Offensive Game Ball: Jake Browning
Unless Trey Adams has an absolute shutdown day against an elite pass rusher, the offensive game ball will likely stay within a subset of four guys all season long: Jake Browning, John Ross, Dante Pettis, and (hopefully) Myles Gaskin. If Browning put together 80% of the stats that he did against any Pac-12 school, it would be looked at as the best performance yet of his admittedly young career. He at one point completed 13 consecutive passes. His final stat line of 23-of-28, 294 yards and five teeders was as efficient as it gets. His ability to extend plays was critical with the offensive line yet to show the leap that has been expected of them. The evolution of the receivers around him will help to mitigate that factor, with Ross and Pettis teaming up with Chico McClatcher to create a very strong trio of pass-catchers.
Browning really found his rhythm in the no-huddle offense. The HUNH plays tended to be dropbacks where he knew where the ball was going by the time he hit his back foot and didn’t have to hitch or go through more than two progressions. UW had one of the slowest paces in the country last season, while Browning is especially suited to an up-tempo attack. It will be interesting to see how this develops moving forward.
Defensive Game Ball: Vita Vea
Vita Vea has been the best Husky pass rusher in the two opening games. He really has been the only consistent pass rusher. Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls are both good defensive tackles but both excel more when it comes to stuffing the run. Vea comes in as the third member of the main DT rotation and is best as a pass-rushing three-technique. He consistenly collapsed Matt Linehan’s pocket, playing a very large role in the lack of success Idaho found on third downs.
Budda Baker comes in a close second and may have been a bigger overall factor, but Baker will be getting a significant amount of praise throughout the season, in this section and in many articles throughout the season. The Husky secondary was completely dominant as a whole after the first quarter.
Most Important Play: Keishawn Bierria recovers fumble forced by Budda Baker
From the opening kick, Washington was physically and athletically superior to the Vandals. Baker came flying in to pop the ball out and Bierria was there to scoop it up. It was the first step towards the Huskies completely dominating the Vandals in every facet of the game. Admittedly, the Dawgs had a bad overall first quarter, but the fumbles forced kept Idaho off the scoreboard. In a beating such as this, it really is hard to find a single most important play just because there are so many highlights.
Most Important Statistic: John Ross, longest reception: 12 yards
Stick with me on this one. John Ross scores long touchdowns, this much we know. He returns kicks to paydirt, he runs straight lines faster than anyone on the football field, and usually there is painted turf at his final destination. Most of the time, when he scores, it is from a long distance. In the past, in a way, it limited him to crossing routes when the Dawgs made it to the red zone because he didn’t have mastery of the route tree. Not so much any more. Ross had seven catches and scored two touchdowns, with his longest reception being only twelve yards (it wasn’t even a touchdown). Ross is developing into a complete wide receiver, if he isn’t one already. It also shows that Jonathan Smith is able to draw up a gameplan that uses Ross’s speed as a threat to open up the rest of Ross’s game.
Most Encouraging Takeaway: Growth of the receiving corps
I have written about this twice already in this piece so I will keep this award brief. McClatcher, Ross, and Pettis have answered the questions as to whether the Huskies can develop receiving talent. Pete’s staff has seen the growth of players at every position at this point.
Biggest Source of Frustration: Lack of edge rush
The running game got on track somewhat, so it gets a pass. Washington has no consistent pass rushers off the edge. Interior linemen for UW are plentiful. Senior Damion Turpin even was able to blow up an inside run by splitting a double team. The sack statistics for the Dawgs so far: Vita Vea 2.5, Elijah Qualls 1, Tevis Bartlett 1, Greg Gaines .5, Psalm Wooching .5 Budda Bamet .5. None of these guys are edge players. Qualls has lined up at end on a handful of plays but he isn’t going to be beating any tackles around the edge. JoJo Mathis is the BUCK but has been quiet in two games so far.
Where did I get it wrong?