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Film Study: “I thought Ducks were good in the rain” Edition

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Someone tell Willie Taggart that the forward pass is still legal.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to play a little game here, Husky fans. It’s called “You know you have a good defense when...” At the end of each statement, in your head, add “but the opposition rushed for almost 250 yards.” If you can make it through the full list without feeling a little foolish, well...

You know you have a good defense when:

  • You hold your rival to a field goal, their first time without a touchdown in a decade.
  • You beat your rival by 35 points.
  • After an opening drive field goal, you pitch a shutout the rest of the game.
  • You allow your opponent just over 160 yards of total offense in the final three quarters.
  • Your opponent has seven first downs in the final three quarters.
  • Your opponent runs two (!) plays in your territory in the final three quarters - from your 48.

Yeah, but those 248 rushing yards...

Outside of Oregon’s first two drives and a few anticlimactic carries in garbage time, the Ducks averaged just over three yards per carry. And it’s not like the Huskies played the run any stronger than they normally do, even once it was crystal clear the Ducks had no threat of a forward passing game.

The offense turned in big plays through the air and on the ground throughout the night, and only a missed field goal and late “goal line stand” from Oregon’s defense kept the final margin from creeping into the 40s for a second consecutive year.

With 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Dante Pettis staked his claim for the greatest punt returner in college football history with his record-setting ninth career return for a touchdown. After five games without one, hopefully the calls to bench him will die down, at least until Stanford this Friday night.

To the tape:

3rd and 4:

The defense made a couple of mental errors early in the game that either allowed the Ducks a nice play or two, or prolonged a drive. This is one of those plays, and fairly representative of the small mistakes the defense made on those first two drives.

This play is Oregon’s first 3rd down attempt. 90% of it goes well enough to get a stop.

The Ducks come out in a five wide receiver (3x2) with trips to the offense’s right. Royce Freeman motions into the backfield from the bottom of the screen, and the timing of his motion and the snap is such that the Ducks are almost running a “power read” (instead of a zone read - note the right guard pulling on the play) with fly sweep motion. On this play, if the quarterback hands off, it’s a fly sweep. If he elects to keep the ball, he’s running a power play to the offense’s left.

The read for quarterback Braxton Burmeister is Buck Benning Potoa’e (right side of defensive line), who is left unblocked. Burmeister correctly reads that Potoa’e is playing the running back instead of crashing hard to the ball, and pulls the ball to run the power play. Inside linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven have both read the play and flowed to the hole. Oregon’s pulling guard won’t be able to block both, and one is likely to make the tackle short of the first down, so Burmeister cuts back to the other side of the formation.

Burmeister’s first two steps toward the hole have sucked outside linebacker Tevis Bartlett into the middle of the play - Bartlett doesn’t have the ability to contain his edge of the line of scrimmage. As Bartlett sees his error and tries to recover, he’s taken out by Oregon’s right tackle, who was sealing the back side of the play.

Cornerback Austin Joyner comes in low to try and make a play, but has already committed to diving at the ball carrier’s legs, and can’t break down to react to Burmeister’s cut. Free safety Ezekiel Turner and Ben Burr-Kirven eventually make the stop, but not before a gain of nine and a new set of downs. This kind of mistake is most definitely not “typical” for Bartlett (or any Husky defender for that matter). Whether it was nerves, adrenaline, or just a few plain old-fashioned mistakes, the Huskies’ defense didn’t fully settle in until the second quarter, and the Ducks put together a couple of decent drives that didn’t net many points. After that, it was huntin’ season.

(For a laugh, watch Oregon’s inside slot receiver go downfield to block.)

2nd and 6:

This play represents about the most “extra” effort Washington put into defending Oregon’s run all night long, and it consists of a blitz from nickel back Taylor Rapp from the defense’s left. Prior to his cheating into blitz position, the Huskies had a five-man front -- pretty typical for them all game.

The Ducks pull both their right guard and right tackle on this power play, which should give Royce Freeman two blockers as he makes his way to his left.

Fortunately for the Huskies, they are in the perfect scheme to stop this play - that is, they have Vita Vea in the game. Vea steps to the inside at the snap, and Oregon’s left tackle is blocking down on him. That means Oregon’s blocker has both his own momentum moving in to the block, plus Vea’s moving away from it. This should be a very simple win for the offensive lineman every single time. Instead, Vea has enough power to blow the tackle backward and into the path of the pulling linemen, slowing down the play.

Tevis Bartlett takes a bit of a gamble here, that pays off (and the only thing coaches love more than consistently perfect technique is their players abandoning it at exactly the right moment). He sees the pulling linemen coming at him; the “proper” technique is to stay parallel to the line of scrimmage, and shuck off the lineman with his inside shoulder while maintaining his position. Instead, Bartlett reads that the guard (first lineman through) has turned too far upfield and isn’t in position to make a solid block, so Bartlett knifes past him and back into the congestion caused by Vea, further slowing down the play and causing the back to cut into the middle of the field instead of following his blocking. Vea is then able to slip off what’s left of the block attempt on him, and meet Freeman. Bartlett also fights his way back to assist.

Two great plays here.

2nd and 10:

This is just a simple inside zone run to the left side of the formation. It’s fairly well-blocked; the line wins every one-on-one battle pretty decisively. But there just isn’t an obvious hole opening up as Myles Gaskin gets the ball and heads toward the line. It happens sometimes.

