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WTF happened in the run game?

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There seemed to be some blocking issues on runs and short passes. We examine.

Rutgers v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Huskies routed Rutgers 48-13 and dominated in every aspect. When a beatdown is delivered, there is always the question of "how could it have been even more of a beatdown?" Most fans felt the running game was not great, and our friends at Dawgman went so far as to give the running backs and OL grades that would cause them to collectively lose Snapchat privileges if they were my kids.

So how bad was the running game?

First off, the offense as a whole looked sharp from the get-go. Four possessions, three touchdowns; that'll work any week against any opponent.

First Quarter Stats:

Washington's first four drives all resulted in scores and the rushing totals were actually quite good, especially considering Rutgers totally stacked the line of scrimmage. UW consistently had one less blocker vs. players in the box for RU, and the Rutgers safeties were also in tight behind the front 7 (often front 8). As you can see in the first quarter drive logs above, the longest drive in plays was the shortest in yardage and points. After a fumble recovery at the Rutgers 35, eight plays, seven yards, three points. WTF happened there?

It started with these three runs that set up 4th and 4:

1st and 10:

Everybody on the right side of the line misses their blocks. Literally, everybody. It's the play the Huskies ran several times - a power run, with a pulling center (instead of pulling a guard). Coleman Shelton pulled as a lead blocker probably a dozen times on Saturday. That's a difficult thing for a center to do. Starting from the inside, and working out: Shelton pulls and is the lead blocker. RG Shane Brostek and RT Kaleb McGary both step laterally to their right in attempt to down block on the defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively. Both are slow in actually engaging their defenders, who are slanting toward the middle of the field. The defenders are both untouched, and that plus the late-reacting Husky linemen create the mass of humanity that Gaskin has to avoid in the backfield. Rutgers is in man coverage. Either the cornerback over John Ross is blitzing, or he made a helluva read, and he releases inside of Ross and into the backfield almost at the snap; Ross is both half attempting to block him and half attempting to run him out of the play. The Huskies are actually attempting to kick out the middle linebacker on this play, in lateral pursuit. You can see Shelton identify the cornerback, but instead of attacking the player closest to the ball (the corner), he follows through with his assignment and goes after the middle linebacker, leaving the corner to blow up the play.

2nd and 8:

This is a power run to the Huskies' left, between LT Trey Adams and LG Jake Eldrenkamp. Brostek is the pulling guard. The two culprits on this play are Trey Adams and Coleman Shelton. Adams is stood up by a much smaller end right at the line of scrimmage, at the point of attack. Hard to tell if Adams was supposed to leave the end to be blocked by the pulling Brostek, and get to the linebacker, or if Brostek was supposed to pull and get to the linebacker. Either way, the Rutgers end makes the play by clogging the hole. This is further exacerbated by Shelton whiffing on his down block on the defensive tackle, who throws Shelton into the hole, creating even more bodies at the point of attack. Gaskin is forced to cut the play to the back side while in the backfield, and get something out of nothing.

3rd and 4:

This wildcat run is a disaster. The receiver on the right side (Dante Pettis) is trying to block the safety but never gets off the corner. Again, it's a power run, this time to the Huskies' right side. Eldrenkamp is the pulling guard. The right side of the Huskies' offensive line does its job and blocks down. Brostek is unable to sustain his block, and Rutgers' strong safety reads the play well. Pettis is attempting to work through the corner in man coverage and get to the strong safety, and the corner (in theory) will have his back to the ball and shouldn't be able to make the play. Instead, the corner pushes Pettis around enough to keep him from getting to the safety, and the penetrating safety and Brostek's man are able to make the tackle on a slow-developing zone read. I suppose handing to Chico was the thing to do here, but people who hate this play gain some legit arguments when watching this. It just seems like the blocker gained with a direct snap is negated by the safety who creeps and creeps. Maybe they thought since the safeties are already up so tight it doesn't matter and the extra blocker would help. Not this time.

Regardless, UW manages to pick up the short 4th down. Then, after Browning makes a late throw to McClatcher in the end zone that could have been intercepted, Budda Baker makes his offensive debut.

2nd and 10:

The tight end in the slot (Drew Sample) is actually the lead blocker. The outside receiver (Pettis) is supposed to get back to the right and pick up the slot corner over the tight end. The slot corner reads the play well (partly because it's obvious, with Baker in the game for his first offensive snap ever) and gets upfield quickly. Pettis simply misses the block, forcing Baker to take the play wider than it was designed. This is what dooms the play. The safety who actually made the tackle was "Baker's man;" Budda should've been moving upfield with some momentum, and in theory, either able to run past the safety, or use him as the cut back defender. Instead, Baker is running laterally, and unable to do much more than keep running the direction he's going, and it's a relatively easy tackle. This is followed by a sack and successful field goal.

