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Film Study: Rutgers Part Deux (The Good)

It took three full quarters, but the Huskies eventually made this one a no-doubter

Washington v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Gnashing teeth and screaming at the TV is a favorite pastime of college football fans, but a 16-point win on the road had to have some good stuff in it, right?

RIGHT??!?!!

John and Brad went back to the film room and what they discovered is that the Dawgs played one hell of a good second half. Let’s get to the tape:

Defense

2nd and 2:

Yes Husky fans, that’s more like it.

Rutgers is running an inside zone (with a half-hearted zone read look by the QB) here to their right on a third and short play. Note the double team (at least, attempt) on Greg Gaines; that’s the hole, and the left guard coming down the field (at Keishawn Bierria) is potentially creating a cutback lane.

The Huskies simply win across the board here. Gaines crushes the double team, and gets his arms extended so he’s able to defend the gaps on either side of him. Textbook. Ben Burr-Kirven fills forward, and then flows toward the ball. And while Benning Potoa’e isn’t exactly textbook in staying parallel and holding the edge, he’s inside far enough to string the play wide, and keeps his left arm free to help in the tackle. Nickel back Myles Bryant isn’t giving a ton of respect to the quick passing game, and comes up hard in run support. He’ll likely have to play something like this a bit more honest against a lot of teams on the Huskies’ schedule.

But this is exactly what you want to see; no gain (even a short loss) resulting from solid technique and execution.

3rd and 2:

This is pretty much the same play from Rutgers, but to the other side of the formation; run at Vita Vea. Rutgers’ guard and tackle are looking to double-team Vea, but the guard recognizes that Ben Burr-Kirven is coming on a blitz, and has to leave to pick up the linebacker. Vea and Burr-Kirven serve to create a mass of humanity at the point of attack that largely kills the play.

Watch Greg Gaines here. He’s afforded the simple joy of only having to take on a single blocker, and shows what a few years in the weight room can do.

Benning Potoa’e comes hard to the ball at the snap. It’s possible that the play calls for him to pinch the way he does, but if not, he’s gambling a bit by giving up and chance for containment to the outside.

Several Huskies give up on this play a little too soon. Burr-Kirven, Jojo McIntosh, and Byron Murphy to name a few. Maybe the whistle should’ve been blown sooner, but the pile surges forward late, and the Scarlet Knights nearly pick up a first down. Rutgers ended up punting on 4th and very short, but the defense is going to be reminded to play until “the echo of the whistle” by the coaching staff.

3rd and 3:

This play makes the film study for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s just not something you’re going to see many times again this season, even in the shadow of the goal posts: A true, 8-men-in-the-box formation. The Huskies have three linemen (Vita Vea, Shane Bowman, and Jaylen Johnson), two outside linebacker/defensive ends (Connor O’Brien and Ryan Bowman), the two inside linebackers (Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven) and strong safety Ezekiel Turner all within a couple of yards of the line of scrimmage. And it’s not like Rutgers is giving some sort of “jumbo” look; they have two backs and a tight end, plus two wide receivers.

Rutgers is running a “lead” or “blast” play to the strong side of the formation (offensive right, the short side of the field) behind the tight end. The Huskies again don’t give a ton of respect to Rutgers’ potential to throw the ball here; very little attention is given to the tight end or either back as the front seven (eight) reads run based on the offensive linemen. Vea does a nice job of defeating his block, but the real star on this one is Jaylen Johnson. Johnson blows the right guard back a full yard off the ball, causing the ball carrier to have to move around him. Rutgers’ fullback blocks absolutely no one, somehow failing to see Turner crashing hard toward the ball. Turner and Johnson combine for the tackle-for-loss.

Offense

1st and 10:

The Huskies only had 23 offensive snaps in the first half, and never had any sort of rhythm either running or passing. One aspect of the game plan that was conspicuous in its absence was the power run. “Power” was a staple in the running game in 2016 for both Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin. There was only one power run in the entire first half against Rutgers, but it was the team’s longest rush (a measly six yards).

