to badly conceived or "coordinated."  Would calling an inside zone instead of an outside zone make the line block better?  Would calling rag slot zig 52 utah instead of L wing 53 fade have made Browning's read better or prevented his passes from sailing?  I doubt it.

It was an offense full of young guys without any experience.  That's the most likely culprit.  If you think Smith is incompetent you must explain that away.

Status check

Vegas predicted four wins for the Dawgs.  The spread for the game was something like 11 points, which means that this game represented about 20% of one win in that total.  Since the Dawgs lost, their expected win total should now be 3.8 games.  My question to you is, given what we saw, what is your new projected win total?

Brad takes over:

Yeah, I liked the stadium as well.  It was cool to be able to stand so close to the field and watch the Huskies warm up before the game.  And walking past the student section was something else, too.  Some, uh, more interesting smack talk I've ever heard at an away stadium.  "Your zipper's down!!!  Made you look!!!!   HAHAHAHAHA!!!!   Huskies aren't very good!!!!!"  Stuff like that.  Very polite.  That "stadium experience" though....That was horrible.  Ear rape, not only in content and delivery, but also from the fact it came from the world's largest drive-through speaker.  Yes, I will take fries with that.

Those are the biggies.

So, I certainly agree that the line didn't run block very well.  Sometimes, they'd pass on blocking the first level in order to go and not block at the second level.  I do think you have to give Boise State some credit - that's an assignment-sound (if not overly athletic) defense.  They didn't make mistakes in the front seven.  They didn't really miss many tackles.

As you and I talked about after the game, I said I thought Dwayne Washington went down on first contact too much.  I was dead wrong.  Friday looked a lot like some of the really bad Husky teams over the last decade plus, where the back is taking a hand off with a defender in his face already.  Washington actually broke tackles on just about every run, but he just never really got to get moving forward.  We've talked about sprinters before, as in Is he fast out of the blocks, or does he finish strong?  Washington seems to be more of a finisher than a starter, but he never really got a chance to show it.

I'm not sure what I think about the pass blocking.  Yes, most of it was quick.  And he had a decent pocket on occasion.  He peeled out of the pocket at least a couple of times before he needed to.  But he also got pressured more than a few times, and at least as often as not, it was with only three rushers.  That's not good.  If you ask me, Boise State could've made the Huskies one-dimensional in just about any way they wanted.  You'll have to color me as extremely nervous about the line still.

The defense got gashed on the two scoring drives in the first half, but I thought they were actually pretty decent even early.  Three and out on the first drive, then the two TD's, a turnover on downs without a first down, an interception, and then allowing the late field goal.  And, how about the clock mismanagement by the Broncos down there?  If they use their timeouts correctly, they could've gone into the locker room up 20-0 instead of kicking on 3rd down, and that might've done it.

I heard Hugh Millen on the Husky Honks Wednesday.  My take on the play calling is basically the same as his and yours, it seems.  It's easy to criticize a play caller.  It's fine to do it, too.  But to be taken seriously, you're going to have to show how what you're doing isn't entirely a results-based analysis.  And that's a pretty poor way of analyzing a very young and inexperienced team.

So, how do you grade Browning completely objectively, without the game location, his age, and his experience factored in?  Is he a guy that the Dawgs can win with in the Pac 12 in three weeks?

I don't know if this affects my win total or not.  Walking to the game, I actually thought the Huskies were going to win.  In the cold light of day, I think I would've probably bet on Boise State to win, if forced to bet an amount of money I couldn't afford to lose.  Before the season, I had them at 6-6.  I don't see a reason to change that right now.  So I guess it doesn't.  This team showed some very real signs that they're going to grow up this season.

Darin, again

How are you feeling today?  Still under the weather?  Get plenty of rest and fluids.  Oh, and toughen the #%$& up.  I've never heard anybody whine more about a mild case of dysentery slash pneumonia.  "Oh, I have a cough and I can't be more than three steps from the hopper.  Boo hoo."  Just put on some underwear with elastic around the legs, switch to filters, and get your butt out of bed.  Our nephew once played an entire half with his actual skull bone exposed.  I saw your five-year-old daughter relocate her own hip after she fell off the trampoline at Dad's house.  Your wife fought off Ebola without so much as missing a day of work.  I think you'll be fine.

