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Three Things We Learned: North Dakota

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The depth at O-line and LB are a concern but the secondary balled out

NCAA Football: North Dakota at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

1. Missing 2 starters on the O-line is a big deal

The Huskies are without Trey Adams all year but they had best hope that Nick Harris is able to play this week on the road at Utah. The Husky line struggled on Saturday particularly in the running game. That should be obvious to anyone who watched the game but here are some stats to back it up.

In the 1st half the Huskies were successful on only 4 of 14 running plays against an FCS team (a play’s successful if on 1st down it gains 50% of the necessary yards, gains 70% on 2nd down, and converts on 3rd down). And one of those 4 was on the final play of the half when Gaskin got 24 yards when really he needed 74 for the Huskies to score and so probably shouldn’t count. Washington running backs were hit at or behind the line on 45% of their rushing attempts. The Huskies ran out of their jumbo package 5 times and they picked up a combined 4 yards (although one of those was a 2 yard TD). That is not nearly good enough.

The line was better in pass protection but still had some issues. I marked them down for giving up 8 pressures on 49 dropbacks so almost 16%. Neither Browning nor Haener were sacked but that’s still more than you’d like to see even against a team that was blitzing as much as North Dakota was.

2. The secondary looks elite against sub-standard competition (but not the pass rush)

I wrote last week that the secondary struggled at times against Auburn but that wasn’t the case on Saturday against North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks dropped back to pass 38 times and attempted only 5 passes that were 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage. They went 1/5 for 11 yards on those throws. North Dakota also went just 3/8 for 19 yards on throws that targeted the three starters at CB.

Another sign of the coverage’s strength was the fact that North Dakota had 7 throwaways. It was clear that their game plan was to not take risks but those weren’t mostly plays where there was a rusher wrapped around the QB’s legs as he let go. Coverage was a major part.

The Huskies were able to get pressure on almost 13 of North Dakota’s drop backs. That included by my count 5 pressures, 3 hurries, 1 knockdown, and 3 sacks. However, 5 of those including 2 of the sacks came on blitzes by a member of the secondary. The only member of the starting front 7 to have a pressure was Benning Potoa’e and that was on a confusing decision by the QB to basically spike it rather than try to avoid the rush. Washington is not going to win the conference if they can’t find a way to get pressure without sending Taylor Rapp and Myles Bryant on blitzes every other play.

3. Linebacker depth will continue to be an issue

The Huskies were already thin at linebacker before we discovered at game time that D.J Beavers was in a walking boot. The coaching staff made sure that Tevis Bartlett had the flexibility to play both inside and outside over the off-season so he’ll be able to take over as the starter alongside BBK for now. But with the (sorry everyone) exodus of Kaho before the season and the injury to Brandon Wellington this group was already thin.

Nothing against Kyler Manu and Jake Wambaugh but I’m sure that the coaching staff wasn’t planning on playing them as extensively as they’ve had to so far this season. Manu has played 15.1% of the snaps to this point and Wambaugh has played 18.7%. But that includes all of the snaps that Beavers played in the Auburn game and it appears he may be out for a while. Taking those out it means Manu has played 30% of the snaps with Beavers out and Wambaugh 37.1%.

This will likely be a bigger problem as the Huskies play more physical running teams (Utah anyone?). John Santiago had a really good day running against the UW starting front 7. Even if you take out the 69 yarder (nice) that was the one explosive play of the game for North Dakota they still averaged 3.5 yards per carry running up the middle. And about half of those yards came after first contact.