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The Brotherhood Changes the Subject

Can Jonathan Smith come to my birthday?

Darin takes a seat

Well, that sucked. In case you needed reminding that good teams can play bad games, there you go. Hope put experience in a headlock and told me the Huskies were past this kind of thing, but of course they're not. No team is.

Three things I noticed:

First, injuries are mounting. The Huskies have really good depth at lots of spots, but you can't keep losing major contributors forever and not worry about a drop-off. We're down two corners, now, and it looks like maybe Adams.

Secondively, the Huskies' offense looked confused. ASU put their linebackers right on the line to hide how many and who were rushing. Even when they sent only three, they were able to get good pressure. We weren't able to make them pay for that, either by running effectively or by burning them with the pass. There was one play in the second half where I swore it had to be a screen: three rushers utterly unimpeded on their way to the QB. Watching the replay, I saw that, no, it wasn't a screen. It was a total failure of the pass protection. Great.

We're hearing lots of complaints about the receivers. It's difficult to know how they're doing from TV, since the bastards at ESPN show only close-ups of the QB on pass plays. And we're hearing complaints about Browning holding the ball too long. If I had to guess, I'd say those are 30% and 70% of the problem, respectively. Pass blocking is the remaining 50%. Petersen's philosophy is pass-first. That's not going to change. But when the offense is struggling so much with a complex defense -- when they're thinking so much -- I really wonder if an earlier emphasis on the run wouldn't be a good idea.

Finale, Petersen had cleverly set the Huskies up to do the right thing this year. He had built a team without a field goal kicker, meaning he had cover to discard coaching conventional wisdom and go for it on fourth down. Yet, when it mattered, he lost his nerve -- not once, but twice. Neither of those second-half field goals should have been attempted. Either would have made it 13-3, still a two-score game, and they would have set the Huskies up for future failure by tempting them with a field goal for the tie down the road. Please, Coach, I'm begging you: just go for the touchdown. Just decide you have four downs, and be happy with a three-yard run. It's really that simple.

Epilogue. I'm philosophical about this. A dumb loss can sometimes spur a team to play better. If this lights some fires in the right place, it increases the odds of wins over the likes of Stanford and WSU, and ultimately a Pac-12 North title. I pay as little attention as possible to the playoff race, anyway. I like the conference. From that perspective, this loss didn't change much. The problem is more to do with what it showed us about the team.

Brad idly flips through March 2008 Field and Stream

Right. The thing that's disappointing is that now, the unexpected bad games are coming from upperclassmen. Your point is correct, every team (and player) has those games. But it's also exactly what you hope to see in the rear view mirror as a team and program mature.

Right. The injuries are stacking up. Two corners, plus two receivers (and Adams). People seem to forget about Andre Baccellia. Maybe for good reason - he actually hasn't done much as a Husky. But it's important to remember he's the one that got the start against Oregon last year when Chico McClatcher was out. He was a starter all fall and into the season. He might not have made the difference last night, but his absence isn't nothing. I don't know if you've noticed or not, but Dante Pettis has spent a lot of time limping on and off the field this season. I have no idea if it's an actual injury versus just getting dinged up, or if it's the same thing each time. But it happens most games.

Watching games on TV is frustrating, because as you say, you can't see the receivers. Frankly, I have a very hard time buying that there was simply no one open, ever. I've seen Browning not throw the ball during home games with my own eyes, and my guess is last night wasn't actually different. No McClatcher, no John Ross, I can understand the lack of big plays in the passing game. What concerns me more is the lack of medium plays, because I consider those to be at least as much a factor of the quarterback as they are the receiver. Maybe more; they frequently aren't thrown to wide-open guys. They're thrown to guys that have created a reasonable window of opportunity with a break or cut, with the thought that the ball is going to be there the second they're open, not because they've been left wide open for a second or two. Anticipation and accuracy makes those plays, not excessive amounts of speed. Jake Browning has worked on developing bad habits all season. All season.

It's hard to believe the ineffectiveness of the offense was simply the result of the ASU coaching staff employing a superior scheme. Maybe it was. That was certainly a factor. As were a lot of things, like the bye ASU had, the crowd energy, and Washington's injuries. The feeling I got watching the game was a lack of confidence from the offense. Confusion, as you said. Even early on, it was hard to see this one turning around the way Colorado did. That's obviously decades of bred-in pessimism and maybe some hindsight, but even though the score said the game was close, the offense never felt like it was a drive away from being in it.

I didn't have as big an issue with the first kick as you did, mostly because getting the 0 off the scoreboard lets the offense have some results for a reasonably decent drive, and it starts the second half off with a little shift in momentum. The second one, though....dammit. The ASU defensive line was ready to cave. There was a first down to be had without scoring the TD. Hurry back to the line (the tempo had worked on the drive) and run it right at ASU again. That play was a give-up, and unfortunately, gave the Huskies a scapegoat for the game when the reality is that the team was outcoached and physically beaten.

Darin taps his foot impatiently

You know what would solve these problems? Firing Jonathan Smith. The offense is so predictable, except they don't run enough on first down. They always pass sideways, except the times when they force the ball to Pettis. And they score all their points against the teams actually on the schedule instead of scoring them against Alabama and Georgia and the Denver Broncos. I heard that Smith's wife made the cupcakes used by ESPN last week. He shot JR. He kidnapped the Lindberg baby. He parked in a handicap space.

