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Is the Washington Huskies’ offense improving?

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Breaking down some key offensive plays from last Saturday’s win.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

This visual breakdown of selected plays turned out to be quite popular, so we’ve decided to make it a weekly feature. Sometimes there will be a theme, sometimes not so much. This week we’ll take a look at some plays on offense from the Idaho game that worked, and some that did not. We’ll get into why they succeeded, why they failed, and the all-important “who is to blame” (besides Jonathan Smith, and of course the people drinking Red Hook in The Zone.).

We’d love to do this with the defense as well this season, but the camera tends to follow the offense so it’s a bit more difficult since we are limited to the TV coverage.

First up, a nicely executed tunnel screen pass to Chico McClatcher on 1st and 15 which resulted in a 29-yard TD:

Two things make this play, and are the difference between the example from the Rutgers game last week and this one.

First, the offensive line releases sooner down the field. At least Kaleb McGary does, and it’s his block that really makes the play (side note: McGary could’ve been called for clipping on this play; offensive linemen are allowed to cut block, but technically only in the tackle box). The second is that Chico McClatcher really works to keep the play to the middle, which is where his blocking is. McClatcher sets up Darrell Daniels’ block well, cutting back inside from it. Credit to Coleman Shelton’s hustle down the field; the shove he gets on Idaho’s safety is probably what springs McClatcher from “first down” to “touchdown.”

This play is by no means perfect. Shane Brostek is late to the party, and doesn’t add anything. It appears that his assignment was actually to work to the safety that ends up running into the block Darrell Daniels is throwing on the cornerback. (It’s also possible that McGary was supposed to get down the field, but took Brostek’s man because the linebacker presented “imminent danger” to the play, and you can see Brostek heading that direction.) But because of McGary’s block, and because of the respect Idaho has for McClatcher’s athleticism, this was going to be a positive play regardless.

2nd and 15 screen pass to Myles Gaskin:

This is your typical jailbreak running back screen. A lot of things went wrong on this play, but it was actually closer to working for a nice gain that it appears based on the result. Instead, Idaho’s safety reads the play well, pushes hard up the field, and makes a nice open-field tackle.

There are three primary culprits here. In decreasing order of fault, they are Trey Adams, Darrell Daniels, and Myles Gaskin. As you can see, the entire offensive line feints pass blocking, then releases down the field. Except Adams, who holds his initial block, sort of watches Jake Browning deal with the oncoming pressure, and then finally remembers to get down the field and block. Adams is the blocker closest to the point of attack. He’s the Husky responsible to get out to the safety. Instead, Jake Eldrenkamp attempts to get there, but it’s too far for him to make any sort of play.

Darrell Daniels is in the slot, and the safety is reading him. On a play like this, Daniels should typically push up the field, even just a step, to make the safety react (if even for an instant) and set him up to be blocked. Instead, Daniels does a few different things halfway. He comes back to the middle to seal the inside pursuit, then changes his mind, then continues on while looking for someone to block. In the end, all he manages to do is slow down Shane Brostek, while having no impact on the play.

The convoy of blockers is to the inside of the field. Gaskin allows himself to drift too far too the outside to receive the pass, and then gets up field too quickly (note: had Adams made his block, this wouldn’t have actually been “too quickly”). If he pauses a beat and stays inside, he allows Eldrenkamp the time needed and decreases the space required to block the safety.

The play was actually close - had any one of the things that went wrong gone right, there was a nice gain to be had. It wouldn’t have taken perfection.

2nd and 2 smoke screen to Dante Pettis:

Welcome to college football, Mr. Aaron Fuller. You’ve earned your letter for 2016.

This is how a wide receiver blocks the smoke screen. Fuller is patient, waiting for the defender to come to him, instead of overrunning the play and taking away Dante Pettis’s cutback angle. Fuller engages the defender high, then slides down to his knees to remove him completely from the play. Pettis catches the ball, reads the block, and makes “his man” miss, gaining about eight extra yards on the play.

Fuller had a number of nice blocks on Saturday. This may have been the best one. Simply textbook.

2nd and 1 power run by Gaskin:

This is the perfect example of a well-executed power run to the tackle.

