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Film Study: Huskies make the plays they need to take down USC

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Dawgs force Troy into four turnovers

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long ago that Husky fans would’ve screamed from the rooftops about a two-touchdown win against USC. Since last Saturday, there’s been some thought that Husky fans are working to find the cloud amongst the silver linings of the 28-14 victory the Huskies managed against the 21st-ranked Trojans in Husky Stadium.

There’s no doubt this ain’t your daddy’s USC team, as Tommy has traded student body right for trips left, and the Trojans threw more passes in the first quarter last Saturday than they did the entire 1976 season as the struggling boys of Troy seemingly limp toward the inevitable conclusion of the “Todd, Troy, Clint, Bert, whatever....oh yeah, Clay Helton” Era in Westwood Minor. But this is still a talented team - a south division favorite for a reason (just ask Ute, Utah). And as daddy says, it’s just not polite to take a win like this for granted, ‘cause you jes’ ain’t done nothin’ yet, and don’t git too big for yer britches.

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To the slide show, brought to you by Polaroid:

#1, 1st and 10

First snap from scrimmage, and the Trojans are running inside zone to the offense’s right against a very light Husky box - only five defenders. The three-man front has DT #95 Levi Onwuzurike at the nose, DT #90 Josiah Bronson at an end spot, and OLB #55 Ryan Bowman at the other end position. ILB #13 Brandon Wellington is on the strong side, and #30 Kyler Manu is on the weak. It’s a defense that screams to the offense “Run the ball!!!!!”

Onwuzurike has a freakishly quick jump on the ball at the snap, almost in synch with the offensive line. That’s the key to this play - Onwuzurike blows the center backward two yards, and then presses him out (exactly what you want to see from your two-gapping defensive linemen) so he can defend the gaps on either side. Josiah Bronson has containment on the back side of the play here, and he almost loses it; you can see him take one hop-step too far to the inside. He realizes this as USC’s left tackle attempts to drive him into the middle of the field, and is able to press himself back out and into position. USC’s running back is cutting to the back side of the play, and Bronson is able to make contact and slow him down. Kyler Manu has read the play and is coming up to help, but it’s Bronson and Onwuzurike (who is fighting off a pretty blatant hold) that manage to make this happen. The Huskies are outnumbered here, but this is vintage Lake/Kwiatkowski defensive excellence.

#2, 3rd and 5

Kyler Gordon has earned as much praise as any University of Washington defensive back in his year-plus on campus as just about any during Jimmy Lake’s tenure, for his freakish athleticism and his natural skill as an on-the-ball defender. He did enough this fall to earn a starting nod in Washington’s suddenly very young secondary. The storybook hasn’t quite followed suit through the first quarter of the season, as Gordon has been picked on a bit both by opposing offenses (at least seemingly) and the officials (very obviously). His starting role was taken (and we definitely mean “taken”) by true freshman Trent McDuffie in the BYU game, and the early-season lumps Gordon had taken seemed to have caught up with him.

A few things: Gordon hasn’t been “bad” by any stretch, but just like offensive linemen called for holding, his mistakes are obvious and very publicly acknowledged. He’s made far more very good plays than he has bad ones. Second, his job is exceptionally difficult - he’s asked to play a lot of press-man coverage against the oppositions’ split end, without and help. Third, cornerbacks get beat. It happens to the best of them.

It remained to be seen how Gordon would respond to adversity, and this play shows that he still has those skills that have made Jimmy Lake rave. Gordon lets himself get into trail position on the receiver’s inside release, and it takes a pretty special player to make this play in that situation.

With Cameron Williams getting off the schneid to now be tied as the leading interceptor in the country, and McDuffie’s play, it’s great to see Gordon having some success in Washington’s secondary.

#3, 1st and 10

Six blockers plus a running back against only five defenders in the box is an even more obvious run than the one above. USC pulls out a little bit of the “smashmouth spread” offense, with an H-back lead iso that looks a lot like the base counter/lead/power plays that north-and-south running teams want to use out of the shotgun spread attack. This is a play that looks to come straight out of the Florida spread under Urban Meyer, and Oklahoma’s spread under Lincoln Riley. It’s probably one of the toughest plays for Washington’s Air Raid-killing dime/7 DB defense to stop.