I watched the second and third quarters again.  Actually, I started watching around the second quarter and fell asleep after Pettis's punt return.  Anyway, I now have a slightly different take on the run blocking.  Many of the runs were blown up due to missed assignments as opposed to guys getting beat.  BSU blitzes a linebacker and instead of picking him up right away, the guard and tackle still double the DT.  Somebody pulls the wrong way on a toss-sweep.  That sort of thing.  There's a bright side to this, because it's fixable much faster than lack of talent.

Do you know who didn't block well?  The tight ends.

This is all based on a limited sample, so somebody with more time and fortitude than I have can verify.  But add that to what I still say was perfectly decent pass protection, and we've got grounds to be optimistic about the OL.  Actual, physical optimism.

Let me see if I've got your logic straight on the win total.  You had the Dawgs with six wins, and Boise State at 50/50.  That means your updated total should be 5.5 wins.  But you're sticking with six.  This suggests you think the Dawgs are slightly better than you expected them to be.  Is that right?  That's about what I think, too.  It's time to start beating teams in the conference.  I'm sick of worrying about Arizona.

It's very difficult to rate Browning without factoring in all the stuff.  Objectively, this was a poor performance.  The passing game was not a threat, the pick was bad.  If I thought this is where Browning would be forever I would be...depressed.  But it's not.  He actually is a true freshman who started his first game away at a perennial top-25 team.  And he showed a lot of really good things.  Things that make me the opposite of depressed.  Hopeful.  Enthusiastic.  Slightly hungry.

Compare this with Lindquist's first start against Hawai'i: 10-26 for 162 yards, 91 of which came on a single pass.  And with Cyler Miles's first start against UCLA in 2013: 15-24 for 162 yards (weird).  I felt good about our QB future after Miles played against UCLA, and I feel similarly about Browning's first start.

I would say that Browning seemed like a quarterback.  Not just a great athlete taking snaps.  Keith Price was a quarterback.  Cyler Miles was not.  Jake Locker wasn't either -- although Sarkisian got him awfully close by the time he left.  Stanback wasn't.  Other than Price you've got to go all the way back to Cody Picket to find one.  (People forget how good he was -- things ended badly for him.)  That's what Browning looked like to me: a baby real quarterback.

I know I said this already, but it bears repeating.  That last drive was huge.  Our freshman QB took the team all the way to the 14 yard line.  If he'd spiked the ball just a bit earlier than he did (say, three plays earlier) we'd have been in overtime.  When the chips were down, he got it done.  Almost.

Guys I'm glad are Huskies, in no particular order: Azeem VictorElijah Qualls . Travis FeeneyBudda Baker.

Are you as excited as I am about how many guys played on defense?  I heard Dick Baird complaining that they might have substituted too much, but please, Dick, note that the glass is also half full.

Have you ever seen more beautiful blocking than on Pettis's punt return?  I submit that you have not.

Brad puts you out of your misery

Yeah, she slapped me around pretty good last night.  Called me lots of girl names and told me what a wuss I am.  I spent the night quietly crying in our closet, until she got so exasperated that she went and slept in the guest room.  I'm trying to be strong, but sometimes summer colds really suck.

I really don't disagree with anything that you're saying.  And I fully admit that I'm vacillating between two different ways of viewing the game.  On the one hand, objectively, it wasn't a good performance on its face.  But I've said all along that I'm taking the long view with the 2015 season.  It's not a throw-away by any means, but there are simply certain realities that most likely mean that this team isn't going to be quite ready this season.  So, in that regard, this game was mostly about establishing a baseline.  I'm adjusting my win total up by that half-game because the defense, right now, is better up front than I would've predicted, and there is the potential on the offensive line that you mention.  I'm still nervous, because I've simply been beaten down by the performance of the offensive line over the last decade-and-a-half, but the lack of results that they got against Boise State were more the mental failings that are more easily correctable after seeing those first live bullets than physical ones that can really only be improved by time and hours in the weight room.

And it's the exact same thing for Browning.   He survived a trial by fire not with flying colors, but with mistakes that aren't fundamental and are correctable.  By simply playing more games.

I think that when we compare this performance to the one in the bowl in December (yes, this is going to be a bowl team), it's going to be night and day.  Here's my takeaway for this team right now:  You and I, and lots of other people have said that it's time for the Huskies to just start being better instead of waiting for recruiting to fix issues on the team.  2015 looks like the start of that.  The whole being better than the sum of the parts.