Wide Receivers Still Struggling to Get Open
If you compared the current production to preseason expectations I think most fans would still be ok with where the wide receiver position is at right now. But the group really struggled against a Duck defense whose weakness going into the game was considered to be their secondary’s ability to cover on the outside. Time and again in the first half the Huskies ran play action and had plenty of time but there was just no one getting open downfield. That can’t be placed entirely on the receivers. Washington went into max protect several times, only running a couple of routes downfield. But on several replays with an all-22 camera angle of those plays it didn’t look like there was a lot of effort made to come back to the ball.
Husky WRs were only targeted 10 times on the day on a total of 29 dropbacks. Browning was 5/10 for 84 yards and a TD on those throws including of course the massive 43 yard touchdown to Ty Jones. The struggles were particularly noticeable in the 1st half when Browning went 2/6 for just 24 yards targeting his WRs. Unsurprisingly, the Husky receivers had the fewest targets, yards, and first downs of any game this season.
Particularly disappointing was the play of Aaron Fuller. He saw only 3 targets all game and had 2 catches for 15 yards. His previous lows were 5 targets with 3 catches for 50 yards.
Special Teams (Not Just Kicker) Rounding into Form for Halloween
When you look at all of the efficiency stats it’s hard to understand how Washington didn’t win against Oregon. But the answer is pretty much entirely due to Special Teams. Yes, the Huskies did recover a fumble following a long kickoff return. That play essentially cancelled the effect of the Browning interception on the first possession.
Apart from that though it was pretty nightmarish. Tony Brooks-James not only gained 40 yards before that fumble but also had a 56 yard return which gave Oregon superb field position yet again for their first touchdown. Joel Whitford had a 23 yard punt. And of course the coup de grace was the Peyton Henry missed 37 yarder as time expired.
There’s a reason that the UW special teams unit is one of the worst in the country, ranked 123rd nationally by S&P+. You can’t just be bad at one element of special teams to have that kind of a ranking. It takes a truly special kind of around the board awful to get there. Last season with at least as bad if not worse of a kicker situation and one of the best punt return seasons as all time, Washington was 106th. The Huskies have a new scholarship kicker coming in next season and it seems improbable that their coverage units will continue to be this bad. We all knew the kicking game had the potential to cost us a game this season. And unfortunately, Dick Baird was right.
Hindsight is One Helluva Drug
Last year the Huskies were eliminated from College Football Playoff contention by losing on the road to another Pac-12 North competitor. But it gets brought up about 1/10th as often as the ASU loss because there wasn’t a specific moment Husky fans could point to and say “this is specifically why we lost the game”. Missed field goals in games decided by 3 or less points tend to take on all the ire of a fan base.
This Oregon loss will go down in infamy not only because of the stakes and the opponent but also because there were so many little moments that could’ve gone right and didn’t. What if the Huskies don’t drop interceptions on back to back plays? What if Justin Herbert takes 1 more second to turn around before Jaylen Johnson runs into him? What if the Huskies don’t settle for the field goal and use their timeouts aggressively to score? What if Henry makes the field goal? What if we don’t run the wildcat with McGrew? What if we don’t run an end zone fade which is one of the lowest efficiency plays in all of football?
I wanted to provide my thoughts on a few of those but start it off with one question not mentioned above. What if the Huskies don’t convert on the 4th and 3 on that drive? Chris Petersen has been maligned for his decision making but if the Huskies had given Oregon more than a minute to work with and good field position because they threw to Sean McGrew on the most important play of the season to that point? He would’ve had an angry mob waiting for him at the airport.
In the moment I was against the decision to “settle” for the 37 yard field goal rather than run another play on 3rd and short to get closer. But looking back I think it might have given the highest win probability. The best case scenario is you convert on the 3rd down. Then you have complete freedom to run any plays you want to get either a touchdown or a complete chip shot to win the game. But without even getting into the risk of a fumble, what if you get stuffed on 3rd and 1? Now Oregon calls a timeout with about 35 seconds left and if you miss the kick they have the time to get into field goal position themselves. And if you make the kick they have gashed you all day on kick returns and still have enough time to move downfield and tie or win it anyways. Oregon didn’t call the timeout when it remained 3rd down because then UW could just set up a play to go for it on 3rd and 1. In order to lose the game you have to both miss a 37 yard field goal as well as get outscored in OT. The odds of both those things were low but at least equal to providing the opening for Oregon to win it in regulation if keep going it for it there.
Finally, the play calling once Washington got close to the endzone in OT has been rightly criticized. Jake Browning was playing superbly in the 2nd half. Taking the decision making completely out of his hands to run the wildcat with your 3rd string RB seems questionable regardless of how well he was playing. I also detest running a fade on 3rd down there even if it’s to a great jump ball receiver who has 5 inches on his CB. But in Christian Caple’s recap he notes that Browning said he checked into the play once he saw single coverage on Jones. The coaching staff trusts Jake to make plays at the line and adjust to what he’s seeing. And I’ll admit that given the matchup the fade could have easily worked. But Jake absolutely has to give Jones a chance to make a play on the ball. He threw that pass like it was to John Ross. What’s the point of taking advantage of the height mismatch if you don’t lob it in bounds? All of that information is why it’s so hard to knock play calling. It’s up to the players to execute correctly and in Washington’s case you can’t tell what was the original play call and what was an audible made by Browning.
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