Fortunately, Myles Gaskin has the quickness of a cat coupled with the patience of a saint, and the vision of someone fresh off Lasik. He initially heads left, then makes a jump cut to his right. At the very last moment, he sees left tackle Luke Wattenberg and left guard Andrew Kirkland open a small crease, and cuts all the way back left and outside. From there, it’s a foot race with the itty bitty guys, and geometry pays off for the Ducks. But not before Gaskin is 20 yards down the field - one of eight plays the Husky offense generated of 20+ yards on Saturday (on only 58 snaps).

3rd and 2:

Gold stars to absolutely everybody associated with this play.

The Huskies bring in three tight ends here - two on the right side (Drew Sample is the H-back, and the tight end is Jacob Kizer). On the left side, Will Dissly is at tight end, and the lone receiver, Dante Pettis, is in a tight slot formation almost like an H-back. The Huskies do two things that help make the Oregon defense unaware that Pettis is essentially one of the tight ends. 1) They hurry into this formation and snap it quickly; 2) Pettis bends way over in his stance with both arms on his thighs blocking his jersey number from the defense. Cornerback Arrion Springs (#1) doesn’t seem to realize that it’s Pettis until it’s too late.

The play action “sell” on this play is great, from the line stepping left in zone blocking, to Browning’s reach on the handoff, to Coleman looking at his blocking. Oregon’s linebackers read the play action late, and instead of rushing, drop back into coverage on receivers that aren’t even there.

The only receivers out in the route (at least initially) are Dissly and Pettis from the offense’s left. They widen, and then cross, with Pettis on the post and Dissly running a corner. This play was a touchdown the second the free safety bit on Dissly’s route, as Pettis already has inside position and more than half the field to work with. Browning could’ve lead Pettis to the sideline more, but has enough arm to throw a 50-yard rope over the defense.

A pretty gutsy call on 3rd and two. Excellent execution all the way around.

2nd and 8:

If Brayden Lenius makes his block on this play, Myles Gaskin is in a foot race with the free safety for the end zone. As it was, the attention Salvon Ahmed merits from the defense allows for a huge cutback and big play nonetheless.

The Huskies pull both Nick Harris and Kaleb McGary on this power run. First, though, Ahmed comes behind the formation in fly sweep motion; as soon as he crosses the quarterback, the left side of the defense shifts left to defend against a bubble screen to Ahmed. Harris swallows the defensive end, and McGary follows behind and has both the linebacker (#18) and corner (#1) screened. Unfortunately, Lenius completely misses his lunging block attempt on the DB (#2). Gaskin sees congestion, and begins to cut all the way back across the field.

The inside linebacker away from the play (Oregon’s best defender #35 Troy Dye) has moved out with Ahmed, and is out of control as he closes back to the middle of the field to attempt to tackle Gaskin, who easily eludes him and continues outside and upfield. The receivers away from the play see Gaskin coming, and Fuller makes a reasonably nice block. As does Pettis. But Pettis sees Ahmed hustling down field and releases his man to Ahmed and tries to find another defender. He ultimately can’t quite make it, but that’s great awareness from Dante Pettis.

The first thing you see from this angle is that the Huskies are one decent block away from watching Gaskin do this thing up the left sideline. Instead, we get another look at just how damn shifty this man is.

2nd and 10:

One thing you’ll see defenses do against teams that run a lot of “read” plays is to slant the defensive line away from the side the running back lines up before the snap. The reasoning is pretty simple - a read play requires a mesh point, and that means that the running back has to cross in front of the quarterback. The running back is most likely heading to the opposite side from which he started, and if the defense is assignment-sound—and stays home to force the handoff—the line is moving toward the ball carrier more often than not.

That’s what happens on this play (watch the first step - to the right - from Greg Gaines, Vita Vea, and Benning Potoa’e). Based on the left tackle’s first few steps, this is a stretch play, designed to go wide. Potoa’e follows him.

Royce Freeman sees that the outside run is a dead issue as soon as he gets the ball. The reason is the fact that Greg Gaines has both blown the left guard back two yards and worked himself free of the block. As Freeman looks to cut up the middle, he runs into his right tackle, who has also been blown backward two yards by Vita Vea. Freeman shows some strength in shaking off Vea’s arm tackle, but he’s then quickly swarmed under first by Connor O’Brien and Gaines, and then by Keishawn Bierria and Potoa’e, and last by D.J. Beavers and Austin Joyner. Had this gif continued, you’d see the ball boy and Chris Landon coming in for the final blows.

3rd and 12:

Sometimes, it’s nice to see supreme hustle rewarded.

It’s an obvious passing down, and the Huskies are showing blitz with both inside linebackers and nickel back Taylor Rapp. At the snap, both linebackers drop off, leaving a four-man rush.

Rapp doesn’t quite commit to a speed rush around the right tackle, so he’s forced to engage. After some nice hand fighting, he finds a crease back inside the lumbering tackle. The coverage downfield is, as usual, excellent. QB Braxton Burmeister feels the rush and tries to run wide. Rapp is now in full chase-mode, and eventually dives. If you look closely, you’ll notice he makes three swipes at the feet of Burmeister. It’s the second swipe (with the left arm) that clips the heel of the QB to bring him down for a big loss. Great effort by a terrific football player.

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Beating down Oregon two years in a row has Dawg fans feelin’ like...

This wet and cold Saturday night didn’t seem to have any effect on the men in purple and gold, as the Huskies dominated on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game. The 248 rushing yards allowed may be a blemish on UW’s statistical résumé, but teams generally get garbage time yardage; we just can’t recall ever seeing a defeated team continue to run the ball for those meaningless yards.

Injuries are piling up, but the Huskies have no time to worry about that; this team is proving to be deep at a number of positions. It’s a short work week and a trip into the lion’s den. A really, really quiet lion’s den.