The Husky defense was really, really good in 2016. Alabama managed two drives of note in the Peach Bowl, and while one was of the back-breaking 98 yard variety when the defense really needed a stop, it’s almost impossible to say that the defense wasn’t good enough to win the game. Some of the highlights...
1st and 10:
Did Jalen Hurts even watch any film? If he did, he certainly didn’t pay enough attention to Budda Baker as a playmaker. It’s also pretty obvious that Baker did watch film, and the way he reacts suggests that he noticed what Hurts looks like when he is locked into a receiver.
Note the formation here: Alabama has two tight ends to the left, but the one on the line of scrimmage (#88) is “covered” by the wide receiver on the line of scrimmage. That means he’s not an eligible receiver. With the motion across the formation, the only receiving options Alabama has to the right side of the formation are 1. The running back, or 2. The H-back tight end or the split receiver dragging back to the right. And that’s where Jojo McIntosh is waiting. The cornerback on the offense’s right shifts back with the motion, meaning the Huskies have up to four defenders to cover Alabama’s two downfield receivers. And prior to Baker sprinting back down the field, one of them is wide open. Add to that that with Baker’s release deep, no one is covering the receiver who came in motion. This play is one or more (probably more) defensive breakdowns.
A couple possible explanations: 1. Baker was in coverage on the motion receiver into the flat, but read the QB’s eyes, took a major gamble in leaving the safety valve receiver wide open, and almost made a great play. 2. Baker’s job was to cover the tight end down the field, and someone else (a safety, the cornerback on that side of the field, or one of the inside linebackers) should’ve covered the safety valve. Baker adjusted incredibly well, the throw was late, and he almost fully recovered to make a great play.
Baker’s decision to run peel back in coverage is so immediate and so definite that it suggests that he should’ve been in coverage to begin with. Either way, Alabama had multiple plays that could’ve been made here - the easy safety valve for ten or more yards, or an on-time throw down the field that gets far more.
And whether Baker gambled or recovered, it’s the “almost” here that’s the key - for the Huskies to have had any sort of chance to win this game, it’s a play that had to be made by the defense. It’s a play that should’ve been made. “Almost” wasn’t going to get the job done.
From this angle, it certainly looks like Baker is leaving to cover deep before Hurts’ eyes pick up the receiver. If it was a gamble, it’s a high-risk play by Baker, and not the sort of thing Husky fans usually see from him; a more refined QB could’ve turned a dump-off into big yards.
But regardless of what Baker did on this play, the defense failed to correctly cover this rather simple route. It should’ve been a huge play for the D, and they were fortunate to not get burned.
3rd and 11:
Nobody is quite ready for the snap on this play. Eight of the Husky defenders are milling around, looking to the sideline. The Alabama offense is mostly set, but nobody outside of the center is actually ready for the snap.
Fortunately for the Huskies, two of the players in the ready are Greg Gaines and Vita Vea, and they manage to collapse the entire offensive line. Elijah Qualls recovers quickly, and is in position to stop the quarterback if he would’ve kept running to the offense’s left. Hurts tries to reverse his field, and learns just how well the Husky defense can pursue to the ball; if McIntosh didn’t make the play, then Kieshawn Bierria, Kevin King, Qualls, or Vea would have.
From this angle you can see that Alabama isn’t actually ready to go, and it’s not just the defense. The running back is looking off to his left, and none of the linemen actually get a decent jump off the snap. Great job by Gaines and Vea to swallow four linemen between them, good recovery by Qualls (and that’s a damn fine left tackle he shucks off on the play), and then a special thanks to whomever it was that shot McIntosh out of the cannon.
1st and 10:
Who is going to crash like this for UW next season??
This looks like a decision that was made before the snap. Hurts is either trying to throw the fade over Kevin King, or he’s expecting a quick out or stop route by his receiver. What he obviously didn’t expect was to see Budda Baker in his face within a second.
As young QB’s frequently do, Hurts doesn’t just decide the play is dead and chuck the ball away, and holds on to it while retreating. In the end, he ends up lobbing the ball out of harm’s way but doesn’t get out of the pocket while doing so. Intentional grounding.
The end result is that the play is the equivalent of a sack, but Baker doesn’t get any statistical credit for it. He should.
2nd and 6:
The zone read.
Hurts puts the ball into the belly of his running back while reading the action of the defensive tackle (#92 Jaylen Johnson in this case). He sees his left guard handling Johnson fairly well, and pulls the ball out from the running back to keep it himself. Johnson makes a heckuva play, shedding the block of the guard, keeping his feet while in lateral pursuit, and eventually bringing the quarterback down himself in a bit of poetic justice. Apparently, Johnson making the tackle angers Jojo McIntosh, so he lays a pretty good hit on Johnson to let him know that safeties are supposed to get the glory, not defensive tackles.
