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Grading the Game: Huskies blow out the Arizona State Sun Devils

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It was the ugliest of blowouts, and not in a good way.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It was a night of confounding variables. On one hand, the Dawgs put up 338 yards of passing offense with over eight yards per attempt. On the other, it was one of the most forgettable games of Jake Browning’s sophomore season.

On one hand, the young Husky D dominated ASU in all aspects—particularly the run, where ASU’s 15 net rushing yards for the game was their worst in a decade. On the other, the Dawgs lazily surrendered two ugly TDs on desperate fourth down attempts.

On one hand, UW’s rushing offense averaged 6.1 yards a carry and was ten times more effective than ASU’s. On the other hand, before Myles Gaskin ripped off a 45-yard TD score at the end of the game, it didn’t feel that great.

On one hand, UW snapped a 10-win losing streak to a team that they had not beaten since 2001. On the other hand, it left many fans wondering if the Dawgs are playing good enough football to beat even the next team on the schedule.

Nevertheless, the Huskies have achieved their first 10-win season since 2000. That’s a worthy accomplishment, to be sure, and one to be celebrated. Let’s look at the grades.

Pass Defense: B+

The twist happened on the first play of the game when the Huskies rolled out a starting secondary of Budda Baker, Kevin King, Sidney Jones, Taylor Rapp, and Ezekiel Turner. An undisclosed injury had JoJo McIntosh in street clothes and Husky fans sweating.

As it turned out, nothing to worry about here. Baker was simply sublime, Turner was surprisingly good, and Kevin King had what may have been the play of the year with a sick one-handed interception in what was a stellar overall effort for UW’s pass defense.

The pass rush was a big factor. Though it took a wide-ranging blitzing strategy to get it done, the Huskies generated six sacks and several hurries against ASU QB Manny Wilkins. Baker was a factor in dropping Wilkins for 1.5 sacks while both Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls were constant presences in the backfield. I was also impressed with the efforts put forth by young players like Benning Potoa’e and Tevis Bartlett.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all perfect. ASU WR N’Keal Harry tormented the Huskies all night as he generated over half of ASU’s passing offense. Additionally, those two fourth down TD passes put a real damper on the entire effort.

Pass Offense: C-

It would be too easy to just look at the numbers and say all was well. Sure, Jake Browning passed for 338 yards and a couple of TDs. And, yes, John Ross set a UW record with 12 receptions. But the nature of the execution was what set alarm bells ringing all across Montlake.

The numbers tell part of the story. Jake’s 61% completion percentage was entirely pedestrian when you consider how much was generated in the short passing game and how many of those same passes were missed badly. The fact that Ross generated just 95 yards on his 12 catches speaks to how much trouble Browning had getting balls into spots that would allow his receivers to make a catch and generate yards after.

Whatever has been plaguing Browning the last few weeks continues. Despite not ever being under any real pressure, his footwork resembled that of a tap dancer hopped up on Red Bull and cocaine. He’s dancing and tapping his feet frequently before he lets go of the ball. This is severely affecting both his timing and his accuracy. Brad Johnson texted during the game that it looked like he isn’t trusting what he is seeing from his receivers out there. I would agree.

I also think UW’s receiver play has become an issue not being scrutinized enough. There are clearly miscommunications happening between quarterback and receivers, usually an indication that the receivers are off script. In addition, those two Browning picks, which were definitely bad passes, were both tipped by UW receivers. Responsibility to catch or defend those passes lies with the receivers. Unacceptable.

Rush Defense: A

Stellar.

I’m not sure that there is another term to describe it, especially after you consider what it is that the Huskies played without in this game.

Both D.J. Beavers and Ben Burr-Kirven exceeded expectations as they rotated to fill in for the injured Azeem Victor. The middle of the UW line was a line-crushing, tailback-smashing phenomenon as Greg Gaines, Vea, and Qualls continued their excellent play. The run support provided by Baker, Rapp and Turner was fantastic. Hey, we even had a Shane Bowman sighting, and he had a few nice plays setting the edge.

All of it led to an all-time performance in bottling up the ASU rushing attack.

Rushing Offense: B

Sure, the numbers look pretty good. 201 total yards, a couple of TDs and a 6.1 yard average. It was a good effort. But it wasn’t a great effort.

I thought that the Husky offensive line was hit or miss much of the night, which contributed to a really choppy output for the rushing attack. The backs probably graded out a little bit better. Myles Gaskin did what he always does in showing great patience and unreal balance on his feet. However, it felt like the offense left yards out there on the field against an ASU defense that probably was bad enough to cough up another 100 rushing yards if the Huskies were closer to their normal selves. I’ll be curious what Brad and John Sayler’s film study reveals and if it matches what I saw live from the stands.

Special Teams: A

It was nice to see the UW special teams put up a good effort. The Keishawn Bierria onside kick return for a TD was an unbelievable play, though I’m not exactly sure what he was doing on special teams in the fourth quarter of a blowout with Azeem Victor already sidelined. Beyond that, I thought Dante Pettis had a good night returning punts and that Cameron Van Winkle had one of his best nights as a placekicker.

Conclusion

It is definitely a “first world problem” when Husky fans are looking at a game like this and debating whether or not the effort was a good one. Consider:

  • UW won by 26 points against a team that they had not beaten in 15 years.
  • UW more than doubled ASU’s total yardage (245 to 539), the third fewest yards surrendered by UW this year.
  • UW’s 539 yards in total offense was their third highest output this year (exceeded only against Oregon and Cal).
  • UW held ASU to 1 of 14 on third down attempts.

Those were all good things that speak to how far UW has come as a program. However, we can’t ignore the 4 of 12 on UW third downs. Or the two fourth down TDs . Or a first six series that went PUNT, FG, INT, INT, TD, PUNT. Those are red flags.

Husky coaches, players and fans know that the competition facing UW in the next two games will test UW more than most of the rest of the competition they’ve faced to date. We would all like to see Washington surging to end the year, and thus the grading curve increases. As for this one, UW can breathe easy with the win but must seek answers to the offensive issues that are vexing the team. The Apple Cup is just five days away.