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Three Things We Learned: California

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Offense? Nope. Special Teams? Nope. Coaching? Nope. Defense? Yep. 1 of 4 ain’t too bad, right?

NCAA Football: Washington at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Husky Road Woes Continue

Humans are pattern seeking creatures. We will often look at a series of unrelated events and believe that there is some underlying issue present throughout. That said, it’s getting pretty hard to ignore the results of the games away from Husky Stadium. Essentially every team will be worse on the road than they are at home. Which is why we’ll use the spread to determine Washington’s underachievement.

Washington is now 1-7 in their past 8 games against the spread outside of Husky Stadium. If you want to extend that all the way back to the beginning of 2017 it improves a little to 3-8 but the Utah game this year is the only time Washington has really performed quite well in a road or neutral site game since basically the Pac-12 title game against Colorado in 2016. And if Utah doesn’t fumble it at the 1 yard line without being touched there’s a chance that the Huskies fail to cover against Utah as well. I’m going to have a serious battle between my head and my heart if Washington is somehow favored in the Apple Cup this year because the clash between our road woes and the success of Pete versus Leach is a tricky situation.

While the Huskies have struggled in those games it at least makes me feel a little better after watching Oregon lay a complete and total egg at Arizona (losing by 29) to know that Washington hasn’t done that in a long time. Only one time has Washington lost by more than 17 points in the Chris Petersen era and it was in his first year at #9 Oregon by 24. The last time UW lost by 29 or more points was in Sark’s final season at Arizona State.

2. The Coaching Staff is Very Much Mortal

The decision to bench Browning for Haener for two series with close to no warning is the first time in the Coach Petersen era that I feel he made a coaching decision that was indefensible. If you feel the offense is struggling and needs a shot in the arm, fine. But do you really expect your QB who presumably didn’t take any reps in practice this week, is on the road against either the 2nd or 3rd best defense in the conference, who had only a few minutes to warm up, and is coming in at his own 11 yard line to do better than your 4 year starter?

And if you are going to put Haener in that situation then at least give him some plays that give him a chance to succeed. Having him throw through traffic over the middle is not what you want. Give him some easy completions.

At this point the offense is what it’s going to be with the pieces it has. Washington was playing their 3rd string left tackle. They were down their all-conference RB. They’re still missing the TE that is probably the only person on the team consistently able to beat man coverage. Switching out QBs on short notice in a desperate attempt wasn’t going to help.

There is clearly a hindsight element to this. The decision literally cost Washington the game and so it’s easy to look back and criticize. But let’s just say that Haener looked great and he was able to put together consecutive touchdown drives on short notice and lead the Huskies to victory. Then you’d have to question the coaching staff for continuing to stick with Browning when Haener showed that ability. And to clarify. No, Haener coming in and scoring multiple times against Cal would not have been the same as what he was able to do at home against North Dakota. This was bad process no matter how the final results turned out.

3. Our Red Zone Offense Would Never Score On Our Red Zone Defense

Once again the Washington defense was put into several tough positions and yet they never allowed a Cal bear into the end zone. Cal got their first field goal after (yet another) long kickoff return gave them the ball at the Washington 42 yard line. The Golden Bears gained 34 yards on their first 2 plays of that drive but then the defense buckled down and held them to a field goal attempt. And after Jake Haener threw his pick-6 the defense came on the field to successfully stop a third down conversion.

Washington has now given up a touchdown on just 52% of opponent’s red zone trips. Meanwhile the Washington offense has scored a touchdown on just 51% of their 43 trips into the end zone. The Huskies are tied for 5th in the country for the most red zone field goals made. It sounds nice to be 5th in the country at something before you think too hard but that is not a good stat.

But when Washington needed a 3 and out to give Browning back the ball and a chance to turn things around they couldn’t do it. When Washington played Alabama in 2016 with one of the best defenses of all time it felt like a miracle every time the Huskies scored a first down. That is very much not the case for this Husky defense. But despite its shortcomings it has to be acknowledged that this unit is still very good. However, when your offense and special teams play that poorly sometimes very good still isn’t good enough.