OLB #58 Zion Tupuola-Fetui just hasn’t played a lot of football for the Huskies yet. He’s a big, strong guy but he just doesn’t have the reps. With Joe Tryon out for the first half due to a rather soft targeting call at BYU, and the primary backups at the boundary OLB spots not really being the edge-setting type, Tupuola-Fetui found himself getting the reps on Saturday. This just isn’t great technique; he comes from his wide alignment and quickly finds himself off-balance and turning perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. He has no ability to contain the edge, and then after eventually getting free, doesn’t recognize the ball carrier. ILB #13 Brandon Wellington reads the play well, but when he starts to fill his gap, ends up playing the downhill run far too passively and jukes and jives himself out of the play by trying to avoid blocks instead of taking them on. #3 NB Elijah Molden is over the slot; he gives himself up to take out the lead blocker, which is all you can really ask him to do. ILB #30 Kyler Manu reads the play and pursues from the back side, but finds himself stuck like velcro to a blocker and can’t get away; this is a play you’d really hope the back side of the Husky defense can make, and Manu just doesn’t make a great play here.

Heads of steam, arm tackles that are broken, and defenders in the secondary left with jobs they aren’t really qualified to take....this just wasn’t a great play by the defense, and most of the yardage was the cascading effect of a missed assignment up front.

#4, 1st and 10

DT#8 Benning Potoa’s goes from almost being the accidental hero, to nearly the publicly shamed goat, to a member of the “holy cow, this defense is actually pretty good!” version of the Washington Huskies.

USC is running the exact same play as above, but this time it’s at OLB #55 Ryan Bowman, who understands a thing or two about setting an edge. His technique is flawless; he’s parallel to the line of scrimmage, keeping his outside arm free to make a play. The unsung hero is DT #95 Levi Onwuzurike again; watch his absolutely stellar jump at the snap, and the way he uses his quickness to reset the line of scrimmage about two yards behind the original. He and Bowman serve to blow up the point of attack. Potoa’s just gives up containment here, as he first pursues and is then blocked right into the play (not good). But the running back reverses field right into him, setting up Potoa’e for the hero stat....but he can’t quite make the play, and his lack of containment is set to be exposed by the announcers on a flukey long TD....

OLB #58 Zion Tupuola-Fetui atones to Husky nation here - he’s in coverage, dropping into the short, outside zone. He reads run and starts to pursue. As the running back changes direction, though, Tupuola-Fetui resists the urge to simply charge at the ball and instead runs to contain the outside first; he avoids the crushing block of the USC QB (who may actually just be assuming the fetal position and closing his eyes), and closes down the outside. ILB #30 Kyler Manu has done a much more effective job of shedding a block on this play, and he and SS (which stands for “Super Star”) #5 Myles Bryant end up making the play for 75 yards of running that amount to a gain of zero.

This is good stuff right here.

#5, 2nd and 5

This is very similar to the last two USC runs, but the H-back starts on the other side of the play. Also, USC pulls its right guard; this play is known as a “counter lead.”

We can’t see exactly who’s playing the end spot at the boundary side of the field (#8 DT Benning Potoa’e, perhaps), but he’s done a good job of keeping contain here. Other than that, though, this play looks to have some potential. The pulling guard comes through and wipes out the ILB #43 Jackson Sirmon, and the H-back is still free to block a member of the secondary or a back side linebacker (although in this case, Washington’s ILB #13 has completely run himself out of the play by not seeing the run).

What saves the Huskies is just an absolutely fantastic play by SS #5 Myles Bryant coming from the back side. He and NB #3 Elijah Molden are on the blitz. Bryant has this play sniffed out, and even though he has a long way to go in pursuit, gives it all to make a tackle-for-loss from behind.

Without the good job of holding the edge and forcing the play wide, Bryant maybe can’t get there in time to make this tackle. Synergy of all 11 and stuff.

#6, The Wildcat...

It might be time to wonder if the Huskies are going to the wildcat well just a bit too often...Sure, it works, but that doesn’t mean that a standard run wouldn’t be working equally as well, and with the threat of a pass to boot.

