Week one can be dicey business no matter what program you are in or what conference you come from. Week one is the week where the proverbial kinks get worked out as teams attempt to establish their identities and their player rotations. Thus, attempting to grade the efforts of a first-week performance, as I’m about to do, can be a tricky affair. So, let’s take it slow.
A couple of caveats and disclaimers. First, I watched this game on my iPad with no DVR capability, so I am going from memory here. Second, this is a relative exercise with an “A” defined as “good enough to compete with any team in the PAC.” No points here for effort, nor consideration for opening week jitters.
The Huskies had, in totality, the best opening weekend of any team in the PAC. This is not really all that debatable. Against another Power 5 opponent, UW dominated every facet of the game, turned a huge lead over to their reserves, and made it through healthy. That they won easily without putting much of the playbook on tape is a bonus that will definitely pay dividends down the line. But it was not a perfect game. Let’s dive into the grades.
Pass Defense = “A”
The Husky pass defense was in midseason form against Rutgers. As predicted, Rutgers QB Chris Laviano simply had nowhere to go with the football during most of the first half when the score was still in reach. In fact, he had just 71 yards on 21 attempts in the first half. The pass rush was a factor, especially with the pressure that was coming from the inside of the line thanks in large part to Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls. Laviano took three sacks “when it counted.”
I know that many fans are not yet convinced that we know where the edge pressure will come from (though Keishawn Bierria had a strong showing), but Rutgers’ quick-pass game nullified much of that debate. I’m inclined to look at that as an “incomplete” and to focus on what we saw. Brandon Beaver’s pick was the cherry on top of what was a great day all around for the pass defense.
Pass Offense = “B-”
Let’s be clear: there was a lot to like about Jonathan Smith’s passing attack. The Huskies came out firing. It was like they were determined to get Jake Browning in synch with all of his new receiving toys. The results were spectacular, at least early on. Browning was efficient, aggressive, and in rhythm while posting an impressive 11 yards/attempt on his 287 total yards and three TDs.
John Ross made an emphatic return to the field, putting up five catches for 90 yards and two TDs in his first game as an outside receiver. His presence opened up the field for Jake Browning to work on his deep ball and resulted in TD passes of 43, 38, and 50 yards. Along with Ross, TE Darrell Daniels and WR Chico McClatcher shined. I’d also give the offensive line positive grades for their pass protection, though I’d note that they didn’t fare very well when trying to deal with Rutgers’ blitzes.
The Huskies did not perform well in the red zone or on third downs. Outside one very nice pass that Drew Sample had on a third and four, the Huskies really struggled. This might be symptomatic of the fact that UW receivers, by and large, lack the physical stature to make space for themselves in traffic. Some of it is simple route execution. Whatever the cause, it is a clear red flag.
Rush Offense = “C”
Speaking of red flags, we need to talk about the rushing attack. I sense that many fans were freaked out about what looked like a lackluster day for the one part of the offense that was supposed to be rock solid. There are certainly reasons to be concerned. The Dawgs averaged only three yards per attempt and put up only 91 yards total for the game.
The mitigating circumstance here is that the offense went vanilla in the second quarter at pretty much the same time that Rutgers dropped their strong safety into the box. Prior to that, UW was getting some good chunks of yardage out of the rushing attack. In fact, Myles Gaskin and McClatcher generated 52 yards on eight carries in that first quarter. That they couldn’t keep it going once Rutgers started playing the run exclusively is a black mark, but hardly surprising.
There are a few concerns. The greatest to me was the lack of execution on the perimeter blocking by the receivers. UW ran a lot of off-tackle plays (and screen passes), only to see them blown up by crashing DBs. This was a point of pain a year ago and seems worse now with the smaller receivers we are putting on the field.
I have some questions about the interior blocking, but I couldn’t tell if I was seeing assignment issues or physical issues. I’ll let the forum debate that. Either way, it was not effective. The presence, and failure, of the Wildcat on third downs remains a sore spot. Given all of that, I suspect rushing the ball will be a point of emphasis over the next two weeks.
Rush Defense = “B”
Like the pass defense, the rush defense was effective. Before UW got their reserves in, Rutgers managed 46 yards on 20 attempts. So, yeah, it was good. Rutgers simply could not handle UW’s jumbo line of Qualls, Vea, Greg Gaines, and Joe Mathis. In those moments where Rutgers was able to get past the line, Azeem Victor and Bierria were simply lights out. It was a dominating show.
The grading begins to get challenged with UW’s rotational depth. The second string wasnt nearly as effective, even accounting for the fact that some guys (e.g. DJ Beavers, Benning Potoa’e and Brandon Wellington) were getting some of their first action. That UW couldn’t handle Rutgers’ Wildcat formation was both ironic and frustrating. Rutgers ended the day with 185 yards on 48 attempts.
Special Teams = “A”
We might quibble about the placekicking, but the truth is that UW made an absolute statement with its special teams. John Ross’ record fourth career kickoff return (eighth if you count callbacks), Dante Pettis’ third career punt return, and Tristan Vizcaino’s four touchbacks are exactly what you want to see in a game like this.
In fact, the dominance of the UW special teams is what led to UW only having to run 59 offensive plays for the game (to Rutgers’ 88). That is a huge luxury for the coaching staff and one that bodes well for a post-Jeff Choate world.