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What We Learned: Arizona State

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Winning in Tempe is an elusive prize for the Huskies.

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona State
Swarming Husky D
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all frustrated as fans after a seeming inexplicable loss at the hands (forks?) of Arizona State in Tempe...again. Even with this team’s history against the Sun Devils, you had to feel good about winning the game given the state of their defense under Todd Graham through the years. But alas, it was not to be.

The Huskies now have a bye week to get as healthy as they can before Jim Mora and UCLA come into Husky Stadium for a (gasp!) 12:30pm kick off on 10/28. Yes, the Huskies next game will happen under the light of the Earth’s nearest star. I know, I can hardly believe it either.

Now, learn some stuff about your team:

The defense is nothing if not incredibly efficient.

College football last weekend was defined by chaos. Top-10 Washington, Washington State, Clemson all lost. You know what wasn’t defined by chaos? This Husky defense...but that's not so much a bad thing. Even without lots of TFLs, sacks, and turnovers, this team plays assignment-sound football with amazing gap integrity. They rarely give up TDs or big plays, and force opponents into making long drives the length of the field to score. That’s what our eyes tell us. What do the numbers say?

Consider that Arizona State ran a whopping 75 plays on Saturday night, but only averaged 3.8 yards/play. That will be enough to win most games, because few teams can sustain long drives without making mistakes that the Husky offense can capitalize on. The newly released S&P+ numbers confirm this - the Huskies rank only 36th in front 7 havoc and 40th in defensive back havoc. That's actually a bit better than I expected to see, but the fact the Huskies are shutting opponents down the way they are without generating substantial amounts of negative plays, is impressive. They do rank #1 in defensive efficiency nationally, after all. While the defense maybe could have done more against ASU, it’s hard to pin anything from this loss on them.

The Huskies do not have a field goal kicker.

The frustrations with the kicking game went to a full boil on Saturday night when Washington’s second scholarship field goal kickers, Van Soderberg - who replaced Tristan Viscaino - UW’s other field goal kicker- missed two chip shot field goals each under 27 yards. They were bad misses too.

The UW kickers look completely drained of confidence. They are the only unit in the PAC under 50%. Last week I reported the coaches were looking for answers at kicker. After this game, the coaches can keep looking. The situation certainly feels dire enough to warrant a change in strategy - either be more aggressive going for it on 4th downs, or take short punts and pin opponents deep against the Husky defense.

The run game isn’t quite there yet.

Tee passing game is getting all the attention, but I think the run game needs a closer look. Against Arizona State, the Huskies rushed for a measly 91 yards on 31 attempts. After 3 low rushing outputs in the non-conference schedule, conference play was a welcome change of pace and saw the run game kick it up a notch. However, some warts were exposed on Saturday night. While the Husky offense, and run game in particular, likely won’t look that bad again with the opponents left on the schedule, it did signal that are some underlying issues.

For example, after 7 games worth of data: The run game’s power success rate (% of runs on 3rd/4th down with 2 yards or less to go that reach 1st down) is 74%, only 5 points higher than the national average of 69%. Considering the level of opponent, talent at running back, and experience on the OL, one might expect those numbers to be better. This goes hand-in-hand with Washington’s rushing success rate (basically measures if you get 50% of needed yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd/4th down) of 45%, which is only 46th nationally. Essentially, a little less than half the time, the Huskies are not getting the yardage needed to have a run play be considered a “success”. The overall rushing S&P+ (adjusted for strength of opponent, and removing time killing/garbage time drives) is only 106.9, ranking 60th nationally.

All things considered, this offense still has more than enough to score against a lot of teams. Some of the lower rushing numbers are simply how this team game plans, with a chameleon like approach. The coaches craft ultra-specific game plans for each opponent and take what the defense gives them. It’s so incredibly coach-speaky to say that, but it’s true. Myles Gaskin still has 626 yards on just over 100 carries, with 8 TDs, so it’s not like he’s having a bad year. But you can’t help but feel like the run game is capable of so much more.