In the second quarter, UW had only two offensive possessions. With the passing game doing largely what it wanted (11-15, 123 Yds), the Huskies run just three more times, Gaskin once for no gain and Jomon Dotson twice for 7 yards.

After Darrell Daniels dropped an easy TD on the first possession of the 2nd quarter, UW still should have gotten in the end zone. This is where some poor blocking and a little haste/bad luck cost them.

2nd and 10 (after the Daniels drop):

Unlike the missed WR blocks in the first quarter that were far from easy based on good reads by the Rutgers secondary, Connor Griffin’s downfield block is not overly difficult and also not very good. Although Ross probably wouldn’t have squeezed by and into the endzone, he did have to slow down when he saw Griffin’s man coming.

Brad thinks this wasn’t going to be a big play right from the start as the Huskies are at a man disadvantage (three defenders vs. two receivers). This was also blocked as a running play (watch Eldrenkamp pull to his right), so this was a run/pass option play. It’s possible that Browning was hoping the defender over Griffin would bite hard on the run fake, or that he would have Griffin in man coverage and would turn his head away from the ball (not terribly likely given the numbers advantage Rutgers had) leaving a two-on-two situation. But based on Rutgers’ alignment, the smarter play here was probably to hand the ball off to Myles Gaskin. John agrees, but thinks with a better block from Griffin, Ross accelerates instead of slowing down and scoots partially past the other two defenders, and gets near the 5-yard line at a minimum.

3nd and 6:

This is a tunnel screen, designed to come all the way back to the inside of the offense. In a perfect world, Chico McClatcher gets into the end zone in almost the middle of the field, running right behind a wall formed by Nick Harris, Kaleb McGary, and Darrell Daniels. McGary and Harris are supposed to show pocket blocking and then release down the field. McGary does this, but Harris is too slow. The man Harris supposed to block is flashing toward McClatcher, which causes Chico to run upfield instead of continuing toward the middle. Daniels is stalk blocking his defender, but then has to engage him once McClatcher heads upfield (instead of behind him). This can’t be the first time that Chico has had to turn this play back outside (they have practiced this hundreds of times), and while Brad thinks Daniels did his job, John would like to see Daniels engage his defender right away and hold that block little longer. Hindsight is 20/20 since Daniels' man makes the tackle and costs Chico at least the first down, and likely a score. But the primary culprit was Harris, who didn’t release in time and therefore wasn’t able to make a block of any sort.

Then the Dawgs rush to the line and run this:

4th and 1:

At first glance, it looks like a lousy call/bad read by Browning, giving to Dotson when there are 2 linemen blocking 4 defenders on the left side. The play was doomed; why would they run that?

Upon a closer look, Browning wants to quickly toss out to McClatcher, but right at the moment Jake has to choose to give or keep the ball, Rutgers safety Kiy Hester realizes they are outnumbered and jumps the quick screen. Browning decides that the run, while not ideal, is a better option than a possible pick-six. All things considered, the right choice. Other than maybe holding off and calling a new play, but it is hard to anticipate that a guy is about to anticipate. Right before the ball was snapped, Hester was not in position to make the play.

There were issues with the line blocking as well, namely misidentified assignments. On the play, all of the linemen block down with the exception of Jake Eldrenkamp; he and Coleman Shelton end up double-teaming the interior defensive tackle, leaving one man unblocked. It appears the run was designed to start left and then cut back to the right (note the tight end on the right, who ends up sealing the edge), but Eldrenkamp missed his assignment and the play became an easy tackle-for-loss.

Those were the two drives where things went wrong in the first half; everything else was successful. In the second half, the Huskies continued to pull offensive linemen as lead blockers, but seemed to be just a step slow - like guys were thinking instead of just knowing what to do. Besides that, UW went vanilla, RU stacked the box even more, and Gaskin ran 8 more times for only 21 yards in the third quarter. Add eight rushes for 27 yards from Dotson and Coleman in garbage time plus a kneel down and you get this ugly looking box score:

Overall... the line needs to move quicker and maintain their blocks longer. Identifying who they need to block could have been better as well; we saw some combination of Husky offensive linemen blocking the same player a few times. The receivers did a pretty good job overall, especially considering most of them are undersized. Being small doesn’t mean you can’t make a block, it just means you won’t be able to hold it as long against a bigger defender. There really wasn’t any one thing that caused running plays and tunnel screens to fail. A high throw to McClatcher screwed up the timing on one WR screen, while a lazy/imperfect route by Ross caused Jake to throw the ball farther behind the line of scrimmage than he wanted to on another. Timing is everything on these plays, and if it is just a fraction off, no one is where they are supposed to be and the play looks terrible.