What a game that was in Boulder. The Huskies finally flexed their muscles and showed they’re ready to defend their Pac-12 crown. It feels like it’s been so long since the Huskies played a good opponent and won - you’d have to go back to last year’s Pac-12 Championship against these very Buffaloes.
The first half was tense at times - that first drive down the field by CU did not inspire confidence that the Huskies were ready. But they settled down and won in comfortable fashion behind a career night for Myles Gaskin. I anticipated they would ride Myles to victory on the road, and they fed him 27 times, his highest workload of the season by far. Speaking of Myles Gaskin and the running game...
The rushing attack is just fine
After gaining only 3.5 and 3.1 yards per rush respectively against FBS opponents, the Huskies exploded for 6.5 yards per rush on Saturday night. Considering Colorado’s defense is easily the best they’ve faced so far, it is safe to put the run game concerns to bed.
The ground attack was far from being in panic mode before the game, but with so much returning experience and talent from a strong running team last year, why could the Huskies not just ram the ball down the throats of overmatched opponents? Well, our very own Brad Johnson touches on this in his latest film study piece. I won’t get into details the here, but it came down to both opening up the playbook, and executing at a high level. They ran more power, and the OL played great for vast swaths of the game. Coleman Shelton in particular was incredible out there, often making it to the second level taking on multiple defenders. As great a game as he had, the coaches ultimately named Kaleb McGary lineman of the week, so it was a team effort.
Most impressive though was getting this done without Lavon Coleman, who is the exact type of physical, bruising running back you want to utilize to salt away a road victory (remember Petersen’s first game vs. Hawaii?). After seeing some success in two-back sets with Coleman and Gaskin flanking Jake Browning, it was concerning to learn that he would miss the game. However, in stepped Kamari Pleasant who blocked like a man possessed for Gaskin, who had his first 200-yard game as a Husky…in a road conference game no less. It is safe to say the Husky run game has finally picked up where it left off and will be a strength this year.
Ryan Bowman is the best pass rusher on the team right now
Just like we all anticipated. At first it was a shock to see the 6-0, 260-pound redshirt freshman walk-on from Bellevue (though he played his senior year at IMG Academy in Florida) make the 2nd team when the depth chart was released before the season. But it turns out that was no joke and Ryan Bowman is showing ability to get to the QB more consistently than anyone else on the roster. Benning Potoa’e was thought to be the answer coming into the season, and though he is playing fine, he still hasn’t quite put it together rushing the passer (though he did play inside a bit more vs. the Buffs).
But, back to Bowman. His first half pressure caused Colorado QB Steven Montez to make a bad throw resulting in a Jordan Miller interception in the end zone. He also got home later in the game with a nice spin move to beat the Colorado OT. Every great defense - and this defense is really great - needs a pass rush to get that spark. And for the 2nd straight week (he had a sack and forced fumble against Fresno State), Ryan Bowman is providing it. The former defensive scout team MVP has easily been the surprise of the defense this year. With 5 (team) sacks against the Buffaloes, Washington is now 3rd in the Pac-12 with 12 on the season. We’ll see if some other pass rushing names emerge as we get into the meat of conference play - Jusstis Warren seemed to come on late in fall camp - but for now, Bowman’s our boy.
It’s still Dante and friends
I touched on this last week as well, but it feels like the Huskies are still searching for that true 2nd threat opposite Dante Pettis. If you look at the numbers, you have Dante Pettis with 15 catches, and the next highest wide receiver is Brayden Lenius with 7. That doesn’t seem too bad on the surface, and while Lenius seems to be playing his best football since arriving at UW, he is still not a consistent threat. Chico’s injury obviously throws a wrench into this as he previously was #2 with 10 catches, though many were on short routes and screens. And for the second straight week, we saw the offense get Hunter Bryant involved early as they continue to develop him as a pass catching threat. But, he’s still a freshman. Quinten Pounds had a huge TD catch for his first big moment in his Husky career, but it’s not clear he’ll be the guy. Aaron Fuller isn’t seeing the field like he was last year, and Andre Baccellia is still working his way back from injury.
Now, it’s not all bad news. Washington still ranks 7th nationally in passing efficiency, and Jake Browning is completing nearly 70% of his passes, with 9.95 yards per attempt. Not to mention a nifty 13.83 yards per completion and 9 TDs. Jake’s also been sacked just twice in 4 games, bur it remains to be seen how well these numbers will hold up when the competition gets better. A concern is that a good part of why Browning only completed 52% of his passes vs. Colorado was receivers just not getting open, and a wild Quinten Pounds-like TD catch can’t be the expectation every game. Credit to CU’s defense, but this may not be the last time this season we this wart exposed.
That’s all for this week. The Huskies take on Oregon State this Saturday night at 5:00pm, in Corvallis. What will we learn then?