A quarterback controversy.
A partially filled stadium.
A struggling offense.
When Washington kicked off its PAC 12 home opener on Saturday night against Arizona State, one may have presumed that the Huskies were winless coming into it given the dour mood of the fanbase.
I’m not sure if any of that mood changed after UW grinded out a well-played and hard-fought 27-20 win over a a tough Arizona State team on Saturday night. But the Huskies will take it either way.
The theme of the night was patience as both teams emphasized big play prevention and ground control offenses in their respective gameplans.
Things started off ominously for UW with a scripted double pass pay that immediately turned into an Andre Baccellia thrown interception and a starting position for the ASU offense on the UW 20 yard line. That mistake cost Washington seven points and the early lead.
From there on the Husky offense went to work. Jake Browning got some decent pockets to work from and was able to get the play-action game going to keep ASU on their heels. For those of you on the Browning bench watch, the Husky senior had a very efficient game thanks in part to a clear focus that he put on his pocket awareness and footwork. Highlights for Browning and the passing attack in that first half included Aaron Fuller’s first TD reception of the season and this:
Washington WR makes great catch for TD https://t.co/Gy5BMl85Pg— Chris Landon (@chrislandon) September 23, 2018
The defensive effort, at first blush, seemed frustrating for much of the night. This was especially evident in the first half when ASU was able to move the ball steadily in four, five and six yard chunks. That defense was probably by design as the Huskies played patiently with very few pressures and no sacks on the night. Of course, there were almost no big plays surrendered. In the first half, ASU’s longest pass play was 9 yards and no play exceeded 15 yards. ASU QB Manny Wilkins passed for a grand total of 32 yards in that frame.
The combination of fatigue and a collective sense of urgency can often cause a really clean and tightly played contest to devolve into something a little more frantic. Such was the case as the Sun Devils and Huskies moved into the second half. A few more penalties, a few more missed throws, some egregiously bad missed blocks (like Gaskin whiffing on blitz pickup) and a couple of dropped passes (including a painful Chico McClatcher drop that stalled a red zone trip for UW) all became a bit more prevalent for both teams.
Washington thought that they had finally broken open the game early in the fourth. Browning found Cade Otton in the back corner of the end zone on a red zone scramble play to put the Huskies up by two scores. The defense then promptly forced a three and out giving UW the ball back near midfield. Everything was looking good.
But a UW’s offense stalled as ASU forced another Husky punt. A ridiculous 42 yard N’Keal Harry punt return, fielded on his own 5 yard line, set up ASU for a quick strike TD drive that drew the score within seven points with less than 3 minutes to play.
The Huskies answered. A big third down bootleg pass from Browning to Andre Baccellia that required a replay booth review to overturn put Washington in a position to kill the clock and finish the game.
UW game balls go to Jake Browning on offense and Greg Gains on defense. Browning was efficient all night long finishing with 202 yards and three TDs. What was really impressive about Jake’s game tonight was the intentional manner that he stepped up in the pocket when it broke down and how he made plays out of those moments. This really shows the impact of the coaching he received after last weekend’s struggle with Utah.
Gaines was johnny-on-the-spot with ASU’s run-heavy offensive game plan. The senior tackle finished the game with 7 tackles and no big plays getting past him. He was the real tone setter for the Huskies D on the night.
The Huskies move to 2-0 in the conference with #25 ranked Bringham Young University coming to Husky Stadium next weekend.
- The Husky MASH unit might be starting to resolve itself. UW welcomed back key injured players including C Nick Harris, P Joel Whitford and LB Brandon Wellington against ASU.
- The opening starting five on that maligned UW line from left to right was LT Jared Hilbers, LG Luke Wattenberg, Harris, RG Jaxson Kirkland, and RT Kaleb McGary. As in the Utah game, there was some rotating - particularly with Henry Roberts in the second half.
- The UW offense definitely improved on its explosive plays in this one. They created five plays of over 15 yards through the air and 7 plays over 10 yards on the ground. We aren’t exactly talking about Oregon circa 2010 here, but it is progress against what was a pretty tough ASU defense.
- ASU’s offense game plan coming into this was interesting. They opened the game with run plays on 12 of their first 16 snaps. Herm Edwards stayed with the rush heavy attack as his primary strategy the entire game.
- Red zone continues to be challenge for the Huskies. UW was definitely better in this one than they have been with 27 points on five attempts. But only three of those five resulted in TDs and none of those were able to be generated through a strong rush attack.
- The other thing that UW fans continue to worry about is the pass rush. Washington had no sacks on the game on 27 ASU pass attempts.
- Washington came into the night with a strong focus on containing ASU star N’Keal Harry. They were able to accomplish that in the passing game. Harry finished with 5 catches for 20 yards.
- Browning’s first TD pass - the answer to the ASU first quarter turnover / TD - was a classic RPO play that the Husky QB read perfectly. The ASU SAM linebacker got caught cheating towards the line and Browning hit a wide open Aaron Fuller running into the open zone. I point it out as we haven’t seen this season nearly as much RPO as I personally would have expected. The effectiveness of the UW running game makes the run option a legitimate threat and the ability to read the defense is one of Browning’s strengths. More please.
- Fans of defense will no doubt appreciate the continuing development of OLB Benning Potoa’e. While he still hasn’t yet developed into a pass rushing force, he’s becoming very assignment sound and strong as an edge-setter. I thought he was a quietly effective contributor tonight.
- RB Salvon Ahmed has been a hot topic in town. The staff has apparently heard the fanbases pleas for more Ahmed as the Husky sophomore picked up a couple of carries early in the first quarter and finished with 9 carries and 56 yards for the game.
- In case you missed it, Kamari Pleasant - not Sean McGrew - was the third UW RB to have a carry in the game. That came at around the 3 minute mark in the first quarter. Pleasant went on to be a contributor with 3 carries for 18 yards.
- What a difference a punter makes. With Joel Whitford back, UW’s went away from the “line drive” strategy and back to one that took advantage of Whitford’s ability to give his return team chances to make plays. Whitford’s 54 yard punt at the end of the first half completely erased ASU’s hope of putting together a two-minute drive to close the half. Now that I think about, the punt teams were pretty good all the way across the board. The kickoff and return teams still need attention.
- Did anybody notice that the “clap count” was back? I don’t recall having seen Browning do that much this season or last. Hey, whatever works.
- ASU started three true freshmen on their defense. Each of the three, in particular LB Merlin Robertson, played pretty well. It is also interesting to note that the son of former Seattle Seahawk defensive lineman Sam Adams, redshirt sophomore Tevin Adams, is in his first year as a starter for the Sun Devils after having arrived on campus as a JC transfer.
- Both teams played a relatively clean game. There was just three penalties called between the two teams in the first half and 9 overall. ASU committed six of those for 57 yards.
- Let’s talk about TE Cade Otton for a moment. The redshirt freshman was a first-read on a few pass plays including the big 3rd quarter play-action pass that netted 24 yards. The big man has good hands and body control as demonstrated with his fourth quarter TD reception. He figures to be a big part of this offense going forward.
- Not a ton of news on the injury front. DB Austin Joyner took a headshot in the first quarter and did not return from what I could tell. It also looked like Gaskin took an injury to his left arm that he seemed to be able to play through.