1. The Husky Defense Has to Find Ways to Force Negative Plays
It isn’t a secret that Washington’s defensive philosophy is to allow the opponent small gains time after time while attempting to take away the explosive play. The thought process is that if it takes the offense 10+ plays to score on every drive then the odds say that they’ll make a mistake at some point which will knock them into a situation favorable for the defense. Against UCLA that never happened.
The Huskies had 0 sacks and 0 tackles for loss facing a true freshman QB that had been sacked 14 times in his first 4 starts. You would normally also hope that a young team like UCLA would beat themselves with penalties but they only committed two of them on offense. One time it took away a 1st down and turned it into a 2nd and 12 and UCLA kicked a field goal. The other time it forced a 1st and 20 but the Bruins converted. DTR is a very mobile QB and there were several times the Huskies chased him out of the pocket or narrowly missed getting to him because of his evasiveness. But this is modern college football and you can’t rely upon opposing QBs to be statues.
Washington is now averaging just 1.33 sacks per game which is 106th in the country. There is a spectrum of aggressiveness and the Huskies are always skewed towards a less aggressive philosophy. But there just isn’t anyone on this team capable of reliably causing havoc in the backfield. Taylor Rapp and Myles Bryant have 75% of the team’s sacks. They both play in the secondary. Not ideal. At this point it’s clear that there won’t be a breakout pass rusher so Jimmy Lake needs to find ways to scheme guys into an opportunity to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
2. The Husky Deep Game Can’t Take the Top Off a Defense
This one we knew already but it was further emphasized in a first half where UCLA was content to send extra guys and get beat in man coverage time and again downfield. Washington had their first touchdown pass that went 20+ yards in the air on the season when Aaron Fuller’s defender took himself out of the play going for the ball and Fuller was able to walk in the final 5 yards.
The Huskies completed 3 passes (in 4 attempts) that went 20+ yards in the air past the line of scrimmage for a total of 105 yards. That’s not too shabby. But Husky receivers averaged just 4 yards after the catch on those plays. The Husky deep game relies on hitting receivers either on deep crossing routes taking them naturally out of bounds or throwing back shoulder balls to Ty Jones who can body a receiver but then immediately falls to the ground. Of the 16 deep completions (20+ yards in the air) that the Huskies have completed so far this year only one of them has gotten more than 15 yards after the catch and the Fuller TD is the first time a receiver has broken a tackle on the play.
The receivers can’t take all of the blame for those numbers. Part of it has to go to Browning who isn’t capable of throwing the ball 60 yards in the air to hit someone going deep in stride and lead them straight to the end zone. But that was also the case in 2016 when the Huskies scored a number of TDs on quick strike bombs. And as great as Aaron Fuller has been this year the fact that we haven’t seen those plays this season shows the difference between Fuller and the likes of John Ross and Dante Pettis. Husky fans have been spoiled lately with the quality of the receivers.
3. The Offense Has Solved Their 3rd/4th & Short Problems
I mentioned in this space last week that Jake Browning greatly resembled Tom Brady with his ability to pick up first downs via the QB sneak. Well that continued against UCLA as Browning went 3/3 on 3rd and short by following Nick Harris straight ahead for first downs. Interestingly enough the Huskies never faced a 3rd/4th and 2 or less against Auburn. But they memorably and embarrassingly failed on their first two attempts in that situation against North Dakota. Since then the Huskies are 16 of 18 on the season and converted on 7 of 8 against UCLA.
Perhaps most encouraging to see was that Washington completed their second longest pass play of the season on a 3rd and 1 play action pass to Aaron Fuller (which was also their first deep completion to the middle of the field this year). While the run game has been working in short yardage situations lately I like that there is a willingness to go deep in that situation every now and again to soften up the defense.