The most knowledgeable fan in Seattle -- Hugh B. Millen -- studiously avoids making statements about play-calling. He acknowledges that even he (!) can't parse the difference between play-calling and execution. What makes you think you can? "You" being a typical fan. You can't. Does that mean you can have nothing to say about the offense? Of course not. We can all see whether it's working or not. We can even complain that the coaches aren't getting it done -- after all, the buck stops with them. But the idea that you can boil the problem down to one thing, Smith's play-calling, is DUM.

An important thing is to avoid learning too much from this game. As an observer, you start with a certain assumption about how good the Huskies are. Then you watch them play Rutgers, and you update your assumption -- taking into account how good you think Rutgers is and the fact that you've got an itty-bitty sample. Then you watch them play whomever they played second, and you update based on that game, plus whatever that team did the week before, plus whatever Rutgers did. And you do that every week, gradually zeroing in on your final assessment of the Huskies' quality. We do this by the seat of our pants, and I'm sure right away you can see how impossible it is.

There are two major mistakes we are likely to make, both related to uncertainty. First, as a general statement, we fans tend to underestimate the effect of randomness on outcomes. Going into the game, I thought the Huskies were better than ASU. I figured if they played ten times, the Huskies would win eight. But eight is not ten, so an unexpected result doesn't mean we throw everything we thought we knew out the window. Maybe we should adjust our estimate from eight to seven. Or maybe not at all. A sample size of N=1 is not much to go on.

The second mistake is that within a given game, the outcomes of individual plays are correlated. Good plays in the first quarter are correlated with good plays in the fourth quarter. That might be "momentum," it might be luck, it might be strategy, or it might be something else. But the result is that the distributions of how well or badly a team might play on a given day have "fat tails": extremely good or extremely bad outcomes over an entire game are more likely than we imagine based on the accumulation of likelihoods that any play at random would be successful. What that means is this: If the roll of the dice indicates that Arizona State is going to win the game, it's not unlikely that they're going to dominate (like they did) rather than win close. In fact, I admitted to this very mistake at the top of this column when I said I had thought games like this were behind us.

Fortunately, the "Fire Smith" crowd never learns too much from any single game. They never seem to learn anything no matter how many games they watch. Well, except they learn how they were right about needing to #FIRESMITH.

I can't decide if I think this is a good time or a bad time for a bye. On one hand, there are some things that need fixing. And one possible benefit of this loss is sort of re-focusing the team. An extra week is good for those things. On the other hand, marinating in a loss, rather than getting back on the field as ASAP as possible may not be the best way to spend the week. What do you think?

Brad checks with the receptionist

Well, first off, I think you spent a lot of time lecturing me on things I already know. But, uh, thanks.

The other thing I hate about Smith is that he never lets Chris Petersen have any say in the important offensive decisions. Seriously man, Petersen is the head coach. I think it's only fair he gets some input on the offense, right? Let him call a token play each game, like the team did with a "lucky fan" at the spring game a few years ago.

Firing Smith =/= change in the offense. It means Chris Petersen will make a fifth offensive coordinator hire, one that history suggests will look a lot like....Jonathan Smith.

The one (maybe) more knowledgeable fan that's sometimes in Seattle - Mike Holmgren - has agreed rather profusely with Millen on the particular point of assessing play calling. I don't necessarily disagree with people that want to run the ball more on a consistent basis. I think it's a good plan, but it discounts the obvious - Chris Petersen has a very specific vision for this offense. It involves passing the ball first, and running second. Opinions are just that, and a change in it likely comes with a change in the head man, not the coordinator. Unless the head man changes his philosophy on his own, in which case the offensive coordinator will follow suit within about a third of a second.

Yes. Randomness. I'd also add Occam's Razor (ASU may or may not "stolen signs", but that wasn't why they won; they didn't plug every single play Jonathan Smith has ever called into some massive equation to "diagnose his tendencies," and they most likely didn't actually know Washington's audibles - the answer is much simpler than that, like "Always drop into coverage when Jake Browning audibles" for example).

Recency bias really hurts our ability to do a season-long evaluation. That, and old adages survive to those impressive ages because they're true more often than they aren't. In this case, you're never really as good or as bad as you think.

This past weekend was just like the weekend last year when Clemson, Washington, Auburn, and Texas A&M - all in the top 10 - lost on the same day. Do these things actually happen in bunches as often as it seems? As an aside, how many times do you think Jonathan Smith got fired that day? Was it more or fewer than the number of times he was fired over the weekend? Same question, but with benching Jake Browning....

With a lot of coaches, including past UW coaches, I'd want to see the team get right back on the field. I think Petersen figures out a way to use the time to his advantage. Maybe that means nudging one or two of the key seniors to call a players-only meeting, or sponsoring some sort of team-building stuff. I don't know, and I really hate how corny I've gotten with regards to Petersen, "trust Petersen", OKG, etc. nonsense, but it really works. The man is simply on point with how he runs his program. Get some rest, get healthier, get the coaches out recruiting, and I'm pretty confident the week off right now is productive - and it's not entirely because I want to wear Petersen's letterman's jacket and carry his books.

Go Dawgs!