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Stuff and Shenanigans: Well that was fun until it really wasn’t

And why I’m always the optimist in defeat and the pessimist in victory.

Oregon v Washington
Ew green.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Okay, here’s the thing.

I am (almost) eternally a pessimist in victory and an optimist in defeat because, other than the most preposterous blowouts, the predictive value of simply a “W” or “L” isn’t very useful.

Consider the bulldog the following:

Is this supposed to be some sort of consolation prize that I’m trying to get us all to accept? Ew, no, of course not. Losing sucks, period. Especially to Oregon. Ugh, typing that out just made me barf in my mouth. And it often (read: now) sucks even worse when so many metrics are in your favor. But, because of those metrics (and/or the eye test that informs them) you can be simultaneously miserable and optimistic. “Misery” and “freaking out about your team” are neither synonymous nor, necessarily, overlapping. This is the perfect example of that.

Take the Super Bowl. It doesn’t award the “best team in football,” it awards the team who won. Once. It’s just that being the “best team” bodes well for winning more often than not. Which means — despite how much this whole thing sucks — things bode well for Washington. (And things would both bode well and see probably two more wins in the column if it weren’t for a, uh, very significant weakness which I’ve mentioned in the past and mention in a few paragraphs, too.)

But overall, ironically, close wins and losses aren’t the best predictor of future wins and losses. (See: Iowa circa 2015.)

Does this mean I’m down with losing? No. Does it mean I think there aren’t significant weaknesses on this team that need to be accounted for? Obviously not. Does it mean losing to Oregon doesn’t cause my brain to melt into a post-nasal drip of physical misery? *Barfs* Christ no.

...but it does mean I don’t think the sky is falling on this team.

A 100% Accurate and 24% Sober Rundown of Absolutely Everything

I’m trying something different this week. Who knows if it’ll stick, but I’ve divided my (non-comprehensive) thoughts into “facts” and “not-facts” or “things.” Because understanding objective truth and things that have a bunch of truth to back them up but are still technically not objective facts is good. So, here we go:

THING: The inside linebacking is legitimately awful.

There’s a certain magnitude of criticism that, when leveled against college athletes — effectively large children — just feels bad to admit. There’s also a level of play where it’s simply impossible to ignore. That point has been *racks brain* mmmmmmmost and/or all of this season.

I don’t really want to elaborate here just because it feels like a waste of words; it’s a part of each week’s takeaways and continues to be so, so what is there to add? I’ve already written it every week of September onwards, which you have subsequently read each week, too.

It’s just, after a unit hits a certain level of bad-ness on the field, it hits the paradox in college sports of A) impossible to not criticize and B) you feel so awkwardly bad for the guys playing that poorly that you don’t have it in your heart to tear them down any more. So, I suppose I’ll just leave it at that. Moving on.

FACT: Washington doubled the amount of touchdowns Oregon had given up all year.

Whether the Dawgs’ offense called or executed each play perfectly (hint: they didn’t), their aggregate performance was fantastic. There are still a handful of things to criticize — which I will do so in ooooh, about 200 words — but the fact is that “if my team had only done this” or “if my team had played better” oddly enough finds itself popping into every fan’s vocabulary after “my team” plays a really good defense. Because that’s what good defenses do, and that’s what Oregon is and was.

When viewing Washington’s aggregate performance, the context that matters: Oregon had previously given up four touchdowns all season. They also had only one game so far where an opponent scored more than one touchdown (Auburn, who scored three). Furthermore, Washington scored more points against the Ducks than they had previously surrendered in the previous five games combined. Of the total points that have been scored against Oregon all season, Washington is responsible for almost 40%. Regardless of the opponents the Ducks had been facing, that means something.

And again, I realize that’s poor consolation — a loss is a loss is a loss — but as a predictive point, that provides more valuable insight than just the “L” that’ll show up in the Dawgs’ schedule.

THING: The Wildcat with Newton is the bomb. The Wildcat with Pleasant should never exist.

Aaaaand on to the concrete things that weren’t positives about the offense. Even if the overall performance was great, it only takes one or two “bads” to ruin the final result in a game this close.

I didn’t really talk about the concrete details above that made the offense function but, overall, the play-calling felt much more unified and purposeful than it has often this year; Hamdan didn’t get too impatient with the run, and the sequence of plays and drives strung together made sense both as a way to attack Oregon and as a way to set up the future. Pretty much: plays actually related to past and future plays in this game, instead of each one living isolated in its own bubble of space-time.

