Losing to Oregon sucks. To the film:
2nd and 6:
We’ve seen this heavy look from the defense a few times over the last couple of years. Results have mostly been mixed. But here’s what the Huskies do on a 2nd and 6 play early in the game:
This looks like a run-stuffing short-yardage defense at first blush. There are two defensive tackles (#95 Levi Onwuzurike and #99 Greg Gaines), plus #92 OLB Jaylen Johnson as the down front. LB #17 Tevis Bartlett is lined up to the wide side of the field, in the outside linebacker spot normally occupied by Johnson. #8 Benning Potoa’e is in his normal outside linebacker spot to the boundary (narrow) side of the field. Worth noting is that Onwuzurike is lined up as the nose tackle, and Gaines is in a three-tech position.
At the snap, Bartlett and Potoa’e back off in coverage, and it’s left with a three-man rush. Oregon is running a screen, so the offensive line doesn’t pay too much attention to the pass rush, but even at that Onwuzurike gets a quick, clean release and creates pressure. Oregon’s right guard gives a swim move to Gaines, which appears to cue Gaines in to the fact that the lineman isn’t blocking, but instead looking to release, and Gaines does what his 300+ pound body can do to stay with the running back that’s suddenly in his face. Potoa’e reads the screen after his initial coverage drop, and his kamikaze attack draws the attention of both Oregon’s guard and offensive tackle.
The Huskies actually get lucky here. There’s a bit of pressure in Justin Herbert’s face, and the typical mass of humanity surrounding the screen receiver. This causes Herbert to give up on the play a little too quickly. Had he waited about another half-second, time he could’ve easily bought by eluding Onwuzurike’s rush, the play opens wide up. LB #25 Ben Burr-Kirven is closing, but runs himself out of the play by cutting over the top of the blocking. The receiver on the play side has successfully run off CB #1 Byron Murphy. A completed pass here is going for a lot of yards, and it was actually there.
Justin Herbert is a really good college quarterback. He made a beautiful throw in the face of pressure for a Duck touchdown with just seconds left in the first half. Outside of that throw though, he struggled when he saw pressure. Not just “was less good”, but was consistently inaccurate to the point that he was barely more than mediocre.
1st and 10:
The first half of this play simply couldn’t be more beautiful.
It’s a play action pass, and the Huskies are showing a “power” look by pulling LG #76 Luke Wattenberg to go with the fake handoff to Myles Gaskin. Oregon’s linebackers read the action of the offensive line, and the play-side inside linebacker steps in to fill the hole (and take on the pulling guard). The rest of the offensive line registers an obvious “win” on this play - no Oregon defensive linemen is anywhere near the play. The tight ends, one on each side of the ball, have also stayed in to block, and have things sealed off. Just great. It’s a two receiver route against four Oregon defenders in coverage, and we see #5 Andre Baccellia release at the bottom of the screen, and while we can’t really see the receiver at the top, best guess is that it’s #2 Aaron Fuller. Both are granted free releases from the line, and while Baccellia’s first cuts aren’t exactly great, we never see them again to know what they do on the play.
Browning has all day in the pocket. He’s waiting, and waiting, and waiting. He moves slightly to the side at a sign of danger, but it’s picked up and he resets. And waits some more. We don’t know what the receivers are doing to get open, but given the amount of field we do see, we can comfortably say neither is coming back to the ball.
Mental clocks that say “the play must be over by now” apparently start going off, because Wattenberg simply lets his man go. He. Stops. Blocking. Browning suddenly has pressure that shouldn’t be there, and after one final hitch, sets and throws short to Gaskin. Gaskin drops the ball due to a good hit from the linebacker in coverage, but even if he’d held on it was going to be a minimal gain.
All of the great execution up front goes for naught because the quarterback can’t or won’t throw the ball into double coverage, or the receivers don’t react well to the fact the play has just gone on way too long, or something.
About midway through the play, Cade Otton’s (#87, left side of the offense) man makes a meaningless retreat into coverage. This would’ve been a great opportunity for Otton to take a late release into the wide-open middle of the field. That’s asking for a lot of awareness, it’s freelancing, and it’s generally a no-no. But a tight end in the route to begin with against that defense would’ve killed the Ducks; once the secondary turns its back in coverage, a late throw to the middle is a minimum 20 yards.
