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Film Study: Huskies wear down Buffaloes

It was the usual theme for the 2018 season

Colorado v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In what’s become a popular refrain, one that Husky fans have grown tired of hearing, Washington beat another Pac 12 foe in an uneventful, unspectacular, 2013 Buick Regal sort of way. This time, it was the Colorado Buffaloes’ turn to eventually tap out while the Huskies applied the world’s slowest sleeper hold.

The Buffs looked like they intended to make things interesting while scoring easily on their first possession. Those 80 yards ended up representing almost a third of Colorado’s offensive output for the entire afternoon, and Steven Montez’s next 26 passes averaged 3.7 yards per attempt. By the end of the game, Colorado’s offensive players looked like they wanted to be just about anywhere but Husky Stadium. The Husky offense managed to stay out of its own way long enough to build an insurmountable lead early in the second half, while still managing to leave 10 or more points on the field as has become their custom.

To the film, where we use the miracle of modern gif-ery to see if we can figure out how the Huskies managed to let the sun shine (eventually) on Montlake.


2nd and 10:

Colorado probably wants a do-over for this play.

It’s not exactly clear who was supposed to block Ryan Bowman (OLB #55), but no one did. Really, it looks like a pretty major miscommunication on the Buffs offense, as no one is actually in position to do it, and the offensive line doesn’t seem to be running the same play as the backs and receivers.

Colorado’s left guard and left tackle pull to their right on a double power play. It’s possible that Colorado’s coaches hoped the misdirection would cause Bowman to follow them and run himself out of the play, but that’s such a big gamble that it seems unlikely as the design. On the other hand, the center turns as if to pick up a back side pursuer, so who knows...

The tight end, running back, and wide receiver to the bottom of the screen are clearly blocking for this shovel pass/fly sweep coming back to the right. The tight end picks up inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, and the receiver makes a horrible attempt to block Myles Bryant (slot corner #5). The play is over by the time Keith Taylor (CB #27) runs around the block of the running back, but that isn’t necessarily the angle the coaches are going to want him to take, as he’s going too wide and high that he’s giving up a running lane.

None of it matters as Bowman is left unblocked, and he has to change neither direction nor speed after the snap to get to the preordained point that the ballcarrier is going to run into him. Tackles for losses don’t get much easier than this.

1st and 10:

The execution isn’t great all the way through, but there’s a nice little pin-and-pull action on the left side of the line to give Salvon Ahmed the corner and a chance to turn on the jets for a gain of 17 yards on this play.

Jared Hilbers (LT #70) is the “pin,” as he blocks down on the defensive tackle in the gap between he and Luke Wattenberg (LG #76). Wattenberg is the “pull”, as he comes around Hilbers’ block in order to lead the back off-tackle through the hole. Neither the pinner nor the puller make great blocks, but fortunately for the Huskies, tight end Cade Otton (#87) and Aaron Fuller (WR #2) do on the outside of the play. Otton takes out the upfield pursuit of the outside linebacker, and Fuller makes a pretty violent block on the corner.

Those two create the alley that Ahmed runs through, after he simply runs past the upfield pursuit of the defenders Hilbers and Wattenberg sufficiently slow down with good-but-not-great blocks. Down the field, Ahmed shows some power to go with the speed, and it’s time to move the chains.

3rd and 5:

Great work by the defensive line all the way around, but the highlight of the play is a lesson in what happens when you try to block Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (OLB #9) with a tight end.

Colorado is trying to run power to their left on this 3rd down play - you can see the right guard pulling. The left side of the offensive line is supposed to block “down” (to their right), and the running back is supposed to follow the pulling guard through the hole and to the glory of a first down and an NFL contract.

The tight end on the left side of the line makes contact with Tryon-Shoyinka, but after that brief initial stalemate, Tryon-Shoyinka grabs him with both hands and throws him to the ground with disgust the same way a nine-year old will do on her birthday to express disappointment with a gift from her uncle (who posts here and won’t be named, in order to protect his anonymity and his feelings). Tryon-Shoyinka then crashes down on the ballcarrier and holds on as the posse arrives.

The Buffs’ ballcarrier didn’t exactly run to the hole (which was outside and to the left), instead choosing to slam himself into the middle of the Husky defensive line in a scene that played itself out over and over on Saturday. This decision is questionable, given that Levi Onwuzurike and the other defensive tackle (can’t tell who) have held the line. At the end of the play, you’ll note Ben Burr-Kirven hits the star button and unleashes his flying kamikaze Ginsu attack.

2nd and 9:

The film study crew isn’t exactly sure what to call this play. Everything about it says pass, yet no matter how many times we watch, we fail to see Jake Browning make the throw to Sean McGrew. It’s almost as if there’s some sort of secret handoff that turns this pass play into a run.


A true draw play, something that’s been so scarce on Montlake the last several years that one might think it was outlawed. Colorado obviously wasn’t expecting it, and the trickeration allows McGrew to pick up an easy 15 yards.

The offensive line is in pure pocket protection mode at the snap. After holding that for a beat, Jaxson Kirkland (RG #51) releases down the field to block. Joining him is tight end Drew Sample (#88), who loops back up the middle of the pocket to the middle linebackers. Kirkland makes a fine block, but Sample stops his feet right before contact. He shields the inside linebacker, but a little better technique would’ve easily removed the defender from the play and left McGrew with a one-on-one opportunity to something a lot bigger on this play. But it’d be greedy to complain.

Nice initial cut by McGrew at the line, and good acceleration to fit the crease.

