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Grading the Game: Washington vs. Sacramento State

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Washington rebounded nicely from a close, tough loss at Boise State last week to easily handle Sacramento State. How well did each of the position groups play?

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

While it's tempting after a dominating win like this vs. an FCS foe to downplay things, all it takes is looking at games like ASU vs. Cal-Poly, WSU vs. Portland State, Eastern Washington vs. the Pac-12, etc. to realize that these match-ups against Power-5 conference teams can not only result in a close call, these FCS teams can win when the home team doesn't take them seriously.  So let's be happy that Washington took care of business and did what good teams do to lower division foes - they dominated.

That said, there will be a certain amount of grading on the curve in this article.  Winning 49-0 against Sacramento State was nice, but it wasn't the same as winning 49-0 would be against, say, Stanford, and the grades will reflect that.

QB:

Jake Browning needed a game like this to boost his confidence.  He looked poised out there and (mostly) made good decisions.  The middle of the field was often ripe for being exploited and he did so.  I noticed at least a few instances of package plays where he pulled the ball from the RB's belly and threw a strike down the middle to his tight end for a nice gain.  He also showed nimble feet, scrambling away from sacks and buying time.  Well, mostly nimble feet - there was the read option on 4th down where he had a clear path to a TD but stumbled after picking up the first down (something his teammates will no doubt not let him forget).  Browning wasn't perfect by any means - that TD to Hall should have been an interception, and there was one other that could have been a pick.  While he was mostly accurate, there were a couple other throws that were off-target.  K.J. Carta-Samuels got some extended playing time which he needed.  His fumble near his goal line could have cost the team the shut-out, but the defense bailed him out.  Grade:  B

RB:

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the next great Husky running back: Myles Gaskin.  When the true frosh entered the game on Washington's 3rd series the offense finally started to click.  Yes, the blocking up front improved, but he also showed the vision and the quicks to find and exploit holes.  He doesn't have quite the straight-line speed of Dwayne Washington, but he's got plenty of speed to take a big opening to the house.  His 78-yard TD was a thing of beauty: hit in the backfield by a Sac. State defender, he bounced off that, found a hole around the right side of the line (thanks to Kaleb McGary & Darrell Daniels) had enough speed to jet past the 2nd and 3rd levels of the Hornet defense and was off to the races.  He was able to find room around the edges that weren't there last week and exploit that room, and showed enough wiggle and ability to sidestep a hit that it doesn't seem far-fetched to think he'll become the primary ball-carrier sooner rather than later.  That's not to say Washington had a bad game - he also showed nice speed around the edges, improved hands in the passing game and is still our best blocker among the backs.  I expect he'll remain one of the two primary backs, but this was the coming-out party for Gaskin.  Grade:  B+

WR/TE:

Josh Perkins was the man in the middle for Washington's passing offense, leading the way with 5 catches for 77 yards.  Browning frequently targeted the middle of the defense underneath the safeties and found Perkins in between defenders for quick strikes.  Marvin Hall made the play of the day when he stayed with an underthrown deep ball that bounced off the Hornet defender, gathered it in and kept his feet under him to take it 78 yards and make it 35-0.  Chico McClatcher got into the act too, taking a short pass around the left end and turning on the jets for a 49 yard TD.  Jaydon Mickens had 4 catches for 42 yards to finish 2nd on the team and Dante Pettis had 2 nice catches for 34 yards.  The passing game was basically put on ice late in the 3rd quarter after the long Gaskin TD run, but it was nice to Isaiah Renfro get into the action, notching his first catch as a Husky.  It should also be noted that the success the Huskies had in the run game getting to the edge and turning up field would not have been possible if the receivers weren't doing at least a decent job of blocking out on the edges.  Grade:  B+

OL:

It was a slow start for the offensive line - they had difficulty opening much running room in the first two drives, but they got it going on the third series and Gaskin took full advantage.  They are still a work-in-progress in the run game, but it was a big step up from last week.  On the downside, the pass blocking was not great.  Browning was sacked twice and flushed from the pocket (and running for his life) several other times.  The personnel is still not settled - out at RT Matt James is still splitting time with Kaleb McGary, and true frosh Trey Adams saw his first action out at LT and played extensively.  Once the game was well in hand the rest of the backups saw plenty of action, with Jesse Sosebee, Andrew Kirkland, Michael Kneip, Dane Crane, John Turner and Cory Fuavai all seeing the field.  Grade:  C+

DL:

