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Grading the Game: Pac-12 Championship

The Huskies overcame an off night from their star quarterback with an A-list defensive performance en route to winning a conference championship for the first time since 2000.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Colorado vs Washington Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing Offense: A

It would be tough to ask for a more productive performance from Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, who accounted for 260 yards on 47 carries (5.53 yards per carry) and a touchdown between them. The offensive line and perimeter blockers did a serviceable job of paving lanes for their ball carriers and controlling the line of scrimmage, too, as the Buffs made six tackles for loss. That number looks mediocre in isolation, but is more understandable when taking into account that the Huskies ran the ball 54 times, representing 69 percent of their offensive plays. For much of the game, it was clear to everyone in the stadium that the Huskies would run the ball on a clear majority of their offensive snaps; for the Huskies to average 4.9 yards per carry in those conditions is nothing short of impressive.

Passing Offense: C+

Credit must be given here to the Colorado defense, whose pass defense is indisputably elite. Even with that circumstance in mind, though, there can be little question that Jake Browning played one of his worst games of the season on his biggest stage yet. After coming into the game having completed 65 percent of his throws at a clip of 9.6 yards per attempt, Browning completed just one of his first seven passes for a measly 11 yards.

At the game’s final whistle, the stat sheet was disappointing, yet far from catastrophic: nine completions to six receivers on 24 attempts for 118 yards (37.5 percent; 4.9 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and (perhaps most importantly) zero interceptions. One of those touchdowns, by the way, came on an ill-advised pass that John Ross quite literally single-handedly turned into six points in a play that will live on in Washington fans’ highlight reels for years to come.

Rushing Defense: A

Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay came into the Pac-12 championship matchup averaging 5.38 yards per carry and 94.7 yards per game. On Friday, he carried the ball 19 times for 53 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and one score, Colorado’s lone offensive touchdown of the day. In total, the Buffs carried the ball 29 times for 82 yards. It bears noting, too, that three of Colorado’s carries accounted for 62 of their rushing yards. That means that on Colorado’s remaining 26 carries, Washington held the Buffs to 20 yards, an average of 0.8 yards per carry. That’s the kind of football that wins championships, and it’s the kind of football the Huskies will need to continue playing if they expect to see success in their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance.

Passing Defense: A

For all of the attention paid to Jake Browning’s struggles through the air, Colorado’s quarterbacks had it unquestionably worse. Starting QB Sefo Liufau was knocked out of commission on the Buffaloes’ first drive of the game thanks to an ankle sprain he suffered during the course of a Psalm Wooching sack, and backup Steven Montez combined with him for a final stat line of 8 completions on 25 attempts (32 percent) for 81 yards (3.2 yards per attempt), zero touchdowns and three interceptions.

Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Taylor Rapp turned in his best performance of the season by contributing two interceptions, one of which he took to the house on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, and Budda Baker was about a half inch away from corralling his own athletic interception as well. The Husky pass defense did a fantastic job, both of limiting both the big play and disrupting Colorado’s dink-and-dunk plays, as just one Buffalo reception went for longer than 16 yards.

Special Teams: A-

John Ross didn’t get too many kick return chances, thanks to Colorado’s opening kickoff bouncing out of bounds and just two Buffalo scoring drives on the day, but managed to get the ball back to Washington’s 22- and 30-yard lines on his two chances. Similarly, Dante Pettis took a fair catch on four of Colorado’s five punts, but did manage to produce a strong 18-yard return on his one return to give the Huskies strong starting field position at their own 42-yard line. Tristan Vizcaino sent two of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, while Washington’s coverage team twice stopped Colorado’s returners from getting back to their 25-yard line. Perversely, Washington’s biggest special teams “mishap” of the day came on a Brandon Beaver forced fumble during a Washington kickoff that bounced perfectly into the hands of the sprinting Phillip Lindsay, who nearly scored but was finally brought down by Kevin King two yards short of paydirt.

Meanwhile, Vizcaino acquitted himself extremely well in his punting duties, highlighted best by his booming 62-yarder that pinned Colorado inside their own 10-yard line. Four of his five punts gave the Buffaloes possession inside their own 20-yard line, including three that gave Colorado 90-yard or longer fields. Cameron Van Winkle nailed all five of his PAT attempts and went 2-for-2 on field goals from 24 and 20 yards out.

Coaching: A

From early in the first quarter, it was apparent that Jake Browning would struggle against Colorado’s excellent pass defense, and that the Husky offense would have to find success in spite of his play rather than because of it. That the Huskies were able to score 34 offensive points on a huge national stage despite substandard quarterback play speaks highly of Chris Petersen and Jonathan Smith’s game plan. In particular, Smith deserves kudos for having the discipline to commit to the running game as deeply as he did, while also having the presence of mind to sprinkle in key play-action passes like Darrell Daniels’ touchdown catch.

On defense, I don’t think that you can give Pete Kwiatkowski and Bob Gregory enough credit for the linebackers turning in an elite performance against an A-list opponent while down two starters in Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor, who are arguably two of the best defenders at any position on the team. In particular, Tevis Bartlett and Ben Burr-Kirven led the team with seven and six tackles, respectively; to adequately prepare backups such as them, Benning Potoa’e and Jusstis Warren for meaningful playing time in the Huskies’ biggest game in a generation is no mean feat, and they deserve all the credit in the world for getting it done.