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What We Learned: UCLA

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The Huskies kept the ball on the ground and thumped UCLA 44-23.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington has had an odd time with UCLA the past 17 years. Before Saturday, Washington had only beat UCLA twice since the 2000 Rose Bowl season. Sark did it in 2010 and somehow Willingham got it done in 2006. To physically dominate the Bruins such as the Huskies did felt good. Really good.

The defense was as swarming and smothering as ever (what a game from Vita Vea!), and you wouldn’t have known that UW’s top two CBs were out injured with the way the defensive backs played against Josh Rosen. The passing attack is still flummoxed but the run game vs. UCLA was efficient, explosive, and punishing.

Time to dive in a little deeper.

Jake Browning is off-kilter

I’ve been talking about the sputtering pass game a lot in this series, but mostly focusing on the receivers. However, Browning made a few very questionable decisions against UCLA that cannot be ignored, even though he’s throwing to an inexperienced and banged up WR corps.

We’ve known the strengths and limitations of Browning after the past two and a half seasons of play, but something just seems off with his game right now. His performance against ASU can be criticized, but in fairness nothing on the offense was working. Against UCLA, the Huskies established the run early and often, so it is a little bit troubling not to be able to generate anything in the air. It’s important to note, however, that he only had 11 attempts all game, and perhaps with more opportunities he would have made some great throws that would erase these mistakes.

His pass into triple/quadruple coverage early was ill advised at best and probably should have resulted in a UCLA interception. He made another bad choice compounded by a worse throw on a wheel route to Myles Gaskin which was picked off. Lastly, his decision to try and outsmart the defense and keep the ball on a zone read in the 2nd quarter was poor and the Huskies settled for a field goal on the drive. These are mistakes and throws we don’t see too often from the experienced junior.

It wasn’t all bad however: Jake completed 72% of his attempts for 8.91 YPA, efficient as ever. With the game plan clearly to run the ball all day, Jake did what he was supposed to do, but his 3 mistakes were pretty terrible. With such a strong running game designed to make the QB feel comfortable, it’s difficult to understand why he made such odd decisions against the Bruins. Something just seems more off with his game than usual.

Field goal kicking shoring up

Tristan Vizcaino always had a strong leg, evidenced by his owning of the kick off duties the past 2 seasons. But something happened after he went 3/3 on field goals against Rutgers (including one from 42 yards) and his kicking became inconsistent. Petersen has always maintained that the kickers, Tristan in particular, look great in practice and hit most of their attempts across distances. Whether it was nerves, or a slight technique change, Vizcaino nailed all three of his attempts against UCLA. All were within 31 yards, but were drilled confidentially between the uprights, and you can’t ask for more than that. You get the feeling all he needed to do was bury a kick to find his form again. Suffice it to say, the kicking game is still alive and well, kicking.

It’s hard to say with all the swings in the kicking game what the “norm” actually is, but it does feel like field goals are finding some level of consistency now in Vizcaino. Similar to free throw shooting, a crucial part of field goal kicking is mental. He had some shaky moments earlier in the season, but it seems like Vizcaino is finding his best form again from the Rutgers game.

Unsung heroes on defense keep getting it done

Vita Vea, Greg Gaines, Azeem Victor, Taylor Rapp...just some of the big names (that are still healthy...) on Washington’s defense. They’re all getting it done, but it’s also the names we didn’t expect coming through in a big way.

Tevis Bartlett continues to quietly have a really good year - in 8 games he’s got 9.5 TLF, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. He had 1 TFL and 3 solo tackles against UCLA. Without any sort of dominant individual edge rusher the Huskies are 8th nationally in sacks with 26, and Tevis Bartlett’s play contributes to that team effort.

Is Myles Bryant considered an unsung hero? He’s the CB most opposing teams target, and he gets beat occasionally, but the sophomore walk on has been everything for the Husky secondary, filling in admirably wherever needed. He’s 2nd on the team in both total and assisted tackles, and has 4 TFLs to his name. He’s a trusted player by the coaches and your classic “plays bigger than his size” type.

Other players can certainty be called out in this category, but these stuck out to me against UCLA.

The union of star players with less heralded names on this defense is producing incredible results overall. They’re leading the nation in defensive yards per play. They’re #2 in total defense, at 236.3 yards (a whole .3 more than Alabama) per game. Also, #1 in yards per completion defense. What else...#2 total rush defense, #11 in 3rd down conversion defense, and #2 in overall defensive S&P. To be clear, those are national ranks.