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Film Study: Utah Part Two

The Husky defense was hardly dominant, but came up with a big play when they needed it

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Back for more? This time we’ll turn our eye toward the Husky defense. I suppose the story of this game was pretty clear, in two parts:

  1. No pass rush, but Utah’s quarterback, former Husky Troy Williams, was not very good, so the damage was limited.
  2. Couldn’t stop Joe Williams and that big offensive line.

There’s lots of evidence to support both of these, which you’ll see some of below. But let’s keep it in perspective. The Huskies gave up 163 yards passing: that works in any game. They gave up 213 yards rushing, yes, but on 47 attempts. That’s under five yards a carry, which is manageable. The problems defensively were that they gave up 24 points, got zero takeaways, and allowed Utah to run 80 plays to the Dawgs’ 56. It was cumulatively problematic defense, not specifically problematic.

So how did it happen?

Primas — 1st and 10:

The first half looked a lot like this play. Power to the right. The defensive tackle on the right (Gaines, 99) beats his guy like a drum, driving him into the backfield. But the left tackle (Qualls, 11) is beaten badly by the double-team from the offensive tackle, who is able to climb up and block the linebacker (Bierria, 7).

Even after that, the play could have been stopped. The safety (Rapp, 21) fills quickly and is in position to make the tackle along with Azeem Victor (36), but the pulling guard from Utah shoots through the hole, taking them both out. It’s left to Baker (32), coming off the slot receiver to make the tackle ten yards downfield.

When we were selecting plays to look at, it seemed like there were ten just like this. Joe Williams averaged just about five yards a carry, which is good but not shocking. The important thing, though, is that of his 16 first-half carries, only two were for less than three yards (except the touchdown).

Why does that matter?

When it comes to running, the important thing is not the average yards per carry, but the variance in yards per carry. A team that goes 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 is doing much better than a team that goes 0, 0, 0, 0, 20. When I hear running backs’ stats, I always subtract the long run. “So and So rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries...” Wow! Six yards per carry, “...with a long of 80 yards.” Oh. Never mind. Most of the game he was getting two yards.

It’s not that the big play doesn’t matter. It obviously does—but that’s what the passing game is for. The run game is there to get yards consistently. And that’s what Utah did.

Secundus — 1st and 10:

This seemed to happen a lot. The this is the same basic play. This time the Dawgs bottle it up pretty well, but the back is able to bounce outside for six yards. That shouldn’t really happen on power. The back is supposed to hit the hole fast and not think much about the cutback. You see the backside end (Potoa’e, 8) sort of forget what he’s doing and allow the tackle to drive him way downfield after he’d held his ground initially.

Here it is from the good view. You can really see how the front seven does a good job of closing this off; they just forgot to make the tackle.

A bit of bad luck. A bit of not finishing. A bit of a really good running back.

Tertius — 1st and 10:

The first thing you notice on this play is the amazing skill of Sidney Jones. Just really good. I don’t know why Troy Williams even threw this pass, to be honest.

The second thing you notice is that you didn’t notice any pass rush. You watch again, and you were right. The defensive linemen are all backups, but believe us when we tell you this was typical. Utah kept seven in to block. Watch how well they manage their assignments. Every Husky is double-teamed at some point. It’s just hard to get through that kind of thing.

But enough about that. Let’s just enjoy Jones again, while we have him.

Keep in mind here, Tim Patrick is 6’5” and Sidney Jones is 6’1”.

Quartus — 1st and Goal:

Remember when we talked about how the Huskies had numbers on one of their running plays? This is what it looks like when the shoe is on the other foot. It’s hard to even describe what happens here, except to say that seven guys in red push on six guys in purple and the predictable thing happens.

Quintus — 2nd and Goal:

This time the matchup looks better: eight in the box. Utah appears to be running their same power play to the right, but things are much messier than usual with so many bodies.