This is a power-read out of the wildcat, with LG #76 pulling for the “power” part of the play (and it’s quite likely that the “read” aspect to WR #6 Chico McClatcher was pure window dressing), and H-back #37 Jack Westover serving as a lead blocker.

Credit where it’s due - USC’s ILB #1 is a really good football player. He’s right on top of this, reading, filling, and making the play. It didn’t have to be that way, though - what happens here is that RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland is blocking down on this play, but he gets knocked backward by USC’s tackle. He slows down Wattenberg’s pull, and RB #28 Richard Newton finds himself in the hole alone and exposed. USC has an extra defender at the point of attack here due to the nice read by #1, so the congestion in the backfield probably didn’t really matter. But a clean play probably gains a yard or two more than this.

#7, 4th and 1 (and the wildcat, again)

The exact same play as above, and USC has the box positively stacked; seven men on the line and an inside linebacker. In the wildcat, there’s virtually no threat to pass, so it seems like Washington is playing with fire....

One very positive thing about the evolution of the wildcat in 2019 is that Richard Newton is a legitimate threat to hand the ball off, and he’s even successful most of the time when he does.

Washington is lucky here, on two counts: First, USC’s ILB #1 is shot out of a cannon at the snap, and is nearly in position to make a play in the backfield. Much credit to Newton, who calls for the snap to set up the perfect timing needed on this play. Newton reads the rush, and correctly elects to hand the ball off. The second count of luck is H-back #37 Jack Westover, who is leading this play wide, but sort of outsmarts himself; instead of continuing out to pick up a member of USC’s secondary, he stops to attempt to close off any backside pursuit. That leaves two USC defenders in position to make the play, and they very nearly do. Fortunately, WR #6 Chico McClatcher is able to get this one done all by himself. Lotta work for a gain of two. But it pays off, and the band plays the chords....

#8, 2nd and 4

USC had easily moved itself into scoring position thanks to a 60-yard run and Washington found itself with its back to the wall, and the goal line.

Needing a play, up steps NB #3 Elijah Molden....

Playing zone coverage is more about just running to the correct spot on defense, and playing QB is more than just making nice throws. The eyes lead the play. Here, Molden drops and reads the QB. On the other side of the ball, USC’s QB drops and stares down his receiver...

The eyes have it, as Molden sees the route of the receiver just by watching the eyes of the QB, and Fink never sees the defense because he forgets to look away.

Great play by Molden here. Fantastic read and catch, and his first interception as a Husky came at an absolutely huge moment.

So nice, we’ll watch it twice

Just great awareness.

Wonder if the coaching staff is going to talk about “end zone awareness” with this one. Can’t blame Molden for being concerned about the safety had he not run it out, but given his momentum, this is one the refs will always spot at the 20 had he taken a knee, although one can argue the facemask penalty should’ve put it there regardless....

#10, But if he had....

...then Salvon Ahmed’s long TD run would’ve been that much less impressive. And this is a great run, not just because of Ahmed’s speed, but because of his improvement as a running back.

Patience, and vision. That’s what really makes this play. It’s an inside zone set to go to the right. Ahmed sees the traffic at the point of attack, and instead of trying to run wide, or just plowing straight ahead, he....stops. And waits. He sees the great job that RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland and RT #70 do on the backside of the play, and a Bishop Sankey-esque jump cut puts him into open space, and the jet fuel he drank for breakfast puts him in the end zone.

#11, Two Point Conversion

Wonder how many people caught this little bit of trickeration....

It’s the fly sweep with two h-backs, like the Huskies had shown a handful of times throughout the game. Instead of handing off, though, Jacob Eason throws a nice little shovel pass through the arms of #25 Sean McGrew on the fly action, into the hands of #6 Chico McClatcher coming back on counter action. Eason carries out the fake by watching the empty-handed McGrew run without the ball. Nice details.

The blocking on the play side seals the edge, but this play really relies on the misdirection. It works, just barely enough. What really makes it happen, as with the 4th and 1 wildcat above, is the playmaking ability of one Chico McClatcher. Speed, the moves, and a surprising amount of power to drag a larger tackler into the end zone.

Whew.

28-14 over USC. Take it, move on to the next one. A road win against Stanford would be pretty good, no matter what.