Grading a football team on the heels of an epic (but not quite record-breaking) demolition of a hated rival who had previously run off twelve straight against you is not an easy task. It’s akin to grading Michaelangelo on David or Frank Lloyd Wright on Falling Water. Its imperfections are part of its greatness.
Nevertheless, we have a job to do here. We don’t want things to get get boring here around the Dawg Pound. Heaven forbid that our faithful readers should end up as engaged and stimulated as Duck fans in Autzen last Saturday night.
Am I right?
The Passing Attack - A+
It is hard to not like what you are seeing out of Jonathan Smith’s passing attack no matter if you still feel a barely mutable urge to take a chainsaw to his nose or not. Succinctly stated, the Huskies are playing out of their minds in the passing attack. And they did so again against the Ducks.
The conversation begins with the offensive line that has consistently established a reasonable pocket for QB Jake Browning. Coleman Shelton been a stabilizing force, if not a revelation, in his new role as center both in directing the calls at the line and in executing the position. Jake Eldrenkamp is playing out of his mind at guard. The rest of the line, which remarkably features two sophomores (Trey Adams, Kaleb McGary) and a true freshman (Nick Harris), all also graded out well.
The net result is QB play that is quickly attracting Heisman attention. Browning delivered another masterpiece as he executed a game plan that perfectly fits his skill sets. The resulting production was off the charts. Over 300 yards passing (first time this season) and 6 TD passes - on the road, no less - capped a record night.
It wasn’t all perfect. While both John Ross and Dante Pettis (man, talk about a breakout player and that catch!) were superb, the Huskies got very little production out of the rest of the receiving corps including a TE group that continues to excel in blocking (I love seeing Drew Sample and Will Dissly on the field together) but provide little in the receiving game. I think we also have to take note of the two or three balls that Jake threw which reminded us that his arm can’t carry him if his technique on the deep pass isn’t just right.
But those are nits. This is a Heisman-worthy passing attack we have and we saw it on Saturday night.
Rush Defense - B+
If you are Royce Freeman, I wonder how you are feeling this morning. The now-former Heisman hopeful and known Husky killer concluded his last game against UW a beaten and beaten-up man. Freeman had one nice run for 22 yards (before he fumbled it away) and then 10 others that netted out about 3 yards and four licks per carry. It was a long night for a bruiser who took a few bruises of his own.
Fortunately for them, the Ducks have two other high quality backs to lean on in Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin. We also saw the introduction of an unfamiliar player, hometown hero and senior RB Jarret LaCoste. Behind a pretty weak offensive line the Ducks were able to do some damage, racking up 230 yards of total rushing and over 5 yards per carry.
The culprit here was more scheme than tackling. The Dawgs did a nice job of getting carriers to the ground once they got hands on. However, similar to the Arizona game, UW had some difficulties keeping leverage when the Ducks attacked the perimeter. The Ducks racked up 9 rushing plays of 10 yards or more. I’m going to have to go back and watch the game to understand who and how, but I suspect that Connor O’Brien and Psalm Wooching were the primary culprits.
Nevertheless, it was an effective game overall. Much of Oregon’s rushing yardage came while UW had an extra DB in the game to guard against explosive plays. The Ducks were taking what UW would give them and then getting taken to the ground when met in space by UW defenders. LB Azeem Victor, LB Keishawn Bierria (yup, another fumble recovery - now five for the year), and S Taylor Rapp all had good nights in run support.
The Rushing Attack - A+
I already touched on the offensive line. They were flat-out mauling people on Saturday night. It was like Nightmare on Elm Street part 2. Just as frightening as the original (our game against Stanford), but twice the gore.
RB Myles Gaskin was the primary beneficiary of the line’s work. 197 yards, a touchdown, and a 12.3 yards-per-carry average are the kind of data points that Husky fans are used to having go against them when they play Oregon. But it was Gaskin who delivered those numbers on the night. Most impressive were the chunk plays; Gaskin had two runs that went for over 60 yards apiece and another two that went over 10 each. Not bad for 16 carries.
The rest of the UW rushing attack looked just as good. Lavon Coleman continues to run with anger and decisiveness as he averaged 10 yards per carry on his 6 attempts. Jomon Dotson got his first extended run as a ball carrier, going 12 times for 61 times and his first career rushing TD.
Pass Defense - B+
While nothing can quite match the 8-sack demolition job that we saw against Stanford, UW had another great night in pass defense.
The pass rush in particular was disruptive, generating 3 sacks and several hits on Oregon’s true freshman QB Justin Herbert. Greg Gaines was a monster in the middle, generating two of those sacks. In addition, Joe Mathis put on a clinic and continued to demonstrate why, in my opinion, he is the breakout player of the year so far in the Pac-12.
But it wasn’t a perfect effort. I thought that Oregon’s offensive line, featuring four redshirt freshman, did more than an acceptable job under the circumstances. Even with UW not blitzing and playing conservatively most of the night, I found that somewhat surprising. In addition, I thought that UW’s secondary may have gotten too caught up on “making the big play” as opposed to holding their zones, which I think created some opportunities for busts. Oregon’s first TD pass to Tony Brooks-James was one such example.
That said, we are grading on a curve. Every other Pac-12 team would take in a second the effort that UW’s secondary put up against Oregon. Budda Baker was a man possessed out there. I also thought Kevin King and Taylor Rapp put up noteworthy performances. And, extra credit goes to JoJo McIntosh for the bad intentions with which he plays when on the field.
Special Teams - C
It’s hard to grade a unit that really wasn’t featured too much. UW did have to punt the ball on five occasions, all of which relatively well for Tristan Vizcaino. On the flip side, I didn’t think it was one of his better nights on kickoffs. Coverage units did their jobs while the placekicking team only appeared on extra points.
Coaching - A
Chris Petersen and his staff need to get credit for doing something that hasn’t been done since Rick Neuheisel was the coach at UW: they effectively prepared their team to go down into the ultra-hostile environment of Autzen Stadium and find a way to win.
As it turns out, they found a way to win big.
The distraction of “the streak” cannot be overstated here. Every media interview, every fan interaction, and every booster function involved awkward moments of discourse on what exactly Chris Petersen was going to do about it. It had long ago taken on a life of its own and had grown into an albatross that even Lake Washington could no longer contain.
To be able to take that albatross off the chain around his players’ necks and to effectively toss it back over state lines is an accomplishment that deserves recognition. The Husky staff did an excellent job all through the week of minimizing distractions and installing an effective game plan. The results speak for themselves.
Sure, this was an Oregon team not operating at full strength. But credit the staff for going out and exploiting those Oregon weaknesses. I was also happy to see the staff liberally rotating in third- and fourth-stringers as early as the second quarter. These opportunities to build out the experience base for the lower levels of the depth chart during meaningful game action are invaluable. It was a strong showing all around.