Two things go wrong. First, the defensive left outside linebacker (can’t see his number) sets up too far outside when he moves up to play the run, and then he allows the tight end to push him even farther out. That alone might have been okay, except that Utah’s center manages to climb up and get a hand on the middle linebacker (Victor, 36), preventing him from filling the hole. I’m not going to swear he’s not holding. Watch below. Victor is lined up between the guard and the tackle on the offense’s left.

The center (76) does a great job keeping Gaines from pushing him back or moving to his right. By the time he gets free of Gaines, though, Victor is already past him. You can see the center reach his arm out and then his body kind of swings around behind Victor. That looks like a hold.

Sextus — 2nd and Goal:

Here’s what happens when a team is good at running the ball. Utah has four receivers, two on each side. The Huskies are playing two high safeties initially, but you can see the nickel corner on the left slot receiver move into the box pre-snap. That leaves two receivers and two defenders on each side. However, the Dawgs are playing zone.

The linebacker on the bottom of the screen gets caught up in the run fake and never really gets to his zone. As it turns out, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the safety on that side (McIntosh, 14) is also watching the run fake and doesn’t react to the outside receiver running to the corner.

This is the third quarter. Utah has been pounding the ball all game. Plays like this are part of the payoff.

Here you can see the route combination that sucks up Jones and that McIntosh is late to the party.

Septimus — 3rd and 6:

This was a turnover, okay? Seriously.

Keishawn Bierria lands a left jab on the football just as Troy Williams begins to throw, the ball squirts back 4 yards, and with Bierria and Victor draped on him, somehow the ball bounces back to Williams. Sigh.

Washington blitzes less than any Power Five team in the country on passing downs (less than 10%), but they pick their spots and did they ever choose a great time here. Utah’s left tackle is acting like he thinks he has help with Bierria, or he is just badly beaten and wants to tell his coach he thought he had help. Either way, the Huskies’ coverage is good and Troy has no choice but to fumble the ball and try to land on it.

Bierria times the snap perfectly, and it’s almost like Williams doesn’t care that he is being blitzed and the rusher has come free. It’s like a blindside sack right in front of him.

As noted above, Utah’s left tackle made some...interesting decisions. He bumps Bierria on the way past, but the guard next to him is looking inside, so nobody picks Bierria up after that. Then the tackle turns his attention to helping the back with O’Brien on the outside. Nobody notices Victor’s delayed blitz through the same gap.

The quarterback is pretty focused on the right side, where two long developing routes are taking place — a post by the outside receiver and a wheel by the slot. Neither has time to happen. Probably the slot receiver on the left side should have adjusted his route once he saw the blitz. If he’d stopped in the area abandoned by Bierria, or if the quarterback had quickly hit the tight end crossing from the right, Utah may have had a first down.

Blitzing is a bit un-sound. You’re betting that you can get to the quarterback before the offense has time to exploit the weaknesses in the defense. The Huskies’ defense generally is designed to make the offense work for every yard, run a lot of plays, expecting them to make a mistake along the way, so the Dawgs don’t blitz much. This may increase the impact of any given blitz, since it’s more of a surprise.

4th and 9:

Yes, I probably would have called that last one (31, Myles Bryant). But I don’t think not calling it was outrageous. All three of the blocks were close. On all three of them you can see the Husky get one arm to the front of the Utah player.

You’ve got to hand it to Utah’s punter, that guy was a stud. Remember, he’s kicking out of his own end zone, with less than the full fifteen yards. A safety might be deadly. A block probably would be. He nails it. He nails it so well that he outkicks his coverage and gives Pettis a great shot at this return.

Watching from Pettis’s perspective, you can see that he really had to get by that first guy, and once he did so he had some room to get up to speed. The downfield blocks were critical as well, of course. But Pettis running flat out is a lot harder to catch than Pettis dodging tacklers.

Dawg fans should remember that this is the second time in two years that Pettis has produced a punt return for a touchdown at a critical time. Remember Boise State last year? Remember how close it was? UW was kicking a field goal to send it to overtime. That was because of Pettis.

Look up the Chris Petersen show on IMG Sports Network. I believe it’s the October 31 episode when Dante Pettis is also a guest. He sounds like a pretty great guy.