The entire right side of the offensive line blocks down (to their left). Will Dissly is the tight end on the line of scrimmage, and does a fantastic job of sealing the edge. Drew Sample is the H-back, and executes a great kick-out block on the cornerback, who is tight to the line of scrimmage. Eldrenkamp pulls from the left side and swallows the play-side inside linebacker, who does a mediocre job of scraping to the play. Gaskin follow Eldrenkamp right up the hole, and cuts to the outside right of the pulling guard’s block.

When things are done right, this is the Husky running game at its best. Gaskin is making his first cut four yards down the field, and there aren’t a lot of defenders in the country that are going to stop him right at that point.

2nd and 9 power zone/split run by Gaskin:

This is a power run, but instead of pulling a guard, the entire offensive line blocks down (left) and H-back Darrell Daniels is the lead blocker. Idaho has a one-man advantage on the play side (two men are left unblocked, and Daniels can only get one of them), but the idea is that the play should be quick enough that the upfield pursuit coupled with his outside containment responsibilities keeps him from being able to crash down on the play.

The biggest thing that goes wrong on this play is that Drew Sample, the tight end on the play side, fails to block the outside shoulder of the inside linebacker, and instead attacks the inside shoulder. Because of this, the linebacker is able to slide off Sample’s block and slow Gaskin down enough for the rest of the pursuit to catch up and make the tackle. It’s also possible that Gaskin hesitated a beat too long before taking the handoff; had he been moving up field sooner, he would’ve run past the linebacker before the latter had a chance to make any sort of play. But that’s just a guess.

It’s possible there was something else entirely at play here. Watch two things: 1) Jake Browning switches hands with the ball right before the handoff, and 2) the left side of the line. They’re blocking for an inside zone run. It’s possible that this is actually two plays being run at the same time, and Myles Gaskin is reading the defense after the snap to see which one to run. Browning’s initial reach with the ball is for the zone on the offensive left, as Gaskin is hesitating. Only at the last second does he switch hands with the ball for the lead back to the right. It’s possible that Gaskin had either option here, and that he chose the lead based on something he read at the snap. It’s also possible the action on the back side of the play and the ball handling was merely to confuse the defense, but that seems like an awful lot of effort for minimal gain. If this was a true read by the back, though, it sure looks like the zone to the left would’ve presented more opportunity. And it also serves as another illustration of exactly how complicated this offense really is.

1st and 10 fly sweep to McClatcher:

It’s tough to be overly critical of a play that gains almost ten yards, but there was a lot more on the table here. The idea of this play is that McClatcher hits the outside edge with a very fast and very strong lead blocker leading him down the field in Darrell Daniels. Credit Idaho’s outside linebacker, who is over Drew Sample as a stand-up receiver tight to the formation, for stringing out the play and basically absorbing two Husky blockers. Otherwise, the Vandals would’ve had a cornerback trying to handle Daniels with a head of steam, then deal with one of the best athletes on the field in McClatcher.

The linebacker over Sample reads the sweep based on McClatcher’s motion prior to the snap, and his first step is up the field and to the outside of Sample. Sample can’t quite get to him to seal him off, and instead drives the play laterally. The linebacker keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, preventing McClatcher from being able to cut up the field. The linebacker also causes enough havoc to swallow up the lead-blocking Daniels.

McClatcher could’ve freelanced on this play and cut it upfield inside of the Sample/linebacker mess, and maybe made a huge play on his own. But he made the smart move and followed the design of the play.

Like I said, it’s tough to be too upset with a near-ten-yard gain.

2nd and 2 reverse to John Ross:

Two things happen on this play, and they’re related: 1) John Ross goes waaay too deep behind the line of scrimmage, and 2) John Ross doesn’t show a lot of faith in Jake Browning’s ability to block.

It looks like Ross is reading the backside end (#97) and is thinking he’s going to have to do a lot more than he should in order to get around him. Ross eventually ends up 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and he really shouldn’t be more than seven or eight. It’s possible the Husky coaches don’t actually want Browning to be throwing blocks against Idaho, but on a play like this if the defensive end reads the reverse and doesn’t pursue Gaskin, then Browning has to be willing and able to step up and seal the end off. Browning is only semi-willing; Browning is “receiving” the contact instead of stepping into it. Ross feels the need to go deeper than he actually should’ve (and probably thought he had the speed to make it work), which allows the inside linebacker on the back side to shoot upfield and make the tackle.