1st and 10:

It would be an exaggeration to say that the Washington defensive front spent the game living in Colorado’s backfield, but this arguably was their most consistent game in resetting the line of scrimmage backward. The BYU game was the high water mark for tackles for negative yardage with eight, but five of those came from members of the secondary. The Huskies had five TFLs on Saturday, and they all came from the front four. That’s a good thing.

(Sidenote: That’s Jaylen Johnson (#92) playing defensive tackle. As everyone will remember, he was suspended for the first half of this game due to a targeting call against Oregon. After taking pretty much every snap this season as the Huskies’ field side outside linebacker, he came back in the defensive tackle spot that he’d played his first three years at Washington.)

Even though certain posters (coughRhaegocough) will tell anyone who listens that the future of football fitness is functional training, Greg Gaines (DL #99) shows the importance of the good ol’ bench press on this play. Both he and Johnson are two-gapping on this play, meaning they are responsible for anything coming through the gaps on either side of them, and as such, are schematically prevented from being up-the-field players unless they can do so by simply bulldozing their blocker backward (as opposed to a one-gap tackle, who as the name implies, has responsibility for only one gap, and can afford to penetrate upfield and make plays). A two-gapping tackle needs to keep the blocker away from him by keeping his arms straight so he can throw the blocker off and move to either side. This is a pretty impressive show of strength by Gaines here, and he still has enough left to fight off his blocker and make first contact with the ball carrier while a whole host of Huskies swarm in.

1st and 10:

Colorado gave a lot of read/option looks from the quarterback and running back in the first half, but handed off virtually every time no matter the look the defense gave. That changed early in the second half, as Steven Montez kept the ball and picked up decent yardage a couple of times in the first Buff drive of the third quarter.

Colorado is running a read-option play with an inside zone split (note the tight end coming across the formation to seal the back side of the play, and potentially provide a cutback angle for the running back). The Huskies are crashing Benning Potoa’e from his outside linebacker spot (and note that with Jaylen Johnson working as a defensive tackle this game, Potoa’e has flipped sides to the “field” spot Johnson normally occupied, with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka taking the boundary OLB position). Potoa’e is attacking the mesh point instead of reading the play, and he’s afforded this opportunity because the defense has a run blitz called on that side, with Taylor Rapp (S #7) also crashing the line on that side. Watching Montez’s eyes, you can see him read Potoa’e, and elect to hand off.

On the back side of the play, Colorado’s left guard is tied up with Josiah Bronson (DT #90), and the left tackle and center release to the second level inside linebackers. Both elect to block Tevis Bartlett (#17). This is unfortunate, because no CU blocker is available to pick up Ben Burr-Kirven (#25). Burr-Kirven shows his quick instincts to diagnose the play, and meets the ball carrier right at the line of scrimmage. Yetanothertackle for the nation’s leading tackler.

1st and 10:

This is a simple power run to the offense’s left side, with right guard Jaxson Kirkland (#51) pulling. It’s coming from an unbalanced formation, though - right tackle Kaleb McGary (#58) is all the way over on the left side, outside of left tackle Jared Hilbers (#70).

The blocking is pretty much exceptional across the board. McGary and Luke Wattenberg (LG #76) collapse the right side of Colorado’s defensive line, allowing Hilbers to go eat pancakes with the linebackers. Cade Otton (TE #87) gets a great block on the play side. Terrell Bynum (WR #28) has a stalk block, but lets himself get pushed backward. But this is way down the field, and Salvon Ahmed has enough speed to turn the corner on the safety pretty easily.

This play really highlights Ahmed’s unique style with the ball, especially when he’s working the edge on a stretch play, or is looking to take an inside run to the boundary. He has this bent-waist, shuffling gait with in-and-out jab steps that makes it clear who has the ball without seeing his number, and is highly reminiscent of White Goodman’s peek-a-boo dodgeball stylings. All of that lateral work, though, is actually moving forward, and what looks like two or three yards ends of being six. Or 16. While all Husky fans would love to see him get more touches, the positive here is that he isn’t taking a physical toll right now, and he’s going to get plenty of touches in the very near future. He’s a very, very good runner that has answered the question as to whether or not he has what it takes to be an every-down back. The emergence of Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant, plus whatever any new recruit can bring, keeps this position well-stocked even as the Huskies lose all-time leading rusher Myles Gaskin after the year.

4th and 5:

You absolutely must make defenses pay for the arrogance of playing Cover 0.

Colorado doesn’t have any safety help on the outside receivers on this play, as every defender is within about six yards of the line of scrimmage. Colorado rushes seven men, with only man coverage to the four offensive players in the route.

As this play moves along, from behind, you can see that the offensive line does a fantastic job of picking up the blitz, and it’s only the last man coming that provides any real pressure. Jake Browning stands in the pocket and waits until the last moment to deliver a strike to Aaron Fuller, who has gotten open on the slant (if you skip ahead to 1:48:55 you can see him beat the coverage).

Once Fuller jukes the cornerback, it’s a simple matter of repeating the hundreds of times he and Browning have thrown this pass in the offseason and in practice. Touchdown, Washington.

Hopefully Husky fans understand the concessions that teams are making each week when facing Washington. Utah didn’t attempt utilize its mobile QB. Arizona State made no effort to get the ball to its best player (WR N’Keal Harry). Colorado dropped the uptempo aspect of its offense, as well as minimizing Steven Montez’s running. It’s an acknowledgment that the Huskies aren’t going to expose an exploitable weakness defensively, so the only real chance to pull out a win is to play the Huskies’ game and hope for some luck in the fourth quarter. So while the wins appear to be ugly, and there’s no doubt that Chris Petersen et. al. would much prefer to be up by 35 at halftime, this ugly, win-it-in-the-fourth quarter style is exactly the way this team is built. Don James would be proud.