The Washington Huskies narrowly escaped the shores of Montlake with the win Saturday night, scoring 10 points in the final 58 seconds to beat the Utah Utes 33-30. The passing game was the highlight of the contest for both teams, with Jake Browning and Tyler Huntley combining for four touchdowns and more than 600 yards. Despite the excitement that Huskies fans felt as Tristan Vizcaino’s game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights, the Dawgs’ dreams of a repeat Pac-12 title died when California lost to Stanford earlier on Saturday; now, Washington is playing for a chance to spoil the Washington State Cougars’ chance to win their program’s first division title.
Rushing Offense: B
The Huskies noticeably struggled to control the line of scrimmage in this game, which is reflected in Myles Gaskin’s underwhelming stat line of 17 carries for 52 yards. Fortunately for the Dawgs, Gaskin also tallied two touchdowns, including the pivotal score with 0:58 remaining to play that allowed Washington to tie the ball game at 30-all. Utah tallied four tackles for loss, down from their season average of 5.1 coming into the game, while Washington’s 32 carries for 123 yards represents the team’s second-lowest total in both figures against conference opponents. In other words, neither team was able to find much of an edge in this phase of the game, at least until Gaskin scored his game-tying touchdown with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter.
Passing Offense: A-
Jake Browning played arguably the most efficient game of his season against Utah, completing 26 of 35 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns against zero interceptions. His 10.1 yards per attempt metric represents the second time he’s eclipsed the double-digit mark in conference play, and his passing yards amounts to his season high. Browning’s detractors will point toward a couple of bad decisions in particular — he turned the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter on a failed scramble, despite having two open receivers in the end zone, and there were at least two throws that sailed out of range of an open Dante Pettis — but those errors are easily outweighed by his performance on Washington’s final two drives, in which Browning completed seven of 11 passes for 108 yards in 81 seconds of play time to set up Washington’s game-winning 10 unanswered points.
Along the offensive line, Luke Wattenberg got beat on a speed rush that resulted in a sack-fumble on Washington’s first drive, but the Dawgs recovered the ball and yielded just one more sack for the remainder of the game. Running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman scored both of the team’s receiving touchdowns, while Dante Pettis, Andre Baccellia, Aaron Fuller and Will Dissly all hauled in multiple catches.
Rushing Defense: A-
Washington’s front seven was characteristically dominant against the Utes, holding running back Zack Moss to 55 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Tyler Huntley found some success in carrying the ball 22 times for 72 yards (excluding sacks) and one touchdown, but the Huskies owned the line of scrimmage in this one, tallying nine tackles for loss for 39 yards. In fact, Utah’s longest run of the day was Mitch Wishnowsky’s 19-yard gain on a fake punt; against UW’s run defense, Tyler Huntley gained 11 yards on two separate rushes, but nothing worse than that.
Among the Huskies, eight different players contributed to Washington’s tackles for loss and sacks totals, with Ryan Bowman pacing the team at 2.5 TFLs. Further demonstrating that Saturday’s showing was fully a team effort is the fact that eight different Huskies earned at least five tackles.
Passing Defense: C-
Washington’s shallow depth in the secondary was on full display Saturday, as Utah put up arguably the best passing performance the Huskies have allowed in 2017. Tyler Huntley put up some of his best numbers of the season, completing 19 of 27 passes for 293 yards, and earning two touchdowns against one (very ugly) interception by Taylor Rapp. His 10.9 yards per attempt represents Washington’s worst performance of the season.
That number was made possible because Washington allowed Utah to gain big chunks of yardage with alarming regularity. Huntley completed eight passes of 15 yards or longer, and connected with seven different receivers on those completions. In that light, it seems like a silver lining that the Huskies allowed just two receiving touchdowns, both to the 6-3, 212 lb. Raelon Singleton.
Special Teams: C-
If not for Tristan Vizcaino’s game-winning field goal as time expired, this grade would be dramatically worse. In a word, Washington’s special teams performance Saturday was dreadful. The highlights included Utah’s first-quarter sneak attack onside kick and Mitch Wishnowsky’s fourth-and-17 fake punt conversion, but Tristan Vizcaino’s missed first-quarter PAT and 30-yard third-quarter field goal attempt are also deserving of attention.
On the positive side, Salvon Ahmed and Jomon Dotson averaged 23 yards per kickoff return, and Dante Pettis had a great 18-yard punt return to set up Washington with a 32-yard field that culminated in a touchdown. Punter Joel Whitford had the best day of any Husky special teams player, pinning the Utes at their 5-yard line on his first attempt, and booting the ball for 52 yards on his second.
Washington’s defensive coaches are fielding a much different group of player personnel than they expected at the start of the season, and it’s hard to knock coaches like Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake too much for the attendant struggles Washington has experienced. That being said, it’s unacceptable for any secondary that’s recruited as well as Washington has over the past few years to allow nearly 11 yards per attempt and give up seven completions of 19 yards or more.
Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith called a characteristically balanced game against the Utes (35 passes, 32 rushes) that kept Utah’s competent defense unable to key on any one particular aspect of the Husky offense. Moreover, his coaching of Jake Browning was on full display late in the fourth quarter, when Browning completed five consecutive passes (after missing his first three attempts) to drive Washington to the two-yard-line, and the wildcat formation that delivered Gaskin into the end zone uncontested was executed to perfection.
The Huskies also drew just three penalties on the day, including a head-scratching offside penalty against Byron Murphy, playing in his first game since the Sept. 16 contest against Fresno State. Jojo McIntosh was ejected early in the second quarter for targeting; hopefully, the rest of the secondary can learn a lesson from that experience alongside him, as the secondary’s play will be key this week against the Wazzu air raid offense.
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