The offense: generally pretty good! The defense...not so much. This week’s grades:
Jacob Eason rose to the challenge on Saturday. The pass game had struggled against conference teams, was playing without top receiver Aaron Fuller (injured very early in the game), and was going against a suffocating Oregon defense. He turned that opportunity into 23-30 for 289 yards, 3 TDs and zero turnovers. He found open receivers, and distributed the ball well, connecting with 9 different players. Considering the opponent this was probably his best game of the season, averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt. Not much more could have been asked of Eason against an Oregon secondary that ranked near the top of the nation in most categories.
Running Back: A-
Salvon Ahmed had a nice “bounce back” game after looking a bit tentative against Arizona, despite his three touchdowns. Against the Ducks, he found the holes in the run game and hit them hard. He didn’t rip off any massive runs but used his elite quickness to rip off 5-7 yard gains time and time again. He even scored a 4th down TD and ended the day with 140 yards on a career high 24 carries. He was asked to carry the load and he delivered. A banged up running back room meant Kamari Pleasant got the carries after Ahmed, but didn’t find the same running room #26. He had just 8 yards on 6 carries and dropped a wide open 3rd down pass early. It was nice to see Cam Davis get his first career carries which both went for positive yardage, though the second was called back on a hold. So officially, one rush for 7 yards.
Wide Receiver: B+
A relatively strong game from this group, though unlike early in the season, it wasn’t Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia getting all the targets. Terrell Bynum was actually the teams leading receiver with six catches for 43 yards. He wasn’t very explosive but made multiple difficult catches against very tight coverage. After him it was fan favorite Puka Nacua who turn a short comeback route into a 26-yard TD, to along with his two other grabs. Perhaps most most surprising was Jordan Chin getting another look on a deep shot and turning it into a touchdown - only his third career grab. Baccellia showed impressive balance turning a quick screen into a red zone touchdown. Even Marquis Spiker got in on the action, finally. It was his 20 yard reception that put Washington into position to possibly convert a 4th and 3 on their final drive. We know what happened next.
Tight End: A
Really great game from the Hunter Bryant & Cade Otton duo, especially how they contributed to Washington’s passing threat. Other than Chin’s 48 yard touchdown, they were arguably UW’s most explosive threats downfield, averaging over 17 yards on each of their three catches. I liked the creative screen pass to Hunter Bryant allowing him to use him speed and strength to gallop downfield. Cade Otton showed excellent hands as usual and was physical after the catch.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line played solid against a tough Oregon defense. But, there were just too many penalties that killed drives. Like the rest of the team, they seemed to fade late. Ideally, an experienced offensive line with multiple fifth year seniors is where you lean on when games are getting tough late in the fourth quarter. But, the Huskies were held scoreless in the final period.
Defensive Line: C+
Like the offensive line, they put in a solid game but faded late and overall just weren’t good enough in the critical moments. Sacks and TFLs do not rest entirely on the DL’s broad shoulders, but when your team finishes with zero sacks and just three TFLs, that usually means the defensive line wasn’t disruptive enough. Levi Onwuzurike was relatively good but wasn’t in the backfield as much as you would like him to be. Redshirt freshman Tuli Letuligasenoa continues to impress and got himself a TFL. He’s going to be a big time player. Oregon ultimately rushed for 188 net yards on the ground and wasn’t terribly efficient. But when it mattered most - the fourth quarter - they gashed the Huskies right up the middle.
Brandon Wellington finished with 11 tackles, but at times it feels like the Huskies don’t even have a middle linebacker on the field. Kyler Manu had just two tackles. The Ducks have a very good offensive line but there was just no penetration at all from the middle tier of the defense. The outside linebackers faired better, as has been the case for most of the year. Ryan Bowman got half a TFL and freshman Laiatu Latu (who keeps getting more playing time) had a few solo tackles.
The Huskies combination of talent (good) and youth (not so good) really showed up with the DBs. Myles Bryant and Elijah Molden were all over the place as usual but had their share of missed tackles. Freshman Trent McDuffie continues to look the part of a future All Pac-12 player, but completely lost Oregon WR Mycah Pittman on the Duck’s backbreaking 4th down TD to end the third quarter. Kyler Gordon didn’t make a tackle but had a beautiful pass break up and yet another athletic play to add to his highlight reel. It wasn’t the worst game in the world for this group, but allowing Justin Herbert to toss four touchdowns is not good enough.
Special Teams: B+
The kick off SNAFU is more on the coaches than anything because the players executed the call damn near perfectly. Other than that, the Husky special teams were more than enough to win, but didn’t do anything to really change the game. Peyton Henry is still perfect on the year with field goals.
It is perhaps no surprise that the game in which the young receivers were featured, the pass game flourished for the first time all year. Which begs the question why it has taken so long and why these players - some of which are redshirt freshmen and sophomores, couldn’t have been integrated sooner. After all, a true freshman Aaron Fuller and redshirt freshman Andre Baccellia played early in the 2016 season despite the presence of Dante Pettis and John Ross, an all time receiving duo.
But some credit is deserved because they got those guys involved, finally, and it paid off. This was probably the Huskies’ best offensive game all things considered, and they were missing freshman workhorse RB Richard Newton and the suddenly indispensable Sean McGrew. The frustration with the Wildcat is warranted - that was a key moment in the game and that play call has only been successful the past 6 years with one player, Richard Newton. And he wasn’t playing. The coaches also deserve criticism for the kick off trick play that was called back. It looks like there is some unclear language with the rules and creates a grey area where refs can pretty much do what they want in the situation. But if you aren’t entirely sure it is within the rules, don’t call it!
But, the most distressing thing is the way the team seemed to fold mentally once Oregon started fighting back. This has been a trend for a few seasons but is especially stark this year. The Huskies are wilting in the critical moments in games (Cal’s final drive, all of Stanford), and it is costing them. Perhaps it’s just youth, but it is a worrying pattern that is having a tangible effect in the win-loss column. For a team and coach that prides itself on the strength and conditioning program, they did not look like a 4th quarter team on Saturday. Chris Petersen is now 0-2 against Mario Cristobal.