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Film Study: In their final tuneup, the Dawgs were sharp

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Solid team effort all the way around, but of course we find something to criticize

Fresno State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Huskies had a little fly buzzing around their faces on Saturday night, and the tiny bugger only lasted about eight minutes of football time before it was spotted, swatted, and extinguished.

No disrespect to Jeff Tedford and Fresno State (actually a lot of disrespect in that opening paragraph) but this game was going to be all about the Washington Huskies executing their gameplan, and if that included wiping some fly guts off the kitchen window, then so be it. Jake Browning was surgical. Dante Pettis was unstoppable. Tevis Bartlett was a little spectacular.

We’ve got just a bit of bad defense and a whole bunch of good rushing offense in this week’s edition of Film Study, so let’s get to the tape.

2nd and 7:

The defense is in an extremely difficult position to do much of anything on this play based on alignment, and things only get worse once the ball is snapped.

First, the alignment. We can see 10 of the 11 defenders prior to the snap, with one safety over the top of the two receiver side (top of the screen). The other safety is deep on the other side of the field and off the screen; he can be seen coming in at the very end of the play and running in to Tevis Bartlett. The Buck Benning Potoa’e slid inside with his hand on the ground and is lined up as a 3-tech tackle. Tevis Bartlett is playing a wide outside linebacker spot on the narrow side of the field, and away from the offensive strength. Fresno State has two receivers to the wide side of the field, plus an H-back to that side. Right away, it should be fairly clear that the Huskies are going to have a difficult time setting the edge on the wide side of the field against a run just like this one unless nickel back Myles Bryant can play like a much larger defender, or inside linebacker Azeem Victor is able to quickly diagnose the play.

Things get worse as the play unfolds, and Fresno State brings the lone receiver from the weak side of the formation in fly motion toward the offensive strength. Byron Murphy reads this, backs off, and can be seeing yelling toward the rest of the secondary. But if the defense doesn’t rotate with that motion, which it doesn’t appear they do, then the three defenders on the weak side of the field (Bartlett, Murphy, and the deep safety on that side) aren’t really in any position to be able to do much, and puts a lot of stress on the defenders on the other side of the ball to diagnose the play exceedingly quickly (and correctly), fight through any blocks they might see, and then make a tackle. That’s an awful lot to ask.

Greg Gaines and Vita Vea both soundly win their battles on the line of scrimmage, but aren’t really near the play (it’s worth watching them at least once anyway, since this gif is going to loop againandagainandagain). Benning Potoa’e is right at the point of attack; he’s going to get double-teamed by the guard and tackle on that side. Potoa’e’s effort isn’t good. Rather than getting his hands out to meet the guard, he turns his body (maybe in an effort to throw a shoulder?) and is easily pushed aside as the tackle chips him before moving to the second level linebacker. Victor is slow to diagnose the play, moving a few steps laterally at the snap, and ends up meeting the block of the left tackle well down the field (although the tackle is then tackled by a hustling Vita Vea, who probably couldn’t tell who had the ball). Victor is handled fairly completely, as is Keishawn Bierria on the back side of the play. Myles Bryant responds well to the fly motion, and is position to contain the sweep, but comes up to meet the running back a little too out of control and can’t break down to make a tackle. Jordan Miller ends up finally bringing the runner down, but not before a gain of 11 yards.

It’s possible there was a mistake in alignment at the get-go, or that the defense didn’t respond correctly as the play developed. It’s also entirely possible the coaching staff counts on their players to be able to line up balanced across the field and simply make the play, while ensuring they don’t give up something huge (like a reverse) back to the weak side of the formation. If it’s the latter, teams with more offensive weapons than Fresno State have a lot of different things they can do to exploit the numbers and spacing advantages the offense had on this play.

1st and 10:

The Huskies start with a single back look and Myles Gaskin lined up in the slot. A little pre-snap motion and look at what we have here - Gaskin and Lavon Coleman in the backfield at the same time. They were together a handful of times on Saturday. While it could’ve been something to just give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares, it’s also possible that the Huskies were looking for ways to supplement their run blocking with mainstay Drew Sample out with an injury. While true freshman Hunter Bryant was a huge target as a receiver, he’s simply not nearly as accomplished as Sample as a blocker at this point in his career. While Coleman isn’t the thumping fullback you want to see making a living blocking linebackers, he’s a vet that is more than capable of handling any cornerback or safety he’ll see on the Huskies’ schedule.

That’s what Coleman is asked to do on this play. It’s the power sweep, part of the running game’s old guard. The design here is that tight end Will Dissly will seal the edge, and left tackle Trey Adams will pull around and lead the convoy along with Coleman.

Dissly doesn’t do a great job of getting to his block, but credit is due to Fresno State’s defender for a great read, and nice lateral pursuit. Instead of picking off a hapless cornerback, Adams ends up assisting Dissly for a moment before heading upfield (note: This is a good read by Adams; we mentioned how the offensive line was too focused on being perfect in their assignments and would’ve run past the defender most likely to make the play in order to fulfill them). The cornerback (#6) reads the play, but instead of keeping outside containment, tries to make a hero play by coming hard up the field. Instead, he really only succeeds in running himself out of the play. Fresno State’s safety has stepped into the box as a linebacker, and Brayden Lenius joins the “Great block, man!” club by eliminating him from the play. Coleman finally finds someone to block, but not before he’s about 20 yards down the field. Coleman Shelton is usually a great blocker at the second level, but he shuffles his feet twice, which allows the linebacker to break away from him. Credit to that linebacker (#9) - that’s great hustle.