While it's hard to know for sure how much Sacramento State wanted to run against the Huskies, the defense made sure that option was a non-starter, and much of that is thanks to the play up front as the DL consistently plugged the line and got upfield penetration.  While they didn't get any sacks, that was partly due to mostly quick passes from the Hornets, but it's something to keep an eye on next week.  None of the linemen piled up big stats in this one as the 2nd and 3rd string rotations all saw plenty of action.  Greg Gaines caught my eye on multiple occasions - he looks like he's going to be a plus run-stuffer in the middle and was part of the group of backups that pushed Sacramento State back from the 3 yard line to the 31 and a 48 yard FG attempt that was blocked by Tani Tupou.  Vita Vea got a lot of time, and while he's still working his way back into game shape, you can see the raw potential.  Grade:  B+

LB:

With the DL plugging gaps up front, the linebackers took full advantage and were flying to the ball to make the tackles and ensure Sacramento State wasn't going to find any success on the ground.  What little success they had came on dump offs and underneath routes, something that's been an issue from time to time against this defense.  That and the early benching of Azeem Victor after a taunting penalty were the only downsides for this group as they had a strong day overall, particularly the younger guys.  Cory Littleton tied for the team lead with 2 TFL, but he was joined by Connor O'Brien who got a lot of run in the 2nd half at BUCK and also notched the only sack of the day for the Husky defense.  True frosh Ben Burr-Kirven may be undersized, but you can see his football instincts and he's a rocket to the ball.  He finished tied for the team lead with 6 tackles on the day.  Tevis Bartlett also saw extensive action and looked good.  Grade:  A

Secondary:

Coverage from this group was solid and there were no major breakdowns.  While Sacramento State completed 20 passes, that came on 38 attempts and went for only 201 yards, so the damage was limited in nature.  Kevin King notched his 2nd interception of the season, showing off his length and jumping ability and showing why he's an intriguing player at CB and splitting time with Darren Gardenhire.  He also had a big TFL on a 4th down play to end the 2nd drive for the Hornets.  In general I thought the secondary looked good in run support and closing to the ball, and it was fun to see the hitting ability of Jojo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner as they got a lot of playing time.  Budda had a nice pass break-up early in the game (though a less-forgiving referee could have flagged him for PI).  Grade:  A-

Special Teams:

Another solid game for this unit, though without any of the spectacular plays of last week.  What stood out was the kickoffs of Tristan Vizcaino.  While you could attribute his long kicks last week to having a strong wind at his back, that wasn't the case yesterday - there was basically no wind, but he was still consistently kicking into the end zone and got 4 touchbacks on his 7 kicks.  He also had a nice punt in relief of Korey Durkee, while Durkee again struggled with his consistency and had another punt go into the end zone for a touchback.  Baker only got one opportunity to return a kick, but he showed off his wheels as he picked up 40 yards.  Dante Pettis had a 12 yard punt return, but he'll see on film he had more room if he'd cut outside instead of inside.  Chico got several reps in relief of Pettis, but only 2 of the punts were returnable.  Coverage on kickoffs could have been better as they allowed 97 yards on 4 returns.  Grade:  A-

Coaching:

It took the Huskies a couple of series before they fully settled-in and didn't score until early in the 2nd quarter, so there's still a bit of room there for improvement in terms of the team coming out loose and ready to play from the opening kick.  That said, it was clear that Chris Petersen's message that this game was all about the Huskies taking care of their own business took hold within the team.  They didn't overlook their FCS opponents, they didn't play down to their level - they took care of business and left little doubt by halftime that this was going to be a blowout.

Two games is only slightly more informative than one, and the quality of the opponent has to be factored in, but I think it's safe to say that the things people were upset about last week with the offense - no success in the run game, not throwing downfield, not targeting the tight ends enough - were answered nicely in this one.  Will it be enough to tone down the criticism of OC Jonathan Smith?  Maybe a little, but what Smith will take solace in is that his guys executed much better in week 2 and likely built up some confidence in what they're doing.  You could see the progression that Browning has already made from week 1 to week 2 and the emergence of Gaskin should give the run game a real boost.

There's not much I can say about the defense that says more than this - they have no recorded 6 straight quarters of shutout football.  Sure, the last 4 quarters of that came against Sacramento State, but a shutout in this era of wide open offenses is impressive regardless.  It was particularly impressive to see the young pups on the 2nd team defense step up in the 3rd quarter when the shutout was in grave danger and not yield.  DC Pete Kwiatkowski also had to be excited to see so many of his youngest players getting live reps and looking good out there - the future looks bright.

Grade:  A-