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Three Things We Learned: Pac-12 Championship Game

Byron Murphy is good, UW WRs and kicking game aren’t; same as it ever was

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Utah vs Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Nothing is Settled for Washington at WR Moving Forward

At the beginning of the season we knew that the wide receiver position was perhaps the biggest question mark on the team. And with only the Rose Bowl left we may not have gotten many answers. Aaron Fuller had an amazing start to the season but cooled down late in the season. Ty Jones showed the ability to make contested catches on jump balls like no one else on the team but also showed inconsistent hands and a complete inability to gain separation. Andre Baccellia has been the brightest performer over the last month but ideally shouldn’t be more than a 3rd receiver on a great team.

Meanwhile, the hope was that one of the freshmen might step up and make an impact after Quinten Pounds and Chico McClatcher were injured and stepped away from the team respectively. That wasn’t the case as Terrell Bynum took over as the 4th WR before fading from the rotation. Then it was Alex Cook’s turn and his playing time similarly faded away before Jordan Chin got plenty of snaps against Utah. The final numbers for those 3 all season? 196 combined snaps, 63 routes run, 4 targets, and 1 completion; a 26 yarder from Jake Haener to Alex Cook in garbage time against FCS North Dakota.

The Huskies will have a trio of talented receivers coming off redshirts next season in Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne, and Trey Lowe (Lowe actually got one snap against Utah but didn’t get a target, his only play of the season). Given UW’s inconsistencies at the position throughout the year there will understandably be questions asking why we should expect great things if they couldn’t get on the field this season? Maybe the playbook just takes an adjustment period, maybe they needed improvement at the little things like run blocking, or maybe they were overrated. We’ll find out. Next year.

Pac-12 Championship Game WR Stats:

Fuller- 43 snaps, 28 routes run, 7 targets, 3 catches (3 “uncatchable”), 40 yards, 1 broken tackle

Baccellia- 39 snaps, 26 routes run, 7 targets, 7 catches, 65 yards, 1 broken tackle

Jones- 31 snaps, 17 routes run, 1 target, 1 drop that turned into an interception

Chin- 20 snaps, 7 routes run, 0 targets

2. Kicker is Still this Team’s Biggest Position of Need

We also knew coming into the year that kicker was going to be a massive question mark but there were much lower expectations. The job was won by a redshirt freshmen walk-on. If there’s one position where a walk-on can be expected to have the best chance at success it’s probably at kicker/punter but it still wasn’t ideal. And given his pedigree I don’t think that Henry did that poor of a job. With just the Rose Bowl to go he made 41/42 XP’s (with the one miss coming in a snowstorm). He made 9/10 from inside of 30 yards. He even was still 5/8 from between 30-39 yards it’s just unfortunate that perhaps his two biggest misses from that distance directly cost us a win at Oregon and made things dicey in the Pac-12 title game (and it’s much too small a sample size to know if those misses were really just random or if the size of the moment played into it as a mental block).

Once again, those numbers are completely reasonable to expect from a walk-on redshirt freshman kicker. None of the criticism about the kicking position should be directed at Henry. However, it’s completely fair to raise issues about the coaching staff’s inability to get a better guy onto the roster. Given that you really can’t afford to spend multiple scholarships at the specialist positions it makes it tough when you miss on a guy as the Huskies clearly did. The hope is that Tim Horn can come in as a true freshman and restore some faith in the kicking game. Because Washington can’t afford to cost themselves points just outside the red zone like they did on Friday night.

The Huskies had drives that made it to the Utah 23, Utah 26, Utah 11, Utah 30, Utah 22, and Utah 36. They scored 3 points on those drives. Part of that is a problem with the offense’s inability to gain yards in a condensed field. But the expected points from those drives are a heck of a lot higher than 3. If you traded Matt Gay (who made a 53-yarder in this game) with Peyton Henry then the final score likely would’ve been 19-0 in UW’s favor instead of 10-3.

3. I’m Really, Really Going To Freaking Miss Byron Murphy

The dude is a freaking stud and he’ll continue to be a stud for whichever team drafts him in the 1st round this year. I can be selfish and hope that he’ll return for another year at Washington but at this point there’s really nothing to be gained for him. He’s already suffered a broken leg in college and come back from it. I think the absolute floor for him is as an early 2nd rounder and so he’s going to go. It sucks that because of the injury and the redshirt season the Huskies only got 20 games from him before he moves on to the NFL. But I’d rather get 20 games of All-American play from someone than 48 games of meh play.

PFF graded Murphy as the best corner in the country this season and his stats truly are astounding. Murphy was targeted 58 times this season which was the most of any UW player. Opposing QB’s had a college QB rating of 97.62 when throwing in his direction. They completed 30 of those 58 passes (51.7%) for 305 yards (5.26 YPA) with 3 TDs and 4 INTs. Murphy also had 13 pass breakups in addition to those 4 picks. And of course the first of his two interceptions on Friday night went for the game winning touchdown. Salute to you Byron and we’ll be wishing you all the best when you show up on our TV on Sundays.