1st and goal counter to Gaskin:

The Huskies run a double trap block here for the TD, and they got more than a little help from Idaho’s defensive end crashing the middle on the play.

David Ajamu motions across the formation to the offense’s right. Gaskin fakes a lead run to the right, and then “counters” back to his left. The left side of the offensive line blocks down; note the nice brush block by Trey Adams before getting to the linebacker at the second level (although he didn’t really deliver a “dominating” block there). Nick Harris pulls back to the left. Idaho’s end has run himself out of the play by crashing to the middle. Instead of kicking that end out, Harris uses the end’s momentum to simply push him into the melee at the line of scrimmage. Ajamu comes back to his left as the lead blocker and does a nice job of stalemating the inside linebacker, who is slow to scrape to the hole.

Touchdown, Washington.

1st and 10 direct-snap inside zone run by Gaskin:

Ah, the wildkitten.

This is another play that’s actually really close to working. It’s supposed to be an inside zone run; the double team here is between Jake Eldrenkamp and Trey Adams. That’s the cutback zone. Two things happen: 1) Eldrenkamp falls down and clogs the hole, but more importantly, 2) Coleman Shelton has a difficult assignment here because he’s supposed to work across the defensive tackle’s body and seal him back to the inside. He’s unable to get there, so instead of staying inside, Gaskin attempts to follow Lavon Coleman’s lead block. Coleman gets a good block, and there’s a hole to be had, but the play was stuffed by the tackle shading to Shelton’s left, who was able to force the play off tackle.

1st and 10 run/pass option to Ross:

This play is like the Crane Technique from the Karate Kid - “If do right, no can defense.”

The offensive line and the running back are running an inside power; Shane Brostek pulls to his left and would’ve led Gaskin right up the middle. But at the line of scrimmage, Jake Browning sees the cornerback playing ten yards off John Ross; instead of handing the ball off, Browning pulls it out of Gaskin’s stomach and fires an easy pass to Ross, who has seven yards to work with between he and the nearest defender after making the catch. Ten yards, first down, no need to even wash the uniforms, it was so easy. That’s the run/pass option at it’s finest.

1st and 10 quick screen to Gaskin:

Unlike the jailbreak screen, this little bubble screen requires Gaskin to move a little quicker than he does. Drew Before (who actually got a fair amount of playing time, well before the game got out of hand, and acquitted himself well) and Aaron Fuller are the two outside receivers. Instead of waiting and reading, Gaskin needs to get up the field. It’s not all his fault, though. Browning threw a bad pass that was too far behind Gaskin, forcing Gaskin to turn to the outside while making the catch. With a better pass, one would think a refined runner like Gaskin takes that ball straight up the hash marks past the first line of defense, and is able to cut to the outside to avoid the safety coming up the field who makes first contact.

1st and 10 blitz pickup by Jomon Dotson:

Jomon Dotson made a highlight-reel block that saved Jake Browning from eating a shoulder pad for lunch. And while it was a great play, if Dotson had read the blitz better, it would’ve been a much more routine one. He’s essentially the personal protector on the play, and you can see his eyes come back to the back side of the play almost a little too late. Browning is looking for the seam route from Dante Pettis on the right side, and if he hadn’t had to tuck the ball and move, it may have been there.

But give credit to Dotson. That could’ve been bad. Really bad. Dotson showed the willingness and ability to stick his shoulder into a defender and turn disaster into an eight-yard gain.

Another look at Dotson’s block:

You can really see what Dotson sees from this angle. He’s looking for the blitz from his right side, then sees the linebacker on his left coming (picked up by Trey Adams), and at the last second sees the safety coming free.

Good stuff, Jomon.

Summary...

It still wasn’t great against Idaho, but it was better. It’s tough to know how much of that was due to Washington’s improvement, though, and how much was due to the level of competition. Unfortunately, this Saturday’s game isn’t going to help much in that regard. Hopefully, you can see how close things really are to being “there,” and how complicated the Husky offense actually is. Washington puts a premium on each offensive play they run, and each play really requires 11 guys to do their jobs. A half-beat delay throws off the time; one false thought at the snap is the difference between a five-yard gain and a one-yard loss. As the saying goes, it’s a game of inches. In a lot of cases, that’s the difference between success and mediocrity in the Husky running game.