(Betcha didn’t think you’d read the words “bubble of space-time” in regards to college football today, did you? Also, “Bubble of Space-Time” sounds like a band that does lots o’ shrooms.) (Also, is “Lots o’ Shrooms” a good band name? Or is it just a Kirkland-brand knockoff cereal of Lucky Charms?)

Unfortunately, there was just enough screw-ups that doomed critical drives despite their previous sequences being (relatively) well coordinated. If you want to get down to the most critical play on 4th and 3 with :53 seconds, for example, personally I would’ve preferred to see a similar formation spread wide but with Ahmed in the backfield getting that handoff, given his and the running game’s almost universal success and how that formation plays to his strength in space even between the tackles, plus given that three yards is the sweet spot of defenses expecting/preparing for a pass on 4th but really being quite manageable in a run. But, overall, that’s just me preferring a different approach; passing on the slant (was it a slant? It’s too painful to re-watch and I can’t quite remember...) to Puka is still a reasonable decision and I’m not gonna shit all over Bush Hamdan for that.

What weren’t reasonable decisions were each of the wildcats that were called for Kamari Pleasant. And to be clear, this is in no way Pleasant’s fault and is in every way the play-calling’s fault. As we saw last year when Gaskin was out and in 2015 with everyone’s favorite #Lindcat, the wildcat is either a formation where you have the right guy to run it and it’s practically invincible, or you don’t and it’s practically always stopped. Gaskin was a god at it. Newton is too. Pleasant just isn’t — the vision and decisiveness combined with a paradoxical patience and urgency that Gaskin and Newton possess just isn’t in his arsenal when taking the snap. And, while that stinks, he shouldn’t have been put in that position.

What’s most vexing was Hamdan doubling down the wildcat, despite A) the conventional running game’s control over Oregon and B) the fact that Pleasant had in this game and in last season not had any success at wildcat. I get persistence and trusting your players, but at some point you’re running into a brick wall when there’s other, more consistent options available without getting tricky. This is especially true considering the nature of why Pleasant’s wildcats don’t work, with him following along with the motion man for too long and effectively giving himself up to the defender off the edge in the process. That’s what stopped the first one, and that’s what stopped the second one, too.

And, on one hand, I understand that as an offensive coordinator your job is to overthink it; any offensive coordinator is so far ahead on the dialectic than even the most passionate fans. But at some point, you see Ahmed and the offensive line being successful in the running game — at one point he was averaging 7.2 yards per rush and ended up finishing the game averaging 5.8 — and they presented a basic, no-nonsense solution to third or fourth and short that Hamdan ditched in favor of a formation and play that has shown over and over to not work without the right guys.

Don’t let this vent overshadow my previous assertion that overall, the offensive philosophy was satisfying and successful — it’s just that close games against good opponents only need one or two plays to change everything, and those one or two plays were failures.

FACT: Jacob Eason was the first quarterback all year to not throw an interception against Oregon.

This is both a nod to Eason and, especially, the offensive line. After the latter crew collectively, as the French say, “totally shat the bed” against Stanford, I’ll admit that yeah, I was a bit worried about their ability to keep Eason alive. Luckily, other than one sack by Popo Aumavae, they held their stuff together.

But other than the fact that Eason became the first quarterback to go four quarters without an interception against Oregon, he was quite clearly the better quarterback on Saturday. Somehow, that’s the worst consolation ever and makes it hurt even worse. But overall, Eason was the more accurate, more composed, and more consistent of the two giants at quarterback. As a Washington fan, this is kind of the worst of both worlds to be honest: Washington loses but still Eason improves his stock and lessens our chances of getting him back next year.

Ugh, wow... I started writing this section as a positive and now I’m just sad. Sorry.

BLURRED LINE FACT: There was PI on Washington’s last chance play.

Now, that shouldn’t really matter and I’m in no way blaming the refs for this loss. Other than the flag thrown for Chico lying down in the endzone — which was proven legal — there weren’t any egregious calls. But even my frienemy, the site manager at Addicted to Quack, agrees. (Specifically, in his words: “Nacua looking great as well. Also, total bs no call, but I’m not complaining.”) Can’t blame him. I wouldn’t be complaining either.

THING: I feel much better about facing Utah now.

To clarify, there’s still plenty of things I’m freaked out about regarding Utah. But the thing is, there’s no new things freaking me out, just the usual