An important part of engineering a successful college football season is finding ways to secure victory when your team isn’t playing at its best. Thankfully, Chris Petersen’s staff was able to do just that Saturday when the Washington Huskies took down the Colorado Buffaloes 27–13 in an afternoon game at Husky Stadium.
This was perhaps Washington’s ugliest game of the season; certainly, it was the ugliest game in which they’ve won a two-score victory. Despite ending five of their 10 offensive drives in punts or turnovers and missing their star tailback for the first time in his career, the Dawgs found a path to victory and now control their destiny in the Pac-12 North thanks to Oregon’s Saturday evening loss to Wazzu.
Rushing Offense: B-
It took 48 games into Myles Gaskin’s career at Washington before the Dawgs’ career rushing leader missed a game due to injury, and purely from looking at the Colorado game’s stat line, you wouldn’t know at first glance that anything was amiss. With Gaskin sidelined, Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant all stepped up in key situations, with the trio combining for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. That was made possible thanks to a strong performance on the part of the offensive line, whose consistent push at the line of scrimmage led to Colorado earning a season-low four tackles for loss. In terms of explosion plays, the Dawgs had seven rushes for 10 yards or longer; the Buffs came into Saturday’s game having allowed an average of just 4.8 of those runs per game. However, the rushing offense grade does get a slight bump downward thanks to Salvon Ahmed’s boneheaded unsportsmanlike penalty for a throat-slash gesture that led Chris Petersen to bench the explosive playmaker for the better part of the second and third quarters.
Passing Offense: C
Jake Browning had his statistically worst game of the season against Colorado, earning season-lows in yards (150), yards per attempt (6.0) and passer rating (115.60). That he did so while playing an at-worst-mediocre game is an instructive illustration of the high-floor, low-ceiling skill set that Browning brings to the Huskies and that has driven a vocal segment of Washington fans positively bonkers since he played his first game in 2015. Aaron Fuller led the team’s pass catchers with 63 yards on five receptions, including a beautiful touchdown catch on a fourth-down slant route to seal the game away with under four minutes left to play (see above). On the negative side, Chico McClatcher committed a tremendously costly turnover when he fumbled inside the Colorado 5-yard line in the early going of the fourth quarter, breathing new life into a Buffaloes team that the Huskies were all but set to put away with what would have been a decisive touchdown drive.
Rushing Defense: B+
Travon McMillian (25 carries for 86 yards) had a decent game against the Huskies, but Saturday’s game against the Dawgs marked the first time that the Buffs’ running backs were held out of the end zone this season. With Jaylen Johnson suspended for the first half following his targeting penalty against Oregon, Ryan Bowman earned his first start of 2018 and made his presence felt by way of seven tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Levi Onwuzurike (three tackles, two TFL) stood out for his frequent disruptions at the line of scrimmage, as did Ben Burr-Kirven (15 tackles) and Tevis Bartlett (seven tackles, one TFL). The Buffs only had two designed run plays for 12 yards or more; in addition to those, Steven Montez earned a first down early in the fourth quarter with a smart 12-yard scramble on a well-covered pass play.
Passing Defense: B+
The Buffs began Saturday’s game with a gorgeous opening drive in which Steven Montez completed both of his pass attempts for a total of 48 yards and a touchdown to Daniel Arias, who beat Jordan Miller in one-on-one coverage down the left sideline for a 37-yard score. Once that drive was over, the Washington defense settled down and held Montez to 3.7 yards per attempt (96 yards on 26 throws) and an interception for the remainder of the game. Myles Bryant, Keith Taylor, and Ben Burr-Kirven each tallied a pass defended, while BBK corralled Montez’s fourth-quarter interception that effectively iced the game in Washington’s favor. In third-down scenarios, Montez completed four of nine attempts for 25 yards and two first-downs.
Special Teams: C-
Special teams remains Washington’s biggest bugaboo and continues to vex those around the program who watched the game phase rise to new heights in recent years under Chris Petersen’s coaching and the performance of players like Dante Pettis.
Kickoff returners Chico McClatcher and Sean McGrew gained between 20 and 22 yards on each of their three attempts (including a McClatcher fumble/fumble recovery on the opening kickoff), while Washington’s kickoff coverage team continues to look dreadful. The Buffs began their three drives following Kyle Evans’ return attempts at their own 35-, 39- and 23-yard lines, and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Dawgs are being hurt mightily by Peyton Henry’s inability to boot kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Washington’s 17 touchbacks on the year are tied for last in the conference, and ranks 73rd nationally.
Thankfully, Henry was noticeably better in placekicking situations, making both of his chip-shot field goals and all three of his PATs. Aaron Fuller lost one yard on his single punt return, and Joel Whitford’s first two punts (37 and 57 yards) gave the Buffs the ball at their own 20- and 10-yard lines, while his third came from deep in UW territory and only traveled 34 yards before setting Colorado up at their own 46-yard line. Lastly, Alex Cook almost single-handedly kept the Buffs’ hopes for an upset alive with a horrible automatic-first-down penalty on a fourth-and-17 punt with just under 12 minutes left to play.
Slow starts have been an ongoing problem the Dawgs have struggled to shake this season, and that circumstance was again the case Saturday resulting in Colorado’s 7–0 lead within six minutes of the opening kickoff after forcing the Huskies to punt on their first drive. Thanks to Washington’s various advantages over the Buffs (home field and personnel among them), the Huskies were able to eventually assert control over the game, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to do that away from Husky Stadium against a more physically talented opponent.
Despite the early touchdown drive, Jimmy Lake deserves credit for calling a defense that blanked Colorado in the second half, especially given the offense’s repeated tendency to shoot itself in the foot with costly turnovers. Likewise, Bush Hamdan is to be commended for finding a way to win what a mostly ugly performance, especially considering the absence of a player like Myles Gaskin who has been such a steadfast feature of the team for nearly four years.
Finally, the Dawgs were penalized just three times; unfortunately, two were for completely avoidable personal foul penalties — Ahmed’s aforementioned taunting, and Alex Cook’s shield-leaping that turned a Colorado fourth-and-17 punt into an automatic first down. If any member of the team repeats either of those penalties for the rest of the year, the blame for that will fall directly at the feet of Washington’s coaches.
What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against the Buffaloes?
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