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The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown: UCLA Edition

Some thoughts on the Huskies’ 31-24 win over UCLA.

NCAA Football: Washington at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

The first half went as expected. The Huskies controlled the game in the first half, piling up 335 yards of total offense, compared to UCLA’s 198. By halftime, the score was 24-7 UW. Aside from a Jake Browning interception on their second offensive drive, the Dawgs were in the driver’s seat. The outcome of the game was looking like the blowout many had predicted it to be.

Washington’s final touchdown drive. Fast-forwarding through a turbulent end to the third quarter, the Huskies’ final touchdown drive of the game was masterfully executed. Up 24-17 near the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Huskies strung together a 12-play, 81-yard drive that ate up 6:45 of clock. The highlight of the drive was a 34-yard bomb from Browning to Ty Jones on 3rd and 6 from the Huskies’ own 23-yard line:

The pass put the Huskies in Bruin territory. Nine plays later, including a 14-yard scramble for a first down by Browning, Myles Gaskin scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to give the Dawgs a two-score lead. The Bruins would come back and score one more time to make the final few minutes of the game interesting, but 31 points proved enough to secure the win.

The Huskies committed only one penalty. The one penalty was a holding call on center Nick Harris, which lost the offense 10 yards on a drive in the first quarter. It set up a third-and-long situation that led to another Browning first-down run, this time for 16 yards (this run actually happened prior to his 14-yard run). This single penalty is a big improvement from the 5 for 40 yards that the Huskies committed last week against BYU.

The UW won. The final score of this game did not leave a lot of Husky fans feeling confident about their chances heading into the upcoming game against Oregon. I’ll elaborate on this below, but it’s likely that the first half performance from the Huskies is more indicative of what this team can do on the road when putting its best foot forward. Not to say that the second half of this game doesn’t matter, but hey—the Huskies won a conference game at the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1995. Take that and run with it. It’s just more good news.

The Bad

The defense had its worst game of the season. This is the one major, all-encompassing bad element of this game for the Huskies. Maybe blame some of the missed tackles on the grass field. Maybe put some blame on the backups who were playing in the second half when the Bruins started to make their comeback. The 75-degree weather certainly didn’t help, as those backups were needed when our starters started to suck wind in the third quarter. After the game, Huskies middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said, “that was probably the most tired I’ve ever been on a football field... I just had nothing left.”

Third downs were still a problem for this defense. Opposing teams are converting 42% of their third down attempts against the Huskies. That places them tied for 98th nationally. UCLA specifically was 8-14 on third down against the Huskies. That’s a pretty big factor in why the league’s worst scoring offense managed to score more points against the nation’s top scoring defense than any other team this season. UCLA also averaged 6.5 yards per play; again, a season worst for the Huskies.

Harping on an often-repeated note, the pass rush was absent again as the Dawgs had zero sacks and zero tackles for a loss during the game. If you’re following along, that’s a drop in team sacks from 93rd nationally a week ago to 106th.

The Unknown

Nick Harris’s Health? This is the second time we’ve seen him hurt this season. He came back in to finish the game, but only after Jesse Sosebee came in and played some snaps. This leaves us wondering if he’ll be able to hold up for this coming weekend and the season ahead. Some good news here is that following the game, Harris was quoted by Christian Caple of The Athletic as saying:

“I’m fine. It’s nothing crazy. It’s nothing that’s going to stop me from playing high-level football. I’m used to playing with injuries. Playing football, you get used to playing dinged up... I haven’t been healthy since eighth grade.”

Myles Gaskin’s health and workload? His shoulder was clearly bothering him and he started carrying the ball in his left arm. On Twitter, Myles responded to Adam Jude of the Seattle Times’ concern regarding his injury:

Fair, but we can still be concerned.

He also is returning kicks for the Dawgs, on top of being the starting tailback. Are we using him too much? The coaches will play the best player who gives them the best chance to win. That said, we’re also mixing in our third- and fourth-string RBs at a pretty healthy rate, with Sean McGrew getting a few snaps in key situations and delivering on his chances.

Was this the outcome that Chris Petersen was hoping for? This is might be a stretch, but you can speculate that Coach Pete was very pleased with how this game played out, at least in certain ways. First and foremost, they won. That’s all that really matters. But beyond that, they went on the road against a team they were supposed to beat easily and ended up playing a close game into the final minutes. The UCLA game could have provided the UW coaching staff with another great opportunity to show their players that they can’t take any team or any play for granted. With Oregon coming up, I don’t think that lesson will be lost on anyone.