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Grading the Game: Washington Huskies vs. Utah Utes Football

A dominant performance by the secondary coupled with an emergent running game to produce a quality road victory over a conference opponent.

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I remember when Washington Huskies fans were happy with 14-point road victories over conference opponents, no matter how they arrived.

Oh, how times have changed.

Despite a lackluster (and at times, downright hideous) passing game, the Dawgs rode to victory over the Utah Utes thanks to a starring performance by Myles Gaskin and the Washington defense, the latter of which held the home team scoreless for the game's final 45 minutes. In other words, the Huskies are one unhealthy punter and a fourth-year starting quarterback shaking the yips away from being the Pac-12's clearly most dominant team in 2018.

Rushing Offense: B

Dawg fans have waited a few games each of the last several years for the running game to start rolling, and as it turns out, 2018 was no exception. After muted performances against Auburn and North Dakota, Myles Gaskin showed off his familiar game-breaking abilities by carrying 30 times for 143 yards and a beautiful 38-yard touchdown run that gave Washington an early 7–0 lead. Washington’s running game on the left side of the field has taken a notable step back with the absence of preseason All American left tackle Trey Adams; fortunately, Kaleb McGary and Jaxson Kirkland have stepped up their game on the right side. Of course, upcoming opponents (including Arizona State) will note that development as well, so it will fall to Scott Huff to continue developing his unit in order to shore up their shortcomings.

Elsewhere, Bush Hamdan gave UW’s upcoming opponents a wrinkle to spend time preparing to defend on a reverse that Andre Baccelia took 37 yards for first-and-goal on an eventual touchdown drive. As for sophomore Salvon Ahmed, there’s clearly more to the story of his health than Petersen has volunteered, as the budding superstar had just three touches in the game. His is a storyline to which Washington fans will want to pay close attention going forward.

Passing Offense: D+

Oh, Jake.

It’s no surprise that Huskies fans everywhere (count me among them) all but erupted into spontaneous combustion after watching Jake Browning throw one of the ugliest and most needless interceptions of his career. Yes, the offensive line was atrocious at picking up the blitz, which left Jake with few options for escaping pressure and keeping his eyes downfield. Yes, Bush Hamdan seemed consistently dumbfounded by Utah’s pressure packages, particularly on Washington’s ugliest sequence of plays on the season, in which the Huskies went from first-and-10 at the Utah 16-yard line to fourth-and-39 from the Utah 45 late in the second quarter. But there’s no excusing a fourth-year senior quarterback running around in a panic and airmailing a ball straight into the arms of a defensive lineman, who by all rights should have scored a pick-six.

In short, it’s hard not to be concerned at this point about the offensive line’s blatant inability to adequately handle competent pass rushers, or Browning’s failure to recognize when they’re coming and audibling a hot route that will compensate for the oncoming rush. Teams are quickly learning that casino blitzes against the Huskies offense seem to work more often than they don’t, and it seems like it’s just a matter of time until that weaknesses costs Washington a game they ought to win, a la ASU in 2017. If not for the continued development of players like Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones, it would be hard to come away from the Utah game with anything positive to say about Washington’s passing game.

Rushing Defense: B+

For a brief time, Zach Moss gave Washington fans reason to worry that he would control the game’s flow and ride the home crowd’s energy to a highlight reel performance. At the end of the first quarter, he had seven carries for 40 yards and a touchdown; for the rest of the game, he had six carries for 27 yards.

Part of this, of course, is a function of Utah playing from behind, as well as the result of Tyler Huntley not playing effectively against the Washington pass defense. But part of it too is the play of Washington’s font seven, particularly Greg Gaines (three tackles, one TFL) and Ben Burr-Kirven (11 tackles), the latter of whom earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. Collectively, the Utes had just three rushes that went longer than nine yards, the longest of which was Huntley taking advantage of an open field scramble on a broken pass play.

Passing Defense: A+

I’ve never wanted to not be someone as badly as Britain Covey on Saturday night.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I watched a defense so thoroughly brutalize an opposing wide receiver corps. Utah’s pass-catchers consequently saw ghosts the entire night, and you can’t convince me that plays like Murphy’s above didn’t contribute to what absolutely should have been a two-yard touchdown reception by Connor Haller following Browning’s interception.

In short, cornerbacks Jordan Miller (three tackles, one pass defended and an interception) and Byron Murphy (five tackles, one TFL and four passes defended) played what I would argue are the best games of their careers. Murphy gave us an early candidate for Hit of the Year against Covey, while Miller made play after play to break up Huntley’s pass attempts and in general make life as difficult as possible for Utah’s receivers. And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh, who made a series of punishing hits and important plays of their own, or Tevis Bartlett, who forced a fumble following a 16-yard Covey completion.

Special Teams: C

Wherefore art thou, Joel Whitford?

Of Race Porter’s seven squib punts, Utes punt returner Britain Covey made mincemeat of three, netting the Dawgs 12, 11 and eight yards. (The remaining four netted UW 35, 39, 46 and 21 yards.) Clearly, those numbers are untenable, and it will be up to Petersen to strategize how the Huskies can better flip the field and limit big returns, particularly on the road in hostile environments. Kicker Peyton Henry took advantage of the high altitude by sending all three of his kickoffs for touchbacks, and nailed each of his three extra points. On punt returns, Aaron Fuller earned 21 yards on two attempts, while Washington didn’t have a kick return recorded on the day.

Coaching: B

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, credit where it’s due: The Washington offense got off to its first fast start of the season, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time since last season’s Apple Cup. Slow starts have been a concern for the Huskies in recent games, and it’s good to see positive developments in that regard, particularly against a defense as stout as Utah.

Along the offensive line, the Huskies looked positively dreadful against Utah’s blitz packages, to the point that it’s not just about the Dawgs getting beaten physically. Scott Huff clearly has a lot of work to do in order to get his unit up to snuff, particularly given the alarming signs that senior Jake Browning looks pretty similar against blitzes as did freshman Jake Browning.

On defense, Jimmy Lake continues to show why Pete Kwiatkowski’s suggestion to hand him a co-coordinator title and play calling duties was such a coup. His secondary is arguably the best in college football, and the man himself has “future head coach” practically branded on his forehead.

With regard to penalties, the Huskies drew five flags for 35 yards — an improvement over each of the last two weeks, to be sure, but still a high number. Add it to the list of things Petersen needs his team to continue cleaning up in practice this week.


What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against the Utes?

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  • 4%
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