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Film Study: Slow start, dynamite third quarter; what else is new?

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It was 42-0 when UW cleared the bench. When will this team start playing better?

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Oregon State game was the first time in quite a while that Husky fans were able to complain about a 24-point win in Pac-12 conference play. That effort and the disappointment it engendered was a sign that we had a team good enough to take for granted.

The game Saturday was similar in the first half. The Huskies struggled to consistently move the ball against a motivated Beaver defense, with virtually every member of the offense that saw the field contributing at some point to the inconsistency. The second half was an entirely different story, as the offense scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions, and it was only a tipped pass resulting in a Jake Browning interception that prevented the likelihood of a perfect six-for-six.

In between the tears-and-then-joy of the offense, the defense was its usual dominant self, allowing the Beavers a total of 105 yards of offense prior to a garbage time scoring drive when the coaching staff was in clear-the-bench mode late in the fourth.

What went wrong in the first half that went oh-so-right in the second? How did the defense manage to do it again? Let’s turn to the film to find out.

2nd and 7:

Simply put, this play should’ve been a touchdown.

The offensive line shows power blocking, with left guard Jesse Sosebee pulling to his right. Whether this play had an actual run option or if the run look was designed to influence the linebackers isn’t entirely clear, but the fact that all of the linemen hold up a the line of scrimmage suggest the latter (watch Nick Harris and Sosebee in particular; both appear to “stop” at the line of scrimmage).

The two receivers at the bottom of the screen are both working routes to the outside to pull the coverage away from the middle of the field. Dante Pettis has a cornerback over him, and seven yards off the ball. There’s an outside linebacker who could potentially be covering an inside route. But Pettis is the primary read the entire way.

Pettis runs something like a skinny post; he comes at the outside linebacker, and then takes his route straight up the field. It’s certainly possible that this was predetermined by the play call. It’s also possible that Pettis had options after the snap to adjust his route based on the defense, and if that’s the case, he really doesn’t make the best choice given what he sees. The outside linebacker is clearly “biting” on the power run fake, leaving a corner that’s well off the ball to pick up Pettis in man coverage. There’s no safety on that side of the field, so the most open route for Pettis is to continue into the middle on the slant. Browning appears to begin a throwing motion at the same time that Pettis turns his eyes away from the ball and looks back upfield; it’s possible that Browning expected Pettis to read the slant, but then had to wait to see what Pettis was actually going to do.

It’s also possible that that’s all malarkey, and Browning simply bricked this play both in his mental (not throwing the ball) and physical (a poor pass) execution. And even if Browning and Pettis weren’t on the same page with the route sight adjustment, there isn’t a great excuse for missing on the throw. Browning had time, and a clear line of sight.

Had he been able to pull the ball down, this wouldn’t have been the most spectacular catch Pettis has ever made. A nice one? Yes. But the timing of the throw combined with its inaccuracy is what made his attempt look so awkward.

2nd and 7:

At first blush, this play appears to be an example of Browning holding the ball too long and taking an unnecessary sack, but there’s a little more going on.

Browning takes the snap and after a play-action fake to Myles Gaskin, takes a half roll-out to his right. This play appears to be a designed throw-back (left) to Gaskin, but with a few mistakes that doom it.

The first appears to be with Hunter Bryant and Trey Adams. They’re both blocking the same man - sort of - as Oregon State shows blitz. You can see Bryant making an attempt to get down field, likely to the block he should’ve been making, near the end of the play as Adams stands there with nothing to do.

Next is Jesse Sosebee. He makes contact with his defender, but a close look shows the Oregon State player grabbing Sosebee’s arm or jersey and pulling him off balance. As Sosebee tries to recover, Coleman Shelton’s help actually further knocks Sosebee off balance and allows the defender to escape.

Browning turns to try and locate Gaskin, but no Husky is exactly where he was expected to be, and Oregon State has effectively killed the play. Browning is inside the tackle box, so he can’t just launch the ball out-of-bounds or he’ll be called for grounding. The headiest play he could’ve made here was to throw the ball at Will Dissly’s feet to avoid the sack.

4th and 10 (Pre Snap:

After a first half of offense that was marred by drive-killing mistakes (and no Husky was immune), UW opened the 3rd quarter by quickly moving down the field before —guess what— stalling. Here we go again. Now with no viable kicker, Chris Petersen elects to go for it on 4th and 10.

Defenses generally start to show what they are planning to bring on a blitz when the play clock gets inside 10 seconds. Oregon State waited, but it wasn’t long enough; they finally telegraph the inside blitz. In six seconds of real time, Browning identifies the pressure, gets a new play called, moves his running back, and gets the play off. As the ball is snapped, you can see that OSU brings exactly what they were showing.

With the blitz coming, Browning clearly sees that Quinten Pounds has man coverage at the top of the screen, with lots of room to operate. But instead of throwing the ball, Browning’s audible is entirely reminiscent of Permian High’s Mike Winchell on the final drive from “Friday Night Lights” (He’s gonna run it right down their throats!) and hands off to Lavon Coleman on a read play to the offense’s right.

The right side of the offensive line seals the edge with ease, and Coleman is into the second level. Pounds has two defenders near him and doesn’t make a terrific effort on his block, but Coleman uses Pounds as a cutback angle, causing the outside Oregon State defender to run into Pounds. Without that nice little step inside, Coleman is likely stopped a yard short.