3rd and 6:
I’m sure this wasn’t a fun play to watch in the film room for the Huskies’ secondary.
The Huskies are in their dime package, and you can see S #7 Taylor Rapp at the line of scrimmage as a rusher (and note, dime pressure like this isn’t a blitz). #11 Brandon McKinney is the safety at the very back of the defense as the dime back.
The Ducks have two receivers at the bottom of the screen. OLB #8 Benning Potoa’e is out on them. This position gives him a wide rush angle that’s probably too far away to have any real affect in pressuring the quarterback, but it puts a big body out to serve as a screen-buster. And this is something that the Huskies have done a lot this season, and it appears to have discouraged teams from running bubble screens to that side. It’s a nice wrinkle.
Credit to the Ducks for the design of the play. CB #1 Byron Murphy is in off coverage at the bottom of the screen on the Ducks’ outside receiver. The inside receiver runs a route that’s sole intent is to create traffic for Murphy to negotiate. Had Murphy been in tight coverage, we would’ve seen a pick play here. After that, the receiver running a crossing route from the other side of the field also angles for Murphy, and due to Murphy’s position, also adds an official into the mix to create even more traffic to negotiate. Oregon’s #13 is a good player, and we’ll have to concede the completion due to the design of the play, the execution, his abilities, and a not-so-great series of angles from Murphy. But the touchdown is where things just go badly. Murphy overruns the play and doesn’t get in position to make a tackle. Dime back McKinney comes up and basically jukes himself out of his underwear. #23 Jordan Miller makes the late read to come over and help, but doesn’t look like he really wants to make a tackle. Touchdown Oregon, and a blast from that annoying-as-hell foghorn thing they use in the stadium.
1st and 10:
Washington had a lot of success running their stretch (wide zone run) plays at Oregon’s pursuit, stringing them along and given the running backs the chance to find a crease and pick up 4-7 yards regularly. Those plays look broken or poorly blocked, but they really aren’t.
There are really two culprits on the play. First, we’ve highlighted here before how important the tight ends are in sealing the edge on a play like this. #87 Cade Otton is on the right side of the line of scrimmage, and he’s up against a really good football player in Oregon’s #97 Jaylen Jelks. In a perfect world, Otton wants to get to the defender’s outside shoulder and pin him back inside. In this case, Jelks is too wide for Otton to get the angle, and then Otton is just too tall on his block to actually get the job done. Jelks ends up two yards in the backfield, creating traffic and danger that Myles Gaskin has to negotiate.
Next the zone block on the right side of the line. RT #58 Kaleb McGary does a fine job at the beginning of the play on Oregon’s defensive tackle, and then passes the tackle off to RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland. McGary looks like he’s in good position to block the attacking inside linebacker, but if you look closely, you can see that Oregon’s defensive tackle is holding him. While this is in fact a penalty, it’s not one that’s ever going to get called. And in this case, it’s a smart football play. Regardless, though, McGary should absolutely be physical enough to fight through and make a better block.
Instead, the linebacker fights through McGary in an attempt that looks shockingly easy (until you consider the hold). The penetration from the outside linebacker has taken away Gaskin’s momentum and forward steam, and it’s an easy tackle for a loss.
3rd and 2:
First, why are you running, Jake Browning? There’s no pressure. There’s no reason for him to move, and that is then compounded by moving the wrong way on his initial flush - to his right, toward the pressure.
But lest’s back up. It’s 3rd and 2. Just get two yards. Washington has two tight ends to the left side of the formation, and the inside one, #88 Drew Sample, runs a simple little hitch route. And he’s wide open. Make the throw, Jake. This one is as easy at it comes.
The next thing to see is that the initial protection by the offensive line is really good. But when you watch center Nick Harris #56, he gets off-balance because he’s set on not giving up anymore ground on the play. In terms of the old military adage, he could’ve traded space for time by allowing himself to be pushed backward and then resetting his feet, instead of stopping them. Browning’s initial move to his right creates an angle for the defensive linemen to “unstick” themselves from the blockers, and then things just completely fall apart. The end is Browning trying to float the ball into a well-covered receiver. And a punt.