From this angle, you can see this play was a TD once Gaskin got to the 27-yard line, barring a great play by a Fresno defender. Not to pick on those defenders too much, but if you watch them all closely, you’ll see three or four that don’t ever make much of an effort on this play.

1st and Goal:

When you run it like this, we can’t call this the wildkitten, it’s the full grown wildcat.

The fly sweep motion from Aaron Fuller is nice window dressing, but this is a designed keep all the way. Given that Gaskin is going to keep the ball nine out of ten times in the wildcat, it’s actually sort of amusing how much attention Fresno State’s defense gives the fly motion; three defenders are sucked the wrong direction.

The fly motion opens up the middle of the field for this play, which ends up looking like a counter trap due to the pause at the phony mesh point, and the action of Lavon Coleman and Fuller. Coleman Shelton and Kaleb McGary are blocking down (although McGary’s man is fooled by the motion in the backfield). Jesse Sosebee and Trey Adams are supposed to be double-teaming the defender at the point of attack, but Adams reads that Sosebee has the block handled alone and instead of briefly helping before heading to the linebackers, instead goes straight to the second level. Right guard Nick Harris and H-back Hunter Bryant pull back to their left; Harris takes out the unblocked defensive end, and Bryant gets a good shot on a penetrating linebacker who appeared to step on a banana peel right before meeting Bryant. While Quinten Pounds doesn’t exactly deliver a crushing blow, he handles the safety well enough to negate any chance of a touchdown-saving tackle. Superheroes are made on plays like this if McGary, Sosebee, or Coleman Shelton realize that the three of them have sufficiently handled the two defenders near them and releases to the outside linebacker (#29) that winds up getting close to Gaskin near the goal line, but that’s picking nits.

1st and 10:

So we’ve seen a lot of this three-man front from the Huskies this season, with one of the outside linebackers not rushing the passer and instead playing in coverage. Maybe you’ve asked “Why do this, Kwiatkowski? Why reinvent the wheel?” This play shows you a glimpse of at least part of the answer.

But first, a digression:

Although the Huskies play nickel defense on most snaps, they like to play it out of a Cover One with a really, really deep safety. Like 20 yards deep. Like when Taylor Rapp’s mom watches a game on TV, she never sees her son on the screen and always asks “Did you get to play today, honey?” That’s deep. While that safety gets to do some ball hawking at times, his primary job is to prevent the big play from the offense. So really, it’s almost like the defense is “giving up” a player to a degree. That leaves four guys in the middle and deep coverage, and if the team rushes four linemen/linebackers, only two inside linebackers to cover the short zones sideline-to-sideline. That’s a lot of ground for them. And that’s why the team is at least somewhat susceptible to being nickel-and-dimed by the short, lateral passing game. Fortunately, the Huskies tackle exceptionally well, so those short passes rarely turn into longer gains, and offensive coordinators have a tendency to lose patients patience with those plays even when they gain yards. But anyone that watched Boise State/WSU in week two saw how those short passes plus a missed tackle or a late adjustment can lead into bigger plays; Tyler Hilinski’s dump-offs were the plays that got WSU’s offense on the rails in their comeback.

So, rushing three gives an additional player in coverage in the short zone, like we see in the play above. It also gives the best opportunity for the Huskies to utilize their best pass rushers; most of the time when the defense has shown this front, they’ve blitzed an inside linebacker, giving them the same four man rush we’ve seen the last two seasons, but utilizing what the coaches feel is a more talented rusher - it’s been mostly Ben Burr-Kirven, but Bierria and Victor have a little as well - as the fourth man. If the Huskies blitz with a four man front (bringing five total), they’d be very susceptible underneath.

While it looks like the Huskies have blitzed a ton this season, all they’ve really done is employ the same four man rush from a different angle.

We’ll end the digression there, and wonder if it actually relates to anything.

Last year, this tackle would’ve been made by a linebacker running hard to the sideline, or a safety running up fast to the line of scrimmage. While Connor O’Brien gets a little too far outside on this particular play, he’s in good position to make a tackle and help the defense use minimal effort to keep the lateral passing game in check. He plays assignment sound football, acknowledging the pump fake, but not getting out of position.

1st and 10:

Very similar to the TD run above, this is simply a toss sweep with a fullback blocking lead. The right side of the offensive line seals the back side of the play, and Coleman Shelton is looking to get to the middle linebacker. The receiver at the top of the screen (Lenius) blocks down on the outside linebacker, leaving the cornerback for “fullback” Lavon Coleman. Trey Adams blocks down on the defensive tackle this time, and Jesse Sosebee pulls as the lead blocker, looking to seal a linebacker. This play isn’t designed to go wide like the earlier version was; it’s giving Myles Gaskin the option to read the block of the tight end (Will Dissly) on the defensive end (in this instance, the end is so far outside Dissly at the snap that there’s no reasonable way Dissly will be able to get outside him and push him back to the inside; instead, he drives the end toward the sideline) and cut inside if that route is open. It is on this play, and Gaskin turns inside before heading back out to the sideline.

You can really see the hole open up from this angle. Sosebee and Shelton aren’t quite able to sustain their blocks; if they had, Gaskin only has a hard-pursuing safety between him and the end zone. But with 16 yards of unimpeded, untouched running, it’s tough to find much to complain about.

The Huskies made it through their non-conference schedule being challenged in just one half of football. That’s the good news. After three games, 3-0 is the best alternative out there. Things will be a lot tougher starting with a trip to Boulder to play the Buffaloes. It’s time for a familiar cast of characters to step forward in the running game, and a new group of stars to emerge catching the ball and rushing the passer.