A gutsy call that fans will love because it worked, and it illustrates the value of a QB that never needs to look to the sideline for a new play.

2nd and 10:

The Huskies bring Hunter Bryant in motion toward Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius, and are looking to get him open on a wheel route up the sideline from a trips formation.

At the snap, Browning turns and gives a shoulder pump fake to Dante Pettis, who is running a bubble screen as a decoy. The fake works on two of the three defenders on the trips side of the formation, but unfortunately, not the one assigned to Bryant.

Bryant is well covered, but Brayden Lenius is wide open and has sat down in the middle of the field. This is a simple throw for Browning to make, and a sure first down. Instead, Browning either doesn’t see Lenius, or sees him but elects to throw to an open Pettis on the sideline in hopes of Pettis turning a short pass into a long gain. Unfortunately, the throw which should have led Pettis down the sideline is floated behind him, and he trips as he’s making the catch.

Pettis likely would’ve been able to beat the outside linebacker closing in on him. And if Hunter Bryant reacts well to the play and turned his route into a block, Pettis may have been able to make a big chunk of yardage up the sideline - more than Lenius likely would’ve gotten after making the catch at a standstill. But there’s an incredibly strong case to be made that Browning simply should’ve taken the easy yards here. Lenius has 12 yards easy, and probably could’ve turned it into 20+ if Jake hits him on the run when he first looks his way.

3rd and 14:

This is another reason why we love Jake Browning; he flushes that last play from memory (both his and ours) by making a huge play on the very next snap.

It’s 3rd and 14, and Oregon State is in a nickel defense playing a four-deep (“quarters”) zone. It’s a defense designed specifically to prevent the kind of play OSU surrenders to Dante Pettis (lined up on the left side of the offense as a flanker, outside of split end Brayden Lenius). The deep safety over Lenius and Pettis reads Browning’s eyes at the snap and sees Lenius cross his face. Browning in turn plays the safety like a marionette. Either he totally buys Jake Browning’s pump fake, or he thought he saw someone drop a $100 bill on the far hash.

The true beauty of this play is really the route by Pettis. Ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage he gives a plant move that sucks up the remaining cushion the cornerback had given him, and allows him to easily work inside and then back out on this beautiful fade route. Nice throw from Browning, and Pettis victimizes a freshman once again.

3rd and 7:

Great awareness and hustle by a number of Huskies on this 3rd and 7 screen pass. The defense is selling blitz, with inside linebacker lining up on the outside (defensive left), giving the Huskies five men up front and one inside linebacker (Ben Burr-Kirven).

First: Greg Gaines. He reads the offensive line releasing to set up the screen, and instead of pursuing the quarterback, looks around to find the screen receiver. That’s great awareness, and he will be rewarded for it at the end of the play.

Second: The two defensive backs on the defense’s right, Myles Bryant and Austin Joyner. Both are in man coverage (with safety help), but realize they’re being blocked, and work back to the play. Bryant avoids a lumbering offensive lineman and makes first contact. Joyner comes in low (and needs to keep his head up) to help on the tackle.

Finally: Ben Burr-Kirven manages to slip through the wash to pursue the play from behind. For whatever reason, none of the four potential Beaver blockers in the middle of the field put great importance on blocking the one Husky defender in the middle. But credit BBK, he sees this play well before the ball is thrown and starts working his way to the receiver while eluding everyone. Burr-Kirven tackles both the man and the ball, stripping it out. Gaines, hustling down the field, is there to fall on it.

This is an example of the good things that happen when you just play smart football. Burr-Kirven goes for the solid hit and wrap-up. And as he wraps the ball carrier, his arm finds the ball, forcing it out. It’s also an “A” for effort from Joyner, but hopefully someone tells him to keep his eyes up; ducking like that is a good way to take a knee to the head.

2nd and 10:

The Huskies are in a Cover 2, which gives the defensive backs on the line of scrimmage a little bit more latitude to peek on a play instead of playing coverage since they have more help over the top.

This is a great read by Austin Joyner. While it looks like he simply sniffs out this bubble screen, what actually tips him off is when the two other receivers in the trips formation on his side of the field immediately look to block instead of running routes. A receiver can’t block beyond the line of scrimmage A) unless the ball is thrown behind the line of scrimmage, or B) a pass beyond the line of scrimmage is caught (you may remember Dante Pettis getting called for offensive pass interference against Rutgers for blocking on a pass beyond the line of scrimmage before it was caught on the first pass play of the season). Joyner has the time to peek because of the coverage, sees the blocking, and knows a screen or running play is heading his way (most likely the screen). He slips inside and goes low against a 210-pound running back.

Had Joyner not made this play, Myles Bryant or Ben Burr-Kirven most likely would have.

This is just fun to watch, even if no educational value.

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After moving the length of the field on the first offensive drive, the Husky offense was imperfect enough times the rest of the first half to prevent the team from scoring. Credit is certainly due to Oregon State’s defense, but there were small problems in execution from every unit. A missed cut by a back, a blown assignment on the line, a bad route, or a quarterback that just wasn’t as decisive as he needs to be.

Thankfully, the defense brought its “A” game, and the Huskies weren’t actually threatened prior to being able to regroup. The second half was an efficient, effective, point-producing effort from the offense, and continued dominance from the D.

On to Cal, who is clearly rated too damn high. And a home game under the stars.