Watch Sample as the play shifts from behind; he’s trying to move with Browning’s scramble to present himself as a target. But as Browning reverses field, so does Sample, and the resultant top-like action wipes Sample from the play.
This play was all sorts of frustrating, because everything about it screams “Gain of six, first down” if the QB does the simple stuff.
3rd and 8:
It wasn’t just Washington’s tight ends that created back-breaking gains, as Oregon shows on this play.
Once again, the Huskies are in their dime package. But instead of rushing #7 Taylor Rapp from the middle of the field (you can see him retreat at the snap), they instead bring CB #27 Keith Taylor from the back side of the play. Unfortunately, Taylor is picked up pretty easily.
To keep seven in coverage, OLB #55 Ryan Bowman drops at the snap instead of rushing. The Huskies are in a Cover 3, with four men occupying the underneath zones. You can see #5 Myles Bryant dropping back to the deep outside at the snap, which means that the cornerback (#1 Byron Murphy) on that side has the short flat zone (called “cloud” coverage on that side; it would be “sky” if the safety had the flat and the corner had the deep zone). Bowman has the middle hook zone.
Oregon’s tight end #7 shows blocking at the snap, and then runs a delayed out route toward the sideline. Murphy is occupied by a receiver running through his zone, and doesn’t see the tight end. Bowman appears to see him, but doesn’t cover aggressively as the tight end passes through to the outside flat. It ends up being an easy throw and catch for a first down, and it’s one of those plays that almost feels a bit like cheating.
3rd and 3:
The play after this one was the attempted QB sneak on 4th down that just went to Hades at the snap. But this was the play that actually should’ve picked up the first down and kept a solid drive moving along.
It’s 3rd and 3, and the Huskies have three running backs in the game in the wildcat. Myles Gaskin is the “quarterback”, with #24 Kamari Pleasant beside him, and #25 Sean McGrew coming in motion across the formation.
The play is a good ol’ fashioned power lead, with a pulling guard and a lead blocker in the form of Pleasant opening a hole. It appears that things get off to a bad start at the get-go. Watching McGrew’s motion and the response of the linebacker, it appears the snap should’ve come earlier, so that the defense has to respond to McGrew as the option man (watch McGrew’s hesitation at the mesh point, note how Oregon’s defense is respecting the motion, but resets and disregards McGrew after he’s past Gaskin).
In the end, what matters here is the blocking. RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland pulls and gets a solid block on the inside linebacker. Pleasant is next through as the lead blocker and he takes on....no one. He misses entirely. This is what really kills the play; there would’ve been a crease that allowed Gaskin to pick up the three yards had Pleasant made a block. A yard short, you all remember the rest....
Credit is due to the Oregon players for their effort and intensity. They had a good plan and they stuck to it. The Duck offense is strong on the ground and through the air, and they earned every single one of the 24 points they scored in regulation, and the deciding six in overtime. But the Washington coaching staff lost the battle on the offensive side of the ball, and that was the difference in the game. The methodical Washington offense spent too much of the game defending against a porous Oregon defense instead of attacking it, and ended up punting away too many drives because the play calls from the booth and at the line of scrimmage were correct against the numbers of Oregon’s defense, but not what was actually happening. They needed to run against the Ducks’ heavy fronts instead of keeping in blockers and trying to pass, and they needed to flood routes with five receivers against Oregon’s coverage instead of trying to run against it. It’s entirely possible that the Ducks’ defensive coaches just played the odds right a few more times than the Huskies’ staff. But even if you give the Ducks the field goal they missed in regulation, the Husky offense had enough advantage to overcome 27 points, and they didn’t. Back home for Colorado, and hopefully a return to the win column.
*Side note: The gifs for this film study came from the Husky fan that posts a link to a drive.google file for the game on youtube. It’s great he does that, and is willing to share it publicly. But it’s a tough format to work with. If anyone comes across full Husky games in the days after on youtube, please forward the links to John Sayler or Brad Johnson. Thanks, and Go Dawgs.