The Washington Huskies got off to a slow start Saturday against the Oregon Ducks, trailing 3-0 after the first 15 minutes, but turned on the jets in the second and third quarter en route to a decisive 38-3 victory. Oregon’s strong start to the game — 118 yards on 22 plays in their first two series — ran headlong into a brick wall when Ben Burr-Kirven forced Oregon running back Kani Benoit to fumble inside the red zone, and Dante Pettis destroyed any sense of momentum the Ducks may have caught when he returned his NCAA-record ninth career punt for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. With this win, Washington continues to control its destiny in the Pac-12 North, and by so doing would seemingly be on a collision course with the USC Trojans for this year’s conference championship.
Rushing Offense: A
Myles Gaskin turned in the latest bell cow performance of his career Saturday, earning 123 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Lavon Coleman had more trouble finding his footing, picking up just 31 yards on 12 carries, but he found success in the passing game (more on that in a minute). Salvon Ahmed continues to show himself as Washington’s running back of the future, breaking two tackles and outrunning a trio of Duck defenders on his way to tallying the game’s final touchdown from 58 yards out.
The Oregon defense came into this game averaging 7.6 tackles for loss per game; against the Huskies, the Ducks registered five TFLs for an inconsequential six yards. Perhaps not coincidentally, redshirt freshman Luke Wattenberg started and played much of the game at the left tackle position, in a configuration of the offensive line that we might see quite a bit more of going forward.
Salvon Ahmed. Speedy.#PurpleReign pic.twitter.com/DrxqJs53de— UW Football (@UW_Football) November 5, 2017
Passing Offense: A-
Jake Browning turned in one of his better performances of the year against the Ducks, averaging an impressive 10.7 yards per attempt and two touchdowns versus one deep ball interception that, while ugly and unnecessary, didn’t hamstring the Husky defense too badly. (Oregon took possession at their own 19-yard line with 34 seconds left in the first half after the turnover.) Aaron Fuller made a pair of a wonderful back-to-back catches in the first quarter, the first being negated by a holding penalty, and Dante Pettis found the end zone for the first time as a receiver since his three-touchdown day against Oregon State on Sept. 30 by way of a 47-yard bullseye from Browning.
Best of all, Lavon Coleman gave Duck fans everywhere horrifying flashbacks to Michael Dyer when he managed to keep his knee from hitting the ground and found the end zone on a 31-yard reception. And perhaps most importantly, the offensive line kept Browning’s jersey clean for the second consecutive week, meaning that the Huskies have not yielded a single sack after allowing five in the loss to Arizona State.
Browning ➡️ Fuller.— UW Football (@UW_Football) November 5, 2017
Dawgs are in business.#PurpleReign pic.twitter.com/b5XBVxoDns
Rushing Defense: B+
Oregon was determined to run the ball into the teeth of the Husky defense Saturday, either because of A) Royce Freeman’s talent, B) Braxton Burmeister’s inability to challenge the Huskies as a passer, or C) some combination thereof. Whatever the reason, Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense stiffened to the challenge and kept Oregon’s rushing defense from scoring for just the second time all season. As you might expect, Freeman’s numbers jump off of the page — 24 carries for 122 yards — but it remains one of the season’s biggest mysteries that he has only found the end zone one time during conference play.
As usual, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines consistently disrupted Oregon’s control of the line of scrimmage, leading to seven Husky tackles for loss at the cost of 30 yards to the Duck offense. Braxton Burmeister had his moments of giving the UW defense trouble on read-option plays — he picked up 55 yards on 12 carries, excluding sacks — but Washington’s linebackers, in particular Ben Burr-Kirven, were almost always well positioned to ensure that Oregon’s offense would not get an opportunity to pick up yards on chunk plays. As a result, the Ducks earned 12 yards or more on just five plays throughout the game.
Passing Defense: A
In what is quickly becoming a recurring theme for this section of the “Grading the Game” series, Washington’s starting cornerbacks Myles Bryant and Austin Joyner — who, may we remind you, were third-string players at best in 2016 — continue to lock down their positions, holding Oregon’s (admittedly anemic) passing offense under Braxton Burmeister to seven completions on 13 attempts for 31 yards and an interception. In fact, Oregon’s longest compleition on the day was a mere nine yards; for comparison, six of Browning’s 11 completions went at least that far. Burmeister’s figure of 2.4 yards per attempt is almost certainly among the worst performances against the Husky defense in a generation, and I’ll have to do some digging in the days to come to ascertain just how bad it truly was for the Ducks.
In addition to the secondary’s outstanding day, Ryan Bowman joined Taylor Rapp in registering a single sack apiece, and just four different Ducks caught the ball throughout the evening. All in all, it was one of the most dominant statistical performances we’re likely to see from the Huskies for quite some time.
Special Teams: A-
All hail Dante Pettis, King of the Punt Returns.
HISTORY!— UW Football (@UW_Football) November 5, 2017
DANTE PETTIS TO THE !#PurpleReign pic.twitter.com/nI4gRpAZJK
Oregon head coach Willie Taggart told his team’s beat reporters that the Ducks would “absolutely” kick the ball to Pettis on Saturday, and shortly into the second quarter, Dante showed the Ducks just how foolish that decision was. He now owns the NCAA’s career punt return for touchdown record with nine scores to his tally, and his four returns this year is one shy of tying the single-season record. More importantly, his punt return was arguably the key turning point of the game, at which Washington’s eventual victory went from a probability to a near certainty.
Alas, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Washington’s special teams. After posting a perfect eight-for-eight place kicking performance last week against UCLA, Tristan Vizcaino pushed his first field goal attempt of the day wide right from 45 yards out. That’s hardly an automatic distance for a typical college kicker, of course, but it would have been a nice confidence booster for Tristan to boot a challenging field goal through the uprights, especially after last week’s encouraging show. To his credit, Vizcaino later nailed a 34-yard kick to tie the game at 3-3, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Washington can probably rely on its kickers for PATs and field goal attempts within 35 yards, and likely not much more than that.
Don’t lie: At the end of the first quarter, just about every Husky fan gave at least one nervous glance at the scoreboard that read 3-0 in favor of the Ducks, and thought, “Oh no, not this again.” Indeed, it remains a mystery how Washington’s defense — which only yields 11.1 points per game — has allowed opponents to score on five of the season’s nine opening drives. That being said, it’s far easier to swallow those slow starts when the end result is Oregon’s offense being held scoreless for 52 minutes and Washington scoring 38 unanswered points.
Much like Peter Petrelli kept repeating the mantra “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” I imagine Chris Petersen spent last week telling himself, “Stop Royce Freeman, stop the Ducks.” (I’m probably dating myself pretty badly with that reference, aren’t I? Too bad. Go watch season one of Heroes ASAP if you haven’t already, then pretend the rest of the seasons don’t exist. You’ll thank me later.) Freeman is Oregon’s one tried-and-true weapon, and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski again showed why he’s the best defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 by adopting a bend-but-don’t-break approach that kept him, and the rest of the Ducks, out of the end zone.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jonathan Smith played a masterful game of chess against the Ducks, displayed most clearly on Myles Gaskin’s fake reverse that fooled half the Duck defense into clearing a path for his 34-yard touchdown. In addition, Washington was hit with just four penalties for a very manageable 35 yards, though one personal foul against Zeke Turner negated a long fumble return by Keishawn Bierria.
What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against the Ducks?
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