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What We Learned: Oregon

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What’s going on with Azeem Victor, Aaron Fuller making moves, and the OL play.

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

The Huskies got oh-so-close to an elusive conference shutout but couldn’t keep the Ducks from scoring on their opening drive. Yet, holding a bitter rival to only a field goal after years and years of defensive ineptitude feels really good. Even last year’s 70-21 shellacking included three Oregon TDs, so keeping them out of the end zone in Husky Stadium is a great accomplishment.

Before diving into what we learned, a few special shoutouts for those who did not get mentions below:

  • Dante Pettis - we learned he’s actually the GOAT!
  • Salvon Ahmed - his speed and playmaking has given the offense new life.
  • Myles Gaskin - doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
  • Defensive line - the unit has been the heart and soul of the defense and been masterful at controlling opposing rushing attacks. Without a standout pass rusher they’re still making life hell for opposing QBs.
  • Jake Browning - had as strong a game against Oregon as we’ve seen him have in a while.

Let’s get down to it.

Right now Azeem Victor is on the outside looking in

This has been obvious to most fans since early in the season, yet this week we got the most clear and direct confirmation from the coaches as to what their plan actually is with the senior LB. Both Petersen and Coach K confirmed he’s being used on the outside in an edge, or DE-type of role. We’ve seen him play there a little bit this season, but he hasn’t gotten significant snaps or starter’s minutes – he only has 28 tackles and a sack on the season. Hardly the numbers we expected, and I have a feeling that we won’t know the full story with Azeem Victor until much later.

When it started becoming clear early a few games into the season that Azeem Victor had dropped down in the pecking order, there were rumblings of injury and disciplinary action being the cause. After another week of the pre-season All-American not seeing a lot of time with the first team defense, it is obvious the coaches not only prefer Ben Burr-Kirven at MLB, but also feel like they can use Azeem’s size and physicality on the edges, where athleticism is already in short supply. That said, rushing the passer and getting off blocks were never Victor’s strengths. Not to mention players like Tevis Bartlett and Ryan Bowman are playing great and making it hard for anyone to break through.

With a run-heavy Stanford team playing the Huskies on Friday night, perhaps we will see more Victor on the field to help set the edges. Stanford loves to pull their big offensive linemen to lead the way for their backs, and having a big and physical athlete like Victor might be the best move. But as we’ve learned, there are no guarantees he’ll see the field unless the game dictates it, and it’s not like the defense has struggled so far this season. While I believe this is Victor’s best chance for significant minutes so far this season, unless the defense can’t get Stanford’s power run game off the field, expect to see limited minutes again from #36.

The offensive line is playing well despite the loss of Trey Adams

I am not minimizing the loss of Trey Adams at all. We may very well have a game in which the left side gets owned because big #72 isn’t there to protect the blind side. But in their last two games, the OL has played much better than most fans could have expected. The reshuffled line had their way with UCLA two weeks ago to the tune of 333 rushing yards. They also did not give up a sack and basically had the UCLA defense in complete submission by the fourth quarter. Against the Ducks, we saw redshirt freshman Luke Wattenberg make his debut at LT with senior Andrew Kirkland sliding inside to LG. Against an Oregon defense that had been averaging over three sacks and seven TFLs per game, Washington’s OL held them to zero and five respectively. Against the elite athletes on UCLA’s DL, and a much improved Oregon defense with a couple good players of their own (Troy Dye, Jalen Jelks) the Washington offensive line put forth nice performances while missing the unit’s best player.

It’s Aaron Fuller’s time to step up

Wide receivers and tight ends of the pass-catching variety have been dropping like flies for this team. Lost to injury over the course of the season so far are: David Ajamu (remember him?), Chico McClatcher, Quinten Pounds, Hunter Bryant, and Andre Baccellia, though Baccellia is finally working his way back onto the field after missing most of the season. That leaves precious few receivers on the team – Dante Pettis, Aaron Fuller, Brayden Lenius, Andre Baccellia, and freshman Ty Jones. With all these injuries, the balance of the offense has shifted towards the run game in recent weeks. I expect that to continue, but we know this staff likes to establish a pass game and push the ball downfield. After Pettis, Fuller is the next choice to be a downfield threat. He had a fairly quiet yet promising freshman season and many, myself included, expected him to be a bigger contributor this year. Well, his opportunity has finally arrived.

Against Oregon, it was Fuller who took the reins as the #2 receiver. He produced two incredible grabs on the opening series of the game (thought the first was called back on a hold) and looked better out there than he has all season. He also executed nicely on a scramble drill, coming back to the ball and catching a pass near the sideline. The son of a coach from McKinney, Texas has a chance to emerge for the Huskies and be the threat opposite Pettis this offense has sorely lacked. It’s certainly his opportunity to lose –Ty Jones is still a freshman, Brayden Lenius isn’t showing any natural affinity for the WR position, and Baccellia is getting healthy and hasn’t caught a pass since the Montana game. Aaron Fuller, your time is now!

Husky fans, what did YOU learn against the Ducks?