1. Hunter Bryant was the missing link for this offense
This isn’t exactly a breaking news bulletin but Hunter Bryant is really good. The last 2 games he appeared to be fully healthy and a healthy Bryant means adding a badly needed playmaker to the offense. This receiving corps has been searching for someone capable of accumulating yards after the catch all season. Chico McClatcher was able to play that role for a while but he never looked 100% and of course left the team a few games ago. Here are the average yards after catch per reception for the Husky WR/TEs active on the roster right now on the season:
Now McGrew, Ahmed, and Gaskin would be 1st, 3rd, and 5th on that list respectively if you factored them in as well but most of those come on dump offs where some of that YAC is behind the line of scrimmage. Bryant gives the offense a legitimate weapon down the field. He only has 6 targets so far this season but all 6 of those were caught for a grand total of 172 yards plus a TD. 5 of the 6 targets traveled greater than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage in the air. He’s a flat out game changer.
2. The more Mike Leach vs. Chris Petersen changes, the more it stays the same
I will fully cop to having bought into the idea that the Washington State offense would be more effective this season than it had in years past. Gardner Minshew’s status as a human being with functional legs rather than the statue of Luke Falk combined with frankly unbelievable pass protection from the O-line meant I foresaw greater success. But whether the snow contributed to it or not this Husky defense shut them down the same way they always have.
The Washington defense went with a dime look on 52 of 63 snaps but it wasn’t the same dime defense that we saw all season. Brandon McKinney who is the normal 6th defensive back didn’t get on the field and instead the Huskies played 4 corners at almost all times. They went with a 3 man rush on 80% of pass plays and never rushed more than 4 at any time.
That led to Gardner Minshew repeatedly dumping off the ball to his running backs as 1/3rd of attempted passes went at or behind the line of scrimmage. Twice in the 1st quarter the Huskies missed a tackle on those check downs which led to gains of 18 and 22 yards but after that the defense settled in and shut them down. No other passing play went for greater than 10 yards. It turns out it’s easy to defend 4 WR offenses when you actually have 4 above average corners. Problem solved.
3. The future is now on defense
We saw fewer snaps from seniors during this game than perhaps any all season. The 3-man defensive front the Huskies employed meant that Greg Gaines played just 54% of the snaps which was the fewest of any game this season. Jaylen Johnson played in just under half. Levi Onwuzurike played his fewest snaps in several games but I expect that percentage to be higher next game when they will likely return to playing 2 down linemen at a time against Utah.
Meanwhile, Tevis Bartlett who has been the 2nd starter since Auburn at ILB was relegated to backup duty as both Brandon Wellington and D.J Beavers played every snap as the 2nd ILB in this game.
The OLB spot was a concern for the Huskies this season but it looks like things will be ok there next season. The only senior who appeared at OLB was the aforementioned Bartlett who went back to the role he had against Auburn. Otherwise, Benning Potoa’e, Joe Tryon, and Ryan Bowman handled the rest of the snaps and that looks to be the starting configuration we should expect to see next season. One note is that Ariel Ngata didn’t play but it’s unclear if that’s because of depth chart reasons or if he was banged up and it wasn’t reported by the coaching staff.
With the need for a 4th corner on the field at all times both Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor saw extensive work. Myles Bryant didn’t return to the game after halftime and so Taylor was forced to take his place as essentially a 2nd slot corner alongside Molden. Despite generally being a press outside corner he held up well.
The only spot on defense that was handled exclusively by players who probably won’t be around next season was at safety where Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh played every snap. It’s theoretically possible that Rapp could forego the draft and return for his senior year but I prefer to expect him to leave and then be pleasantly surprised if he stays. Brandon McKinney got heavy doses of playing time against Stanford when JoJo went out following the targeting penalty but that 2nd safety spot is still unclear. However it should be a heck of a battle next year between Isaiah Gilchrist and future redshirt freshmen Kyler Gordon and Julius Irvin.