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Three Things We Learned: USC Trojans

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The Huskies are back to some of their old tendencies in the run game and the defensive staff still has a few tricks up their sleeve

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 USC at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I Spy With My Little I (Formation)

There were times during the game on Saturday where it looked like the Huskies had hearkened back to old school smash mouth football. Washington lined up with a fullback on 12 snaps against USC. That’s actually less often than they did against Cal but at 19% of the offensive snaps it represents a higher percentage because they ran fewer plays against USC. There’s not an official fullback on the roster so Washington rotates through a number of players, usually tight ends at that spot.

Up until the USC game the leading FBs were LB Jackson Sirmon (10 snaps), TE Cade Otton (8), and walk-on TE Jack Westover (1). Against the Trojans the Huskies only used Westover (7) and surprisingly Hunter Bryant (5) in that spot. Bryant has noticeably improved in his run blocking this season and I guess he presents a realistic option to get the ball either through play action and leaking into the flat or on an outright carry.

When Washington brings in their fullback they aren’t worried about breaking tendencies. The Huskies have run the ball 87% of the time when lining up in the I formation including 11 out of 12 snaps against USC. They’re averaging just 3.72 yards per play overall in those situations but that’s partly because often it’s in short yardage. They actually have a success rate of 65.5% which is much higher than the average play.

It’s also likely not an accident that we’ve seen the most of this look against the two best defenses the Huskies have faced. It certainly appears as if the coaching staff doesn’t trust the offensive line to be able to produce holes in the running game at the point of attack without an extra lead blocker. For what it’s worth, the Huskies had a success rate of 56.8% running the ball against Cal and USC without a fullback in the game and 70% with one present. Expect this to be a familiar sight the rest of the season against Pac-12 defenses.

Wide Blockers

Speaking of predictable offensive tendencies... Last season the Huskies had Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, and Ty Jones as their primary 3 receivers. When any of those 3 were in the game it was close a coin flip whether or not Washington would run the ball. It was a different story though when they chose to bring in either Terrell Bynum or Alex Cook. The Dawgs ran the ball 67% of the time when Bynum was in the game and 71% of the time with Cook in there.

It certainly appears that Puka Nacua has taken the Alex Cook role and that Terrell Bynum has not been promoted to active pass catching duty now that we’re back into conference play. The Dawgs ran the ball 13 of 16 snaps (81.3%) with Bynum in the game against USC and 6 of 8 snaps (75%) for Nacua. Those numbers are a little more balanced over the course of the entire season but I tend to view the tendencies shown against the higher level competition as more likely to continue throughout the season.

It makes sense to have your best run blockers on the field when you want to run the ball. And with Jones out and Spiker and Osborne apparently not ready to see play then Bynum and Nacua are your two bigger receivers who thus have the frame to be better blockers. But when you are that heavily slanted towards running the ball with them in the game it might defeat the purpose on the effectiveness of their blocks. Washington is averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season with both Bynum and Nacua out there at the same time but we’ll see if the Huskies eventually break tendency and hit one of them following a play action fake when the defense is fully expecting the run.

Jimmy Lake Mixes It Up Yet Again

At this point it really shouldn’t be a surprise when Washington makes a full sale change on defense in order to counter an opponent. When you finish with the top defense in the conference so many years in a row with so many different players it speaks to how phenomenal the coaching and game planning must be. But I tell you what, this game was a pain in the butt to try to chart because of the different looks the Dawgs were throwing out there.

With Matt Fink seeing his first road action of the year it was clear that one of the keys of the game was to force him into bad decisions by showing a variety of different looks. Mission accomplished. We knew the Dawgs would throw out plenty of dime looks like they have against other air raid style teams. Sure enough, they went dime on 62% of snaps against USC. But what was really surprising was that sometimes that extra defensive back was actually a linebacker. Joe Tryon, Ariel Ngata, Brandon Wellington, and Zion Tupoula-Fetui all lined up over one of the USC outside receivers at various times during the game as Washington’s defense bracketed Michael Pittman with a bigger body at the line of scrimmage.

You could call the experiment hit and miss. It didn’t burn them moving a bigger body to the perimeter as USC never tried to exploit the lack of coverage skills with just 1 pass attempt on 8 snaps. Unfortunately, one of those snaps resulted in the 60 yard run which was the biggest play of the day for the Trojans even if a key interception prevented it from leading to a score.

When the Trojans did pass the ball against the varying looks they had little success outside of the one long touchdown to Pittman on what looked like a blown assignment by Cameron Williams. While the Huskies were repeatedly gashed on the ground, it seemed the game plan was to live with whatever USC could do running the ball especially once Washington was trying to run out the clock with a 28-7 lead. The Trojans averaged nearly 10 yards per carry facing a 5 man box where they had a clear blocking advantage. That number fell to 5.5 yards per carry in all other situations. That’s still more than you’d like but I felt a little more encouraged about the run defense moving forward on re-watch seeing just how much we were baiting USC into running the ball.