The Eye Don’t Lie
We all like to think that we’re experts and that we know better than the coaching staff. And maybe there are a very select few among us who are better in one specific area than a specific member of the coaching staff. It’s almost never true that we’re all right and the coaches are all wrong. Except about Puka Nacua. We all get to claim a W on this one.
Nacua played a season high 7(!) snaps during which the Huskies threw the ball and earned a target on 4 of them including 3 catches for a team high 98 yards. Here are your season long totals for broken/forced missed tackles per catch as a percentage for UW receivers: Nacua- 40%, McClatcher- 13%, Baccellia- 3%, Fuller- 2%. Obvious small sample size caveat but it doesn’t seem possible that the coaches will be able to keep Nacua off the field after his breakout performance on Saturday night.
Nacua’s average depth of target after increasing his total targets by a factor of 5 is now 22.8. The next highest total on the team is Andre Baccellia at 12.2. This offense finally has a credible deep threat on the outside which if he plays more consistently will open things up over the middle for Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant who have success with crossing routes.
Nacua played a season high 39.1% of the offensive snaps against Arizona while Andre Baccellia played a season low 45.3%. Aaron Fuller also played a season low 59.4% of the offensive snaps. It may not have happened as quickly as Husky fans would have liked and it may have already cost the team its season long goals but an adjustment was finally made to increase the explosiveness of the offense. Against Oregon we’ll learn if they can keep it up against an elite defense.
Ngata Do What You Ngata Do
There had been plenty of talk over the offseason that Ariel Ngata would potentially shift inside once it became clear that the Huskies were lacking depth with the medical retirement of D.J Beavers. However, that faded away eventually and it seemed that the coaching staff wanted him to instead put on weight and remain on the outside. Ngata’s body however seems physically incapable of putting on 20-30 pounds and in recent weeks he had seemingly been passed by some of the younger OLBs. Here are the combined snap counts from the Stanford/USC games: Bowman- 104, Tryon- 99, Latu- 19, ZTF- 17, Ngata- 15.
However, the coaching staff recognized that Khalil Tate’s speed when scrambling might be a massive problem for starting ILB Kyler Manu. That led them to shift Ngata inside on obvious passing downs to better contain Tate. 17 of Ngata’s 26 snaps came on Arizona dropbacks and the Wildcats averaged just 2.41 yards per play compared to 6.38 when he was off the field.
Part of that is situational. Nearly 90% of those passing snaps came when Zona had 7+ yards to go for a 1st down. But he led the team in tackles and the team played better when he was out there. It will be interesting to see if the Huskies once again go with Ngata in place of Manu at ILB on passing downs this week against Justin Herbert who can also scramble but isn’t nearly as dynamic a ball handler as Khalil Tate.
Go West Young Man...Or East...Just Not Straight Ahead
You would generally hope that the Huskies could play bruiser ball against an undersized Arizona defense but with their starting center and right guard missing all or most of the game respectively, Washington tried a different approach. Coming into the Arizona game I had charted that the Huskies ran the ball between the tackles on nearly 70% of their total non-QB sneak runs. That number dropped to 41% against Arizona.
Part of the difference is easy to explain: the absence of Richard Newton. It has been clear this year that Newton is the team’s best short yardage back. With him unavailable (as well as the 2 OLs) and two speed backs left as the primary options the coaching staff decided to instead attack the edges and they were incredibly successful doing so. Ahmed and McGrew averaged 6.83 yards running to the left and 7.64 yards running to the right compared to just 3.25 up the middle. The toss play was unstoppable and the Huskies ran it about 5-6 times in the second half and picked up at least 4 yards every time. Expect more of it going forward if Newton takes a long time to return as expected.