I am no professional journalist. I have no obligation to divorce myself emotionally from the outcome of a specific game. I was as frustrated, numb, and confused as everyone else at the end of the game. So many little things could have swung the result in a different direction. What if Dillon Mitchell’s fumble hadn’t bounced fortuitously out of bounds? What if Taylor Rapp was able to hold onto an easy interception as he fell to the ground? What if Jaylen Johnson avoided the targeting penalty late in the game? What if Browning had handled the snap and converted 4th and 1 deep in Oregon territory in the 4th quarter? What if the Huskies had spent the last minute of the game trying to get a touchdown rather than leaving the game on the shaky left foot of a walk-on kicker? What if said kicker made the kick? Even with those questions swirling endlessly through my brain, I will do my best to take a step back and grade the components of the Dawgs’ performance.
Pass Offense: B-
Going into the game, it looked like Oregon’s biggest weakness was its defense of big pass plays. I was not sure whether the Huskies would be able to take advantage; they have tended toward a more conservative play-calling approach and had struggled to protect Browning long enough for deep passes to develop. Nonetheless, the Dawgs were able to make some explosive plays in the passing game, including three completions of 30+ yards and a very solid average of 9.7 yards per pass attempt. The 33-yarder to Drew Sample was a nice ball and makes you wonder if there is untapped potential in the pass game.
On the other hand, the pass offense also had some frustrating failures. Browning’s early interception echoed so many of the worst plays of his career. He evaded pressure and tried to make a throw under duress. The ball was underthrown and easily intercepted. Browning finished 15/25, which is a passable completion percentage given the larger proportion of deep attempts. This analysis would look very different if Browning had thrown a better ball on the OT fade route to Ty Jones, but that overthrow put Oregon in position to close out the game.
Rush Offense: B
While it felt at times like the Huskies got away from the run, the ground attack was generally quite good. Running backs combined for 38 carries for 190 yards, an average of exactly five yards per carry. Myles Gaskin played through pain in his shoulder as much as possible, which resulted in 69 gritty yards on 15 carries. Salvon Ahmed was more explosive, and both Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew spelled the starters nicely through the second half. Perhaps the biggest failure in the run game came in overtime. With 2nd and goal from the three, McGrew made a questionable decision in the wildcat formation. He dove into traffic rather than handing off the ball for what looked like a more likely TD to the outside. On third down, the aforementioned fade route probably should have been a run in a four-down situation. Then again, it’s hard to fault the run offense for the play calls.
Pass Defense: B-
Justin Herbert entered the game with lots of hype. I heard him referred to as a Heisman candidate, the likely first QB taken in next year’s NFL draft, and the best player on the field between the two teams. He played reasonably well in this one, but the Dawgs’ defense at least made things difficult for him. He completed only 18/32 passes for the game and faced more pressure than UW had managed in recent weeks. There were a few big plays scattered through the game, but with 202 yards and only 6.3 yards per attempt, the Oregon pass attack was not overpowering. It would have been nice to hold onto one of the balls that hit the defenders in the hands, though the pass deflections were still good outcomes. Receiver Dillon Mitchell deserves more credit than Herbert in the pass game. He hauled in eight catches, scored a TD, and made several nice plays after the catch to extend gains.
Rush Defense: B-
Setting aside the nice dive by CJ Verdell that ended the game, the run defense mostly did its job. Oregon went 3/3 on 4th down conversions, but they were all short yardage situations that would have been very difficult to stop. The Husky defensive strategy, with a limited number of explosive playmakers, is to force offenses to put together long, steady drives. They did a fairly good job of sticking to that strategy on Saturday. Oregon averaged only 3.6 yards per rush.
Special Teams: F-
Make no mistake, this game was decided by special teams. The Huskies outgained Oregon 437-379. Both teams turned the ball over once. It was mostly an even game, but UW slightly outplayed a talented rival on the road. Of course it would be nice to have more of a cushion, but sometimes special teams has to execute to win, especially against good teams on the road. The Huskies have ranked outside the top 100 in the country in special teams performances, according to S&P+. That’s a problem and it showed up here.