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The Good, The Bad and The Unknown: Utah Edition

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The Huskies pulled out a gritty win in Salt Lake City, but it was far from perfect.

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

The Good

Picking up a conference win on the road. Look, it wasn’t as pretty as many fans would’ve liked to see, but the Huskies went into Salt Lake City and won a rock fight of a game, at night no less. It was far from a perfect game and fans are still waiting on the Huskies to put together a well-rounded performance in all three aspects of the game, but at the end of the day the Huskies knocked off a Utah program that has given them some of their toughest conference tests over the last three years.

Myles Gaskin doing Myles Gaskin things. Gaskin finished the game with 142 rushing yards and a touchdown on 30 attempts and was up to his usual tricks Saturday. He mixed in a long 38-yard touchdown run with a litany of shorter-yardage runs, but ones that largely came after contact. He was squirming, slipping, and diving his way for extra yardage in a way that only he can do. The rushing game wasn’t perfect, particularly at the end of the game, as they struggled to create running lanes that likely would’ve put the game away. However, the fact that the line wasn’t dominant makes Gaskin’s performance all the more impressive.

Aaron Fuller emerging as true No. 1 option. He didn't find the end zone Saturday, but Fuller did pull down 6 catches for 108 yards. Considering that the Huskies only threw for 155 yards, Fuller has obviously become Jake Browning’s most trusted target. The most impressive part of Fuller’s performance Saturday was his ability to get open with both intermediate and deep passing routes, particularly on deep play-action comeback routes. Fuller has largely lived up to the preseason hype so far.

Jake Browning’s TD pass to Ty Jones. Last Saturday was very far from Jake Browning’s best performance (ditto for Ty Jones, who recorded just one catch) but Browning’s six-yard touchdown pass was a thing of beauty by both players. Browning correctly scrambled away from pressure and extended the play; Jones ran the scramble drill to perfection and capped it off with a sliding touchdown catch. This was not a game to remember in terms of the passing game, but that was a great play.

The defense laying the wood. Here are just a few of the hits the Huskies’ defense dished out last Saturday:

There’s not much I can say about the physicality of the Huskies’ defense that those clips don’t already say, so i’ll add just a few quick thoughts. 1. This was by far the most physical performance by the Huskies defense; they held the Utes to just 3.7 yards per play and just 261 yards of offense. They also came away with three turnovers. 2. Has someone checked on Utah receiver Britain Covey? The Huskies put together a highlight film of hits on him alone, and I’m surprised he was able to walk away in one piece.

The Bad

Jake Browning’s interception. All right, let’s get this one out of the way. Browning’s interception was bad—very, very bad. To be fair, his offensive line certainly did him no favors on the play, but he should’ve just taken the sack. Instead, he threw the ball into the hands of defensive tackle Pita Tonga. It should’ve been an easy pick six, but Tonga inexplicably fumbled out of bounds on the 11-yard line. The Huskies were bailed out again when the Utes failed to convert a sure touchdown on fourth down. The interception should’ve cut the lead to 21-14 and could’ve cost the Huskies greatly. Part of the issue stems from a positive; Browning does have an underrated ability to keep plays alive with his legs. However, Browning just has to cut his losses and go down when he finds himself in running backwards away from an oncoming defender.

The offensive line. If you only watched the Huskies’ first two offensive possessions Saturday, you’re shocked to see the offensive line here. The Huskies marched down the field for two touchdowns on their first possessions, and both were either set up or the result of long runs that were well blocked. However, the line seemingly collapsed as the game went on. Both Jared Hilbers and Luke Wattenberg were pulled at various time seemingly due to their performance, and Nick Harris was struggling with pass protection before leaving the game in the second half with an apparent leg injury. Despite Harris’s less than stellar play, the Huskies rushing attack struggled without Harris. The Huskies obviously miss Trey Adams, but the unit’s issues seem to go much deeper than that. The offensive line is still a concern heading into week four, and it’s fair to wonder whether this unit will transform into the dominant group they were billed as in the preseason.

Punting. The Huskies did not do a good job either punting the ball or in coverage, as returner Covey averaged 15.4 yards per return, including a 28-yard return. To be fair, starting punter Joel Whitford has been out with an apparent injury since the first quarter of week 1, and walk-on punter Race Porter has done an admirable job stepping in under the circumstances. However, Porter’s line-drive style doesn’t give the coverage team much time to get down the field, and when it doesn’t bounce the right way it can leave the Huskies vulnerable. Add Porter’s 21-yard punt out of the Huskies’ end zone that gifted the Utes tremendous field position, and it was a bad night for the Huskies’ punting unit. This is something that could cost the Huskies this season if it doesn’t improve.

The Unknown

Salvon Ahmed’s health. Head coach Chris Petersen said Monday that Ahmed is fully healthy, but you can be forgiven if you don’t believe that. It’s hard to believe that Ahmed is 100% given that he has only had 20 carries through three games, including just three rushing attempts through three weeks. However, if Petersen is telling the truth, the Huskies have to figure out a way to get Ahmed involved in the offense.

The offensive line’s starting five. The Huskies pulled starting left tackle Jared Hilbers and left guard Luke Wattenberg Saturday, and starting center Nick Harris left with an injury. Whether performance or injury, it’ll be interesting to see who starts for the Huskies up front against ASU this week.