It came out (with some serious style) in the second half, and we’d imagine it was fun to be Jesse Sosebee on this little inside power near the red zone. The wrinkle here is that the Huskies run it with an unbalanced line. Do you see left tackle Trey Adams? No? That’s because he is lined up on the right side, outside of right tackle Kaleb McGary. Astute Husky fans might remember this as the play the Dawgs used to beat Cal on the last snap of the game in Berkeley in 2010.

Jake Browning gives a zone-read look, and his eyes actually freeze the defensive end (#7) on the back side of the play. Coleman Shelton and Nick Harris both decidedly win their one-on-one battles, so much so that McGary is required to give only minimal effort in the point-of-attack double team with Harris before heading to the second level linebacker. Sosebee pulls from his left guard spot and has a full head of steam as he hits a crashing inside linebacker that simply never saw him coming. Gaskin is nine yards down the field before he’s even touched. Oh, and the trips receivers at the top of the screen have some of the best seats in the stadium to watch it all unfold.

2nd and 6:

The Huskies tried to run this same zone stretch play a handful of times in the first half, but couldn’t get out of their own way on any of them (see part one of the film study). As we said, the “busts” on those plays weren’t actually huge; it was mostly a matter of identifying men to be blocked, a little communication, and probably some confidence.

When a zone run works well, the orchestration of the offensive line is a beauty to behold. All five guys take a slight “bucket” (backward) step, and then work laterally to their right to create a moving shield. While Rutgers’ defensive line played well in the first half, it seemed like the Huskies’ offensive line was too focused on getting to the right spot at the right time, and ignored the “imminent danger” of the penetrating linemen to make it happen. Call it thinking too much.

Rutgers effectively has five men on the line of scrimmage, so the offensive line isn’t able to get as wide as you might see on a play like this (they quickly have to pick off defenders). The result is that Gaskin is almost fifteen yards wider than the point the ball was snapped - one hash mark to the opposite side - before he crosses the line of scrimmage. That is by design.

The blocking is good on all three levels (and if you want, you can go ahead and note Rutgers’ linebacker #6 using Will Dissly’s facemask to pull him to the ground). Good hustle by Coleman Shelton. Nice work by Brayden Lenius.

Same play, different angle.

Watch the offensive line moving in unison. See Nick Harris and Jesse Sosebee pick up the first guy in their face (and while it doesn’t look like Sosebee actually does anything, he’s a screen, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes). In the first half, that didn’t happen as those two simply hustled past those same defenders to get down the field.

Major hat tip to #58 for Rutgers. He’s on the opposite side of the play. Trey Adams doesn’t get much of a block on him, but that guy has a LONG way to run. Great speed, even better hustle. Gotta respect that effort.

Not only did the Huskies get the running game fixed after the intermission, Jake Browning finally got the passing game rolling as well.

His second half stat line:

12-19 (63.2%) for 203 yards, 2 TDs, 10.68 yards per attempt and a 187.6 rating.

More importantly, the three drives during Browning’s efficient third quarter performance yielded 17 points in just 4:53 of possession time. Rutgers possessed the ball more than twice as long in the third (10:07) but never even reached the Husky 40 yard line. The defense kept getting the ball back to Browning and the offense, and Jake didn’t let them down.

Below is every UW passing play from those three 3rd quarter drives. Many of the incompletions were throw-aways, although the high toss to Andre Baccellia on the goal line was a bad miss by Jake Browning. Regardless, at the beginning of this sequence the score was 10-7; by the end it was 27-7 and a sea of red-clad Rutgers fans were heading for the exits.

We are totally lying if we say we were not agitated by the team’s slow start out of the gate this season. However, that is a totally different thing than being worried that the Huskies wouldn’t win this one going away. Chris Petersen does not panic, and you don’t see his teams panic. The Huskies kept their composure and everyone continued to do their job and believe in one another. That sounds easy to do, but it’s not. When things don’t go your way it is human nature to freak out a little and press.

These film study pieces illustrate the subtle differences that can turn an ugly play that gains nothing into a choreographed convoy of well-timed blocks paving the way for Gaskin or Coleman to rumble downhill for a big gain.

As fans, we are allowed to panic and worry when the game or season might be in danger. Petersen’s Husky football players and coaches can’t, and we seriously doubt they will.