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Grading the Game: Washington vs. California

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Washington made mistake after mistake vs. the Bears yesterday but kept battling back to keep the game in question, but ultimately 5 turnovers proved too much. We take a look at what went right and what went wrong and grade the position groups...

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Maybe it's decades of watching the Huskies own Cal, of seeing them pull off dramatic comeback wins, but at no point in the game yesterday did I not think they were going to come out with the win.  And to their credit, no matter how many mistakes they made, Washington kept coming back until they finally made one mistake too many and ran out of time.  It was a frustrating loss to be sure, and there is much the team needs to work on over their bye week, but there are some reasons to be encouraged as well.  The raw stats may not look pretty, but when you consider the huge disparity in time of possession, things look better.  Despite the Bears gaining nearly twice as many yards as the Huskies, their yards per play was only slightly better than the UW (5.2 vs. 4.7).  Let's take a look at how the team played:

QB:

There will be better days in the future for Jake Browning.  He didn't pull out the dramatic comeback yesterday, but the experience will pay off down the road and he'll be wildly celebrating a successful 4th quarter come-from-behind win instead of pounding his helmet in frustration on the turf after throwing an interception to seal a loss.  This game certainly wasn't all on Jake, but it was not a good game for him.  He had some seriously off-target throws to Dante Pettis, his bomb to Marvin Hall (good call, poor execution) was wildly underthrown and he wasn't patient enough on that final drive as he was focused downfield instead of taking the underneath plays available to him (and which ultimately led to his final interception).  He continues to show better than expected mobility, and his ability to extend plays is a terrific weapon in his arsenal.  He still managed to complete 17 of 28 passes, and he gets credit on that Dwayne Washington touchdown drive for making the right reads to keep handing off.  He was inches away from throwing a perfect pass to Washington on a wheel route which could have gone for 6 and allowed the Huskies to pull ahead of Cal early in the 4th quarter, but that play was a microcosm of the day - close, but not quite there.  Grade:  D+

RB:

For all those that had already written off Washington as a RB for this team, yesterday showed why that thought is unfounded.  The first TD drive for the Huskies was all Washington as he showed improved vision to find open gaps in the Cal defense and used his speed and power effectively to exploit them.  It was a highly encouraging showing from him, and it's a shame the circumstances of the game limited him to just 10 carries.  As it was, he picked up 109 yards on those 10 carries as well as adding 19 more yards on 3 receptions.  The one he didn't catch will haunt him as he had gotten open deep on a wheel route, but Jake's pass was a touch long and Washington couldn't corral it.  His fumble on the next play was as much a credit to the Bears for getting into the backfield to disrupt the handoff as it was an issue of Washington not securing the ball.  Myles Gaskin got some chances but struggled to do much with them as his 5 carries went for only 16 yards.  Grade:  B

WR/TE:

Josh Perkins continues to provide a consistent target for Browning in the middle of the field and he again led Husky receivers with his 5 catches for 55 yards.  It was also encouraging to see Darrell Daniels continue to see more targets in the passing game as he picked up 3 catches for 30 yards.  His size/speed combo is one the Huskies can exploit, so getting him involved and building his confidence is important.  For whatever reason Browning and Pettis just haven't been able to find much of a connection on the field - this is something that needs to be worked on over the bye week.  Isaiah Renfro had a classic great play/terrible play when he hauled in a nice 17 yard reception but then allowed the ball to get punched out for one of 3 Husky fumbles on the day (all lost).  Jaydon Mickens had a tough day.  Without seeing the film, it's tough to know how much of the failure of the bubble screens was poor blocking by the Husky receivers, how much was Jake making poor reads and/or leading Mickens right into the defender and how much was just the Bears making great plays, but they were ineffective.  Chico McClatcher showed off his wheels on a fly-sweep for his first rushing TD.  Brayden Lenius was shut-out on the day and had a costly offensive PI call on the first Husky drive.  Grade:  C-

OL:

The only thing consistent about this group so far is their inconsistency.  A week after doing a fine job in pass-protection and struggling mightily with run-blocking, they flipped the switch.  Browning was under frequent duress, going down 5 times on the day (and keep in mind Jake only had 28 pass attempts) and being hurried on multiple other occasions.  Kaleb McGary found himself on the bench in favor of Matt James early in the game, and perhaps not coincidentally the pass protection appeared to improve slightly.  The run-blocking was more effective, and from the stands it appeared that the zone plays were working better than the power (though they continue to run a mix).  The play of this group needs to improve if they're going to have any success in the Pac-12 this year.  Grade:  D+

DL:

You have to give this group a lot of credit.  Despite being on the field almost twice as long as their counterparts, the DL held up quite well thanks to their depth and ability to rotate in quality backups.  Elijah Qualls had a big game, racking up two sacks and being right in the middle of some big stops, including an impressive goal line stand early in the 2nd quarter.  Greg Gaines continues to show himself a stout gap-plugger when he's in the game.  Jaylen Johnson had probably his best game in his young career including tallying his first sack.  The pass rush was not quite as effective as needed (Kwiatkowski was forced to resort to a number of blitzes to get pressure), but they didn't often let Jared Goff get comfortable in the pocket, and they consistently muddied up the line of scrimmage to make it hard on Cal's run game.  They did get gashed from time to time, though that was usually when they were in a nickel look and Goff made smart decisions to hand off.  Grade:  B

LB:

On the surface it would be easy to say this group played well.  Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor each led the way with 12 tackles and Cory Littleton and Travis Feeney both notched sacks.  And they did play well at times, but they also reverted to some bad tackling habits they last displayed in the first half of the Boise State game.  They allowed Vic Enwere to pinball off of several tackle attempts on his way to a 12 yard TD run in the 1st quarter, and that theme returned again and again as they would get hands on him at the line of scrimmage but fail to bring him down as he picked up most of his yards after contact.  Perhaps the worst was at the end of the game when, on 4th down, they laid big hits on a scrambling Goff but failed to bring him down and his 2nd effort resulted in enough yardage for a first down that clinched the win for Cal.  And for as many times as Goff dropped back (40 pass attempts), Feeney & Littleton needed to get to the QB more often.  Better tackling fundamentals will be a point of emphasis on the bye week.  Grade:  C-

Secondary:

While you play with the guys you have available, it was impossible to not think of how the Huskies missed having Budda Baker back there at FS.  His range and coverage skills would have limited the open room the Bear receivers found against the secondary yesterday.  Brandon Beaver got most of the reps at FS and had some good moments in run support, but the secondary also takes some of the blame for the missed tackles against Cal's running backs.  Darren Gardenhire made a great play on his interception, and while he was victimized on Goff's 2nd quarter TD throw to Bryce Treggs, that was a perfectly placed pass.  Sidney Jones had some good moments and was the victim of a blatant offensive PI early in the game that somehow wasn't called.  He then had his Shaq Thompson moment when he was Johnny-on-the-spot to pick up an Enwere fumble and take it 70 yards to the house for a crucial UW touchdown.  The gameplan in this one was to stay in a variety of zone looks and keep Cal from beating them over the top, and in that regard they were mostly successful.  The Bears have a very talented stable of receivers, so it's not entirely fair to expect the Huskies to blanket them all game long.  However the Bears were able to convert a few too many 3rd and long plays by finding big empty spaces in the UW secondary.  Grade:  C

Special Teams:

There weren't any game-changing plays with this unit, but once again they had themselves a good showing.  Cameron Van Winkle nailed a critical FG late in the game to put the Huskies within a TD; Tristan Vizcaino drove a couple more kickoffs deep into the end zone for touchbacks and hit a very effective pooch kickoff that was nearly recovered by the Huskies.  McClatcher had a 38 yard kickoff return before the Bears decided to stop kicking deep, and later Deontae Cooper made them pay on a pooch kick that he was able to return 24 yards to set up the Dawgs at their 47 yard line.  Dante Pettis had a nice 12 yard punt return in the 1st quarter to give the Huskies decent field position at their 29.  Durkee had a quietly effective game, with his 3 kicks averaging 38.0 yards with no returns.  The only hiccup were a couple of pooch kickoffs that were called by the refs as fair catches.  Both calls looked dubious from the stands, though on the replays it appeared that maybe someone other than the player that caught the ball had made the signal.  This will be something to work on this week.  Grade:  B+

Coaching:

For as much adversity as the team faced yesterday (most of it self-inflicted), the team never folded their tents, and they kept battling back.  Give credit to the team and the leadership within the team, but also give credit to the coaching staff as this almost certainly is a reflection of the example they set for the team.

I know some will blast OC Jonathan Smith for the meager offensive output and for not running the ball enough, but that was really a function of the parade of turnovers that left the Huskies with barely over 20 minutes of possession.  When they weren't turning the ball over, the OL was often not giving Browning enough time to find holes in the Bear secondary.  He'll definitely need to take a closer look at the bubble screens to get the execution of those plays up to snuff, because they simply didn't work yesterday.

The defense had a stiff test against an NFL-caliber QB and a very good group of receivers, and given how much they were on the field I thought they did a decent job.  The gameplan was sound, and in a game where the offense doesn't cough it up 5 times, it probably would have been good enough.  Still, there are areas for improvement: the tackling has to improve, because they'll face bigger backs that are much better than Enwere in the coming weeks; the pass-rush needs to continue to get better, and they need to get Budda back.

Still, this was a team that was -3 on the day in turnovers and still had a chance up until the very end of the game to pull out the win.  That grit will pay off in the future, and when seeing the post-game interviews with the players you could really tell how pissed-off and angry they were about losing that game.  This team is very competitive and believes in themselves, and I think we will see that manifest in some impressive wins later in the season.  Grade:  C+