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Grading the Game: Washington Passes its First Serious Test

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It wasn’t a flawless victory, but the Huskies dug deep and made the plays necessary to secure a road victory over a ranked opponent.

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Washington v Utah

On Saturday morning, the concept of a four-quarter game was somewhat alien to this year’s Washington Husky football team. The Dawgs had more or less secured victories by halftime in six of their seven contests, with the only high-tension game being the overtime victory in week four at Arizona. Against No. 17 Utah, though, the Huskies needed a 60-minute performance to walk away with their unbeaten record still intact. For the most part, they did just that, though the game wasn’t without its share of mistakes along the way.

Rushing Offense: A-

Remember a few weeks ago, when Husky fans were lamenting Myles Gaskin’s supposed sophomore slump? Those comments feel like they came a lifetime ago, as Gaskin turned in his best outing of the season in carrying the ball 19 times for 151 yards and one touchdown. His blockers acquitted themselves well for the most part; according to Pro Football Focus, Washington’s running backs averaged 4.1 yards per carry before making contact with Utah’s defenders. However, the Utes also registered seven tackles for loss after Washington had given up just 29 in their first seven games. Finally, Lavon Coleman continued to show his value as Washington’s No. 2 rusher by carrying the ball eight times for 60 yards.

Passing Offense: B+

Jake Browning’s performance against Utah — 12 completions on 20 attempts for 186 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — wasn’t anywhere near the best we’ve seen from Washington’s Heisman Trophy candidate, and some fans might be worried that two of his three worst games this season have come in the last two weeks. With that aside, Browning was efficient as a passer, with seven of his 12 completions going for at least 15 yards, and his only truly bad play was his staredown of Chico McClatcher on a deep route that resulted in Browning’s interception by Chase Hansen. John Ross headlined the show among Washington’s pass-catchers with his four receptions for 48 yards and two touchdowns, and the offensive line yielded just two sacks for five yards, zero of which came in the second half.

Rushing Defense: B

On paper, Joe Williams and his 35 carries for 172 yards and one touchdown looks to have come this close to willing Utah to victory. The raw numbers look damning for UW; Per ESPN’s Chantel Jennings, his stat line represents the most rushing yards achieved by a running back against the Husky defense in the Petersen era, and there is surely much that the defensive coaching staff will point to in film study for their players to clean up. That said, the Washington defense limited Williams to eight carries of seven yards or more, ensuring that the Utah offense was unable to dominate the line of scrimmage and instead putting the fate of the Utah offense into the hands of quarterback Troy Williams. The Husky defense also stuffed Utah’s rushers six times for either a loss or no gain, two of which came at decisive times in the game’s final five minutes.

Passing Defense: A-

The absence of BUCK linebacker and pass rusher extraordinaire Joe Mathis was keenly felt in this game, as the Huskies registered just one sack against Troy Williams. The former Husky quarterback was clearly rattled in the game’s early going, as the Dawgs batted down each of his first three pass attempts, and he struggled at times to hit open receivers on high-percentage-completion routes. While Williams did eventually make several impressive throws — in particular, his 24-yard thread-the-needle touchdown pass to Evan Moeai was a thing of beauty — Washington’s elite secondary mostly lived up to its billing, despite an uncharacteristic blown assignment or two by star cornerback Sidney Jones. On the other hand, Kevin King turned in his best performance of the season, with the folks at Pro Football Focus reporting that he allowed just three catches on seven attempts for 19 yards.

Special Teams: A

In a game featuring perhaps the best punter in the nation in Mitch Wishnowsky, who would have predicted that we would all be talking about a punt off Jake Browning’s foot? Improbable as it seemed at the time, Browning’s pooch-punt that pinned Utah at their own 1-yard line was perhaps the second most important play of the game, as it and the Husky defense’s ensuing three-and-out set up Dante Pettis’s electric 58-yard punt return touchdown that provided the game’s deciding points. Elsewhere, Cameron Van Winkle nailed his only field goal attempt from 41 yards out and was a perfect 4/4 on PATs, Tristan Vizcaino punted the ball 40 and 45 yards on his two attempts, and the Washington offense averaged starting its post-kickoff drives at their own 27-yard line. In other words, there was plenty to love, and not much to dislike.

Coaching: B+

Washington’s game plan was clear from the beginning in this one: Establish an effective ground attack to control the game on offense, and limit Joe Williams’s opportunities on the ground in favor of forcing Troy Williams to beat the vaunted Husky secondary with his arm. Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said on the Husky Honks postgame show that the Dawgs played a single-high safety and man defense virtually the entire game, which speaks volumes about the coaching staff’s trust in the secondary’s ability to execute their assignments. Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith called a great game that kept the injured-but-still-formidable Utah defense on its heels for much of the day, and deftly used the screen passing game to keep Utah’s front seven honest in their blitz packages. The biggest blemishes on the day by far were the two personal foul penalties against Azeem Victor (taunting) and Psalm Wooching (roughing the passer) that came at key moments to extend Utah drives that resulted in touchdowns. Many Husky fans have complained about Wooching’s penalty (I happen to think it was the correct call, for what it’s worth), but Victor’s unsportsmanlike conduct was absolutely inexcusable. As much as it is the responsibility of those individual players to toe the line, it also falls on the coaches to not allow for an environment where their players’ emotions get the best of them. Rest assured that Chris Petersen will be drilling that lesson into his linebackers this week, likely in unforgiving fashion.