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Grading the Game: Washington Huskies vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football

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It’s been a long time since Dawgs fans have felt so disheartened by a 16-point road victory against a Power Five opponent.

Washington v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Before you read anything further, remind yourself that every win in college football is precious. In particular, road wins against Power Five opponents are not to be overlooked, no matter how they are accomplished, especially when the game takes place 2,500 miles and three time zones away from home.

With that caveat aside ... Yikes. It’s hard to imagine the Huskies coming out and playing a flatter, more uninspired half of football than they did during the first 30 minutes of yesterday’s season opener against Rutgers. Thankfully, the Dawgs got their act together at halftime and put together what ended up being a comfortable 16-point win over the Scarlet Knights.

Rushing Offense: C-

Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman constitute one of the most potent one-two punches at running back in college football, and against a Rutgers team that last year gave up 5.7 yards per carry to its opponents, many (myself included) predicted that the duo would “feast” their way into a dominant performance.

At halftime, the two had combined for 31 yards and zero touchdowns on eight carries.

Washington’s problems in this phase began up front, where Rutgers simply played a more physical brand of football than their Husky opponents. As a result, Washington’s running backs rarely made first contact past the line of scrimmage. Thankfully, their elusiveness and ability to break tackles meant that the Scarlet Knights registered just one non-sack tackle for loss. Gaskin in particular found a nice groove in the second half, carrying the ball eight times for 51 yards and three first-downs in the game’s final half-hour.

Passing Offense: C

Jake Browning’s stat line from this game (17/30, 284 yards, two TDs, zero interceptions) is respectable, if not extraordinary. And indeed, his second half performance was one to be proud of, including a beautiful, perfectly placed touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin.

On the other hand, Washington’s first half is best summed up by the following footage of Darnell Davis committing second-degree felony assault and battery.

Dante Pettis led the Huskies with 85 yards on three receptions, while Gaskin and Coleman both earned touchdown receptions. And I would be remiss to not mention Drew Sample, whose three catches for 63 yards constituted the best performance of his career thus far. But overall, the passing game was far too reminiscent Friday night of 2015, when Petersen publicly lamented that everything had to go perfectly right for Washington’s receivers to make plays. Aaron Fuller, Chico McClatcher and Brayden Lenius will need to step up in a big way going forward.

Rushing Defense: B+

At times, it seemed as if Gus Edwards Jr. would never stop picking up first downs, as seven of his 24 runs moved the chains for the Scarlet Knights. But as Adam Jude smartly pointed out this morning, that was more a function of Rutgers owning a decisive advantage in time-of-possession (38:09 to Washington’s 21:51) than it was an indication of Rutgers’ ground game prowess. Despite a handful of long gains on Edwards’ part (four runs of nine yards or longer), the Huskies’ defense kept the Scarlet Knights from reaching the end zone on the ground, and limited them to 3.5 yards per carry on non-sack rushes. And five players (Jaylen Johnson, Connor O’Brien, Ben Burr-Kirven, Myles Bryant and Ezekiel Turner) were credited with contributing to Washington’s five non-sack tackles for loss.

Passing Defense: A- (A for Byron Murphy, B for everyone else)

Byron Murphy has been hailed as Chris Petersen’s highest-rated recruit, and the heir apparent to one of Washington’s vacant starting cornerback positions. Beat writers spent most of fall camp singing his praises, telling us over and over of how he wowed with his athleticism.

Turns out, he’s exactly who we thought he was.

Aside from Murphy looking every bit the part of a future first-round draft pick, Jordan Miller, Taylor Rapp, Jojo McIntosh and Myles Bryant all acquitted themselves well with solid if unspectacular performances. In particular, Bryant was thisclose to intercepting a 99-yard pick-six on Rutgers’ first offensive possession. And freshman Keith Taylor was well positioned to defend Rutgers’ second receiving touchdown before he was taken down by the turf monster at the last second. The most glaring problem on display here is Washington’s utter lack of a pass rush: Sure, the vast majority of Kyle Bolin’s passes were of the quick-hit, dink-and-dunk variety, but UW’s front seven (down All-American linebacker Azeem Victor) did little to push the pocket and make him the least bit uncomfortable.

Special Teams: A-

Last night, we were reminded why Chris Petersen personally coaches Washington’s players who participate in the game’s third phase. Despite a slow offensive start, the Huskies took a 10-7 lead into halftime that they would never relinquish thanks to Dante Pettis’ electric 61-yard punt return for a touchdown, tying DeSean Jackson’s conference record and marking the third consecutive year in which Pettis earned a punt return TD in a season opener.

In addition, punter Joel Whitford and Byron Murphy (as a gunner) combined to down two picture-perfect punts at the Rutgers 1- and 2-yard lines, respectively, and Tristan Vizcaino was a perfect 3/3 on his field goal attempts, including a long of 42 that perfectly split the uprights and cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare.

Coaching: B

Two things seem clear about the Huskies’ performance Friday: The players began the game woefully unprepared to operate at a high level, and the team made a series of effective adjustments at halftime that were instrumental in securing their eventual comfortable victory. The blame and credit for both of these circumstances lies squarely at the feet of Chris Petersen and his staff.

It’s difficult to say why the Dawgs started the game so poorly. Was it the long distance they traveled? Did the players expect an smooth victory after so easily blowing out the Scarlet Knights in Seattle last year? Was it just them needing to shake off the rust after a long offseason? I suspect we won’t be able to adequately answer this question until a game or two into the conference season, at the earliest.

On the other hand, offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith deserves credit for crafting a second-half game plan that effectively moved the chains. In particular, the Huskies’ best sequence was arguably the one in which they adopted a hurry-up no-huddle approach, culminating in Lavon Coleman’s touchdown reception on UW’s first possession of the second half.


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