Husky fans might forget that Johnson, not Vita Vea, was the third “big man” on the line heading in to the opening game this season, until Johnson suffered an injury that kept him out of the first few games. That’s not to suggest that Johnson would’ve been able to hold Vea’s emergence back, but that Johnson was poised for big things this year. Johnson got better all season, culminating in his best effort in the Peach Bowl. While he’s not Elijah Qualls per se, he will do good things in 2017. Lots of them.
3rd and 7:
Husky depth does good things.
The two guys that make this play are tackle Damien Turpin and end Tevis Bartlett. This is a designed QB keeper, with a running back as a lead blocker. Bartlett sets a strong edge against the block of the right tackle, keeping the play inside. Without even getting fully set, Turpin barrels his way through the double team attempt of the center and the right guard, pushing them both back to the QB’s feet. Hurts is stopped in his tracks. Johnson fights his way through the down block of the left guard, and is there to clean up the mess. Ben Burr-Kirven is able to outrun the attempted block of the left tackle, and would’ve been able to help as well.
Great job by Turpin in particular on this one.
Turpin appears to be blocked on this play, but just doesn’t give up. He stops the QB’s momentum, and Johnson’s hustle allows him to get the stats.
1st and 10:
Greg Gaines blows this play up at the snap. The black line is the line of scrimmage, and note that he actually makes contact with the left guard behind it.
This play is designed to go to the offense’s right, with the cutback available to the left, behind the H-back sealing off the back side. But Gaines is in the backfield, clogging running lanes, and taking away the ball carrier’s field of vision. This isn’t a great run, as the cut should’ve been made sooner. But even if it had been, Jaylen Johnson and Budda Baker were in position to make a tackle. As it was, the congestion caused by Gaines allows Ben Burr-Kirven to slide past the block attempt of the right guard to get to the running back, and gives enough time for Vita Vea to fight through two different linemen to help on the tackle.
A good defensive effort all around. Most of all to Mr. Gaines.
3rd and 9:
We know that people want to know what happened on the long touchdown run by Scarbrough, but this play was the real back-breaker; the Huskies’ best shot to get back in this game was to force Alabama to punt from their own endzone with almost a full quarter to play.
A lot of Huskies aren’t going to like watching the film of this play.
First, Elijah Qualls has to do a better job of stepping in to the trap block coming at him. Yes, he eliminates the pulling blocker, but he waits for the man instead of pinching down and attacking. Second, Greg Gaines is slanting inside, but his hop-step gets his feet off the ground and allows him to be too easily pushed out of the way. Third, Budda Baker isn’t a linebacker, and it shows. He isn’t as willing as anyone would like to see to put his head into the tight end coming around to clog the hole. Fourth, Ben Burr-Kirven is standing way too tall, and lets himself be taken out of the play with only a modest block. Last, Kieshawn Bierria just doesn’t make the tackle. He has a long way to go because he’s playing an outside linebacker technique, and he’s taking on a running back that hasn’t been slowed up even remotely by the men closer to the ball carrier, but it’s still a play he needs to make.
Alabama was merely hoping to get out of the shadow of its own goalpost on this play. Instead, they picked up a huge first down because the defense was a little overeager and forgot to just do the little things.
The only reason this play goes for a first down is because the back has a head of steam at the five yard line. If anyone had made him cut even a little, Bierria’s tackle effort is probably enough. Instead, the hole is just too big. The defense was oh-so-close to giving the offense the ball back with the first good field position it had had all game.
4th and 1:
Fitting that this was the last play the defense made in 2016. Great effort.
To Alabama’s tight end on the offense’s left (#84): If I had the choice, I’d rather try to block Sidney Jones than Elijah Qualls as well.
Vita Vea gets great push here, forcing the right guard (#78) almost all the way back into the ball-carrier. That allows Bierria to come in behind Vea and flatten 78 right into Scarbrough.
Ode to the seniors and those leaving us on defense:
Kevin King, Elijah Qualls, Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Psalm Wooching, Joe Mathis, Damien Turpin....You guys were great. You turned in one of the best defensive seasons Husky fans have seen. The effort you gave, the work you did week in and week out, was enough to make you champions. That the 2016 season ended a game too soon doesn’t change what you accomplished on the field. Go forth and be purple. Teach the young Dawgs well.