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The good, the bad and the unknown: Rutgers

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The good, the bad and the unknown of Washington’s 30-14 win over Rutgers.

NCAA Football: Washington at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

Early-season road win - Ugly or not, that first road win of the season always seems to be a tough one. You can count the number of road wins the Huskies have in September in the past 15 seasons on ONE HAND! This game reminded me a lot of last year’s Arizona game and Petersen’s first game at Hawaii, where the Huskies chunked out a win on the road against a lesser opponent while barely anyone played well.

Dante Pettis - Pettis did more than just take a punt back for a touchdown and have three catches for 85 yards, his return TD turned the tide of the game and his 51-yard reception gave the Husky offense its first spark of the game. He also drew a PI in the end zone (but wasn’t called) which just prevented him from an insane catch which would have helped put the game away.

Myles Gaskin - I was shocked to see Gaskin only carried the ball seven times, but he made the most of it with 8.4 yards per carry. Even more exciting was his sudden flash at receiving where he had five receptions for 79 yards and a great touchdown catch. He looked a lot like Chris Polk when he added elite pass catching skills in his final college season.

Byron Murphy - What a debut! Murphy grabbed two key interceptions and was part of a Husky secondary that was very sticky downfield despite replacing three second round draft picks. Oh, and Murphy was also an MVP on special teams, downing punts at the one-yard line.

The defense (mostly) - I was a little disappointed with the Husky defense in the moment, but the stat sheet told a different tale. They gave up just 3.1 yards per-carry and 5.1 yards per-reception and caused two turnovers and were probably an offensive PI flag which should have been called away from holding them scoreless after their first TD drive.

Joel Whitford - This guy showed that he could be the best punter the Huskies have had in a long, long time.

Drew Sample - Three catches for 63 yards isn’t an All-American stat line, but it was huge for Sample as the Huskies look to find a tight end who is a receiving threat, but who can also block. He will be a major asset for the Huskies this year if he manages that production all season.

Rutgers improvement - Rutgers looked much better than they did last year. They had an energetic, big and athletic front seven on defense, a tight secondary and some big backs who could grind out yardage. They will definitely win more than two games this year.

Wake up and test - It would have been more comfortable to see Washington take Rutgers out of the game in the first quarter again, but struggling a bit may help in the long run. The Huskies got a reminder that they can’t just go through the motions and dominate even a major conference cellar dweller and will be more battle-tested going into Pac-12 play than they were last year after coasting through their non-conference slate.

The Bad

Energy - The Huskies really looked like they were going through the motions and it caught them when Rutgers came out swinging because this was a huge game for them. This may have been the plan, but it was definitely shocking to see.

Offensive line (run blocking) - The Huskies averaged just 3.5 yards per-carry and failed to run for a touchdown. The offensive line really struggled to get any rhythm or open up any holes, especially early in the game, and regularly got knocked back by Rutgers’ front. I was thinking we would get a performance similar to the one we saw in the Pac-12 Championship Game, instead it looked like the Peach Bowl again.

Offensive line (pass blocking) - Again, it looked like the Peach Bowl all over again at times as the Huskies failed to protect Browning over and over again and stalled the passing game. A veteran unit needs to protect better than they did.

Number two receiver - No receiver other than Pettis had more than one catch against what should be one of the least-skilled defenses the Huskies face this year. The Huskies are going to have a very tough time scoring the way they did last year if they don’t have consistent and dangerous options after Pettis at receiver.

Third downs - The Huskies were a disaster offensively on third down - going 3-11 and were uncharacteristically bad on defense going 9-19 (1-2 on fourth down). It almost seemed you knew the Huskies were going to have to punt once they got to third down and Rutgers seemed to get every third down conversion they needed until later in the game.

Pass rush - The Huskies still looked lost for pass rushers without Joe Mathis. They created some pressure, but only when sending defensive backs, and that is a very risky endeavor against better offenses. The Huskies need to find a way to get pressure without having to send blitzers. This was especially concerning since Rutgers did not have a mobile quarterback.

No Azeem Victor - Ben Burr-Kirven and Keishawn Bierria are great, but it was another game where Victor’s absence and lost impact was obvious. The Huskies just aren’t quite the same team without him in the middle, especially because his strength there allows Bierria to do more outside.

Jake Browning (at times) - I hate to beat the anti-Jake drum because I think he is very good overall, but this was another game where he just didn’t quite seem right again. He had a lot of pressure, but also didn’t seem to be able to audible out of it or see when pre-snap mismatches were there and he missed a couple of throws in the red zone he can’t miss against better competition.

Unknown

How much to read from this game? I thought the sky was falling after the Arizona game last year and that the Huskies would be very lucky to get to 10 wins and then we all know what happened, so I am trying not to read too much into the underwhelming performance against Rutgers. However, the fact that all of the problems that plagued Washington in their loses and near-losses in 2016 were on display again against Rutgers is cause for some concern.

Jake Browning? I still don’t know how to read Browning. Have we already seen him at his peak and from now on he will be a good QB who can make plays when pressure isn’t present, but struggles in a bad pocket with a limited arm and mobility?

How good/bad is Rutgers? Rutgers is definitely better than last year, but will this end up being a win that looks a lot better at the end of the season, or will it be like last year’s Arizona win (yes, I’m using that ruler again) and it will forever be a confusing outcome against a 2-3-win team?

Pass rush? Other than for a small pocket last year when Joe Mathis was on fire, the Huskies have struggled mightily to find a pass rush without sending blitzers. Can Husky edge players start to step up and give them a pass rush without dedicating blitzers as the early season progresses?

Second option receivers - This is another place where the Huskies are searching for answers. Chico McClatcher is beyond dynamic, but has yet to emerge as a consistent pass catcher and it is a completely mixed bag after that. Players like Brayden Lenius, Andre Baccellia and Aaron Fuller have flashed ability, but it’s completely unclear if they can be true number twos.

Offensive line - Washington’s offensive line performance against Rutgers was terrifying given how it was supposed to be the team’s strength going into the season, but the offensive line looked like it was facing Alabama’s front seven for much of the game. We will see if the line settles in and starts to look how they did for most of 2016.