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Grading the Game: Washington at Boise State

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Breaking down the position groups and looking at which ones played well and which ones need some work in the wake of a tough loss at Boise State.

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Washington rolled into Boise as a 13 point underdog, a reflection of the lack of respect the rest of the country had for the Huskies to start off the 2015 season.  That the Huskies were a couple of feet wide on a late field goal attempt from tying the game and potentially sending it to overtime might come as some consolation to many, but the missed opportunity will stand out as the season progresses.  The team played well in many areas, but a lack of any kind of consistency on offense was too much to overcome.  In many ways it recalled the Don James Huskies of the '80's - stiff defense and great special teams play but a conservative offense.  One major difference - not only did DJ never start a true freshman at QB, he rarely started a redshirt frreshman.  Here's one observer's view of how the team played:

QB:

All eyes were on young Mr. Browning as the true frosh made his debut in what was a poorly-kept secret.  In some ways he looked like a true frosh out there - he forced a pass into coverage for his interception, he appeared at times to not trust his receivers to come open, he took a critical sack on the last drive instead of getting rid of the ball and he rushed a clock spike when he should have checked with the sideline first.  But he also displayed a lot of poise - he didn't look rattled and he was wiling to throw a pass away rather than force something.  We didn't see the deep throws that characterized his play in spring and fall camps - part of that may have been gameplan, but there were times he looked downfield but didn't pull the trigger.  In all, it wasn't a bad first start when you consider the circumstances, but there are plenty of things he can work on (as you'd expect).  K.J. Carta-Samuels also made his debut in a couple of packaged formations but wasn't asked to do much.  While it was nice to get him some game action, the timing of them and the calls were head-scratchers.  I also couldn't help wondering what a healthy Jeff Lindquist would have done - there were times when his ability to tuck and run would have been the best call, and Browning simply isn't that kind of QB.  Grade:  C-

RB:

It was rough sledding out there for the backs as Boise State's front owned the line of scrimmage - they expected a conservative gameplan from the Husky offense and were determined to keep the run game from getting anything going.  Dwayne Washington showed some power at times fighting off tackle attempts, but struggled to find any daylight.  He was more effective as a safety valve receiver and screen middle screen target in the passing game.  Myles Gaskin - another true frosh - made his debut as the 2nd RB, and while he showed a bit of his quickness, the handoff and toss sweep plays found no success against the Broncos.  Nor did the fly sweeps with Chico McClatcher, another true frosh.  The OL wasn't doing this group any favors last night, but the running backs need to do a better job of finding openings, breaking tackles and generating their own yards.  They were mostly solid in pass-protection though.  Grade:  C-

WR/TE:

This is a tough group to grade - without having wider views of each play to study, it's hard to know how much off the issues in the passing game were due to lack of time in the pocket, Jake not finding the open guys or the receivers simply not getting enough separation.  There were multiple times Browning stood in the pocket looking downfield and was unable to pull the trigger which leads me to believe the receivers simply weren't finding open spaces enough.  It was particularly disappointing that the TE group wasn't getting more looks.  Josh Perkins got a couple of catches for 18 yards, but whether by design, lack of trust from Browning or great execution by the Bronco defense, the tight ends weren't much of a factor.  Also notable was how little Jaydon Mickens was targeted.  He made a nice play on a quick hitch to make his defender miss and turn a 1-yard play into a 9-yarder.  Brayden Lenius continued the connection he developed with Browning in fall camp and was a favorite target with his 3 catches for 37 yards.  Dante Pettis had a nice play with a 17 yard catch, but also a mental failure with his illegal touching penalty - he has to be more conscious of the sidelines.  Grade:  D+

OL:

I'll start with the positive - Browning only took 2 sacks on the night.  Aaaaaaand...that's basically it.  The pass-protection wasn't terrible, and when you consider that Boise State featured some pretty good pass-rushers including Kamalei Correa there's some reason for encouragement moving forward.  But the run-blocking - yeah, that was bad.  When your running backs produce just 28 yards on 17 carries, that's going to fall mostly on the OL.  And when the offense as a whole generates just 179 yards on 59 plays, well, that's bad no matter how good of a defense you're playing.  Many folks were worried about the OL heading into this season, and those fears were justified last night.  Better days are ahead, but some of those days need to happen this season if the Huskies are going to avoid a losing record.  Grade:  D-

DL:

It's a new era for the Husky DL, and they acquitted themselves nicely.  Using a wave of bodies based on down & distance - as well as to keep them fresh - the Washington front line appeared to wear down the BSU OL over the course of the game.  Tani Tupou and Elijah Qualls started the game inside, but there was a healthy rotation with Greg Gains, Vita Vea, Will Dissly and Damion Turpin also seeing plenty of time.  Qualls was active and Gaines did a good job plugging things in the middle.  Outside it was mostly JoJo Mathis with Dissly, Jaylen Johnson and Psalm Wooching seeing some action.  Mathis showed the flashes we've seen in the past and notched a sack, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and both forced and recovered a key fumble.  Something to keep an eye on as the season progresses was the 2-4-5 look Kwiatkowski often went to, with Qualls and Gaines inside flanked by Cory Littleton and Travis Feeney - I expect that nickel personnel to be featured frequently against spread teams.  Grade:  B+

LB:

It was a tale of two halves for this group - in the first half they frequently found themselves a step late to the ball and struggling to bring down Boise State's running backs.  In the second half they settled in, the outside linebackers did a much better job of setting the edges and the tackling improved.  One exception was MLB Azeem Victor - he was a force throughout the game and showed off the physical talent we've been talking about since he arrived.  He flew a bit under the radar early in fall camp, but if last night is any indication he's ready to announce himself as the next great Husky LB.  Feeney wasn't as consistent as you'd like, but I thought Littleton had a pretty good game, especially in the second half.  Keishawn Bierria was one of the guys I thought was just a step off in the first half, but he did end up tied for 2nd on the team in tackles with 7 behind Victor's 14.  This is a versatile and athletic group - if Victor keeps this up and Feeney settles into his new role, this defense could be very good this season.  Grade:  B+

Secondary:

These guys really didn't get tested much last night as the Boise State offense stayed quite conservative with their own new QB.  They were fortunate that the two notable breakdowns - Darren Gardenhire getting beat long and the double-pass trick play by the Broncos - didn't do a lot of damage.  In the former, the receiver dropped a catchable ball that would have been a huge play; in the latter, the Boise receiver that threw the pass (Sperbeck) underthrew it and the pass was limited to a 23 yard gain.  Other than that, they played well.  Budda Baker got his hands on a pass and is probably still kicking himself that he couldn't hang on to it.  Kevin King did hang on to his with a crucial interception in the 2nd quarter to put the brakes on the growing Boise State momentum.  Ryan Finley was able to complete 16 of his 26 passes, but they were mostly safe dump offs as they went for only 129 yards.  Sidney Jones looked like he's picking up where he left off from last year, and between Gardenhire, King, Brian Clay, Ezekiel Turner and JoJo McIntosh there are a lot of nice options in the back end to compliment Jones and Baker.  Grade:  A

Special Teams:

While the final image of the game for most was Cameron Van Winkle pushing his 46 yard attempt to tie the game wide right by just a couple of feet, it was the special teams that sparked the Huskies in the 2nd half and got them back in the game, and much of that credit goes to Pettis.  First, he took a low punt on the Boise State 43 and dashed ahead for 17 yards to give the Huskies outstanding field position that would be converted into their first point with a 40 yard FG from Van Winkle.  Next game the play that made everyone believe an upset was possible as he took a booming punt (that had very nearly been blocked) and outran everyone to the Husky sidelines to set up his blocking wall, and he ran untouched into the end zone with a 76-yard TD return, the 2nd of his young career.  Later, Mickens burst up the middle and got his hands on another Bronco punt that wobbled for just 8 yards to set the Huskies up for Van Winkle's 2nd FG to bring the game to within 3.  The Huskies also benefited from strong kickoffs (likely wind-aided) by Tristan Vizcaino - three of his four went for touchbacks.  Other than Van Winkle's miss, the only other downside was an inconsistent night for P Korey Durkee as he put three of his eight kicks in the end zone and had a net average of 32.9.  Grade:  A

Coaching:

Give the staff credit - this is a young team that ventured into a hostile environment against a good, veteran team that was favored by 13 points, and they never looked intimidated.  With the way the offense was stifled and the defense was getting gashed in the first half, they could have folded their tents and fell apart.  Instead, they stayed composed, fought hard and got themselves back in the game and had Boise State on the defensive.

On the defensive side, Pete Kwiatkowski and his staff had a good gameplan.  Even though his guys were having trouble wrapping up and holding the edges in the first half, players were swarming to the ball and were mostly in position to make plays.  They made the necessary adjustments at the half (mostly mental I'd guess) and the Huskies completely shut down the BSU offense.  Granted, it appeared that Bryan Harsin & Co. went very conservative with the lead, but the Husky defense looked to be in control and forced four 3-and-outs and forced 6 punts and a forced fumble.

Much scrutiny will fall on the offensive side and embattled OC Jonathan Smith.  That's fair - the offense was inept, and that falls on Smith and Petersen.  There were definite head-scratcher calls too; I had a hard time understanding the thinking behind the timing and play calls when KJCS was brought in, particularly on a key 3rd down.  He also stuck too long trying to force things with the sweeps in the run game which were wholly ineffective, and the tunnel screens were a failure.  And yes, the gameplan was clearly rather conservative.  But let's also consider that the staff is doing what they can to ease Browning in to the college game and not overwhelm him or set him up for failure.  There were stretches early where I felt Smith was doing a nice job with his calls.  But it also falls on this staff that the TE group wasn't a bigger factor, and while Browning is the guy that decides which routes to throw to, it seemed like the calls could have pushed the downfield passing game more.

In all, you have to feel rather encouraged at how this team battled and put themselves in a position to pull the upset.  Yes, there's a lot of work to be done on offense, but if this team can play defense like they did last night and keep improving, this season might turn out better than folks expect.  Grade:  C+