The scoreboard and stat sheet say that the Washington Huskies accomplished yesterday what they needed to get done: they suffocated an overmatched opponent to the tune of a 42-point victory, and got the backups plenty of live-fire reps without sustaining any major injuries. Mission accomplished, right?
Those who watched the game (and you can be forgiven for not doing so, by the way), though, came away with a different impression. Namely, they saw the Washington offense struggle mightily, especially in the running game, for the game’s first three quarters before things broke open in the fourth. It’s an issue that could prove problematic as soon as the upcoming weekend, when the Huskies take on a Utah defensive line that is as good as any in the conference.
Rushing Offense: C
The Huskies’ final rushing stats (34 attempts for 195 yards and three touchdowns) belie the fact that at the end of three quarters, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed combined for just 57 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries—and that 24 of those yards came on Gaskin’s final run of the first half, just prior to the clock’s expiration. We can only speculate as to the exact cause of UW’s inability to establish an effective ground game, but the absences of left tackle Trey Adams (out for the season) and center Nick Harris (week-to-week) loomed large. Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew feasted in the fourth quarter to put the already-decided game on even colder ice; either one could make a credible claim to be considered Washington’s third best tailback at the moment.
Passing Offense: A-
Aside from a pair of interceptions, Jake Browning looked mostly poised and sharp throughout the afternoon, completing 23 of 37 attempts for 313 yards and two touchdowns. While Aaron Fuller again paced the team in receptions with six, Ty Jones and Quinten Pounds continue to make a strong case for themselves as potential No. 1 receivers as well, as both players turned in highlight-reel catches that will surely draw the attention of opposing defensive coordinators in the weeks to come. (So will the gadget play UW ran yesterday, on which Andre Baccelia hit Fuller on a reverse-pass.) Jake Haener looked crisp in his fourth-quarter snaps as well, hitting his targets on all seven pass attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown. Finally, the offensive line played well in their pass protection schemes, as the Fighting Hawks didn’t register a single sack or pressure against Browning or Haener.
Rushing Defense: B+
The Fighting Hawks gained 173 yards on 31 carries Saturday (sacks excluded), but it bears mentioning that 69 of those yards came on one explosion play midway through the third quarter. Take that one run out of the equation, and North Dakota’s yards-per-carry average drops from 5.6 all the way down to 3.5. In addition, redshirt freshman linebacker Ariel Ngata recorded his first career forced fumble on North Dakota’s first drive of the afternoon, which was recovered by Taylor Rapp. Six plays later, the Huskies’ offense capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown pass from Jake Browning to Ty Jones to give Washington a lead they would never relinquish.
Passing Defense: A
Washington lived up to its reputation as DBU Saturday, as the Huskies secondary limited North Dakota to an anemic 101 yards on 33 attempts. Furthermore, the Fighting Hawks completed only three passes longer than six yards, and converted just four passes into first downs. In third-down situations, North Dakota was 2–8 for a single first down. Even without an interception logged on the day, it’s hard to imagine the Husky pass defense performing much better than that.
Special Teams: B+
Peyton Henry was Mr. Dependable for the Dawgs against North Dakota, nailing his one field goal attempt from 29 yards out and splitting the uprights on all six of his PATs. Similarly, Race Porter excelled at giving the Huskies defense excellent field position. Three of his four punts gave the Fighting Hawks possession at their own 15-, 13-, and 10-yard lines, and even his one touchback on the day probably could (and should) have been downed within the 5-yard line before it squirted into the end zone. As for the returners, Aaron Fuller signaled for a fair catch on both of North Dakota’s punts, and Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin returned their single kickoff returns for 31 and 17 yards, respectively.
Slow starts continue to be a factor for this team, and for the second game in a row, Washington’s first offensive drive ended in a punt. Against Auburn, the Huskies went three and out; against North Dakota, they went five and out. I guess you could call that progress, but I get the sense that most Huskies fans won’t feel so extraordinarily generous.
More than anything, it looked to all the world Saturday that the Huskies’ starters (particularly on the offensive side of the ball) weren’t particularly focused on the game. While that’s an acceptable frame of mind for viewers and fans (it’s a top-10 team versus an FCS opponent, after all), it’s worrying that the team looks to have indulged in that frame of mind as well, especially considering that they were coming off a disappointing missed opportunity in Atlanta against the Auburn Tigers.
One positive development was Washington’s five penalties for 45 yards, although it bears mentioning that North Dakota didn’t draw a single flag in the entire game. (I’m interested to dig into that stat and find out the last time that happened in a game involving the Huskies, if ever.) Those numbers are a marked improvement from the 10 flags for 95 yards that the Dawgs drew in week one against Auburn, and are in line with the 4.2 penalties for 34.2 yards per game that characterized Washington’s season in 2017.
What overall grade do you give the Huskies for their performance against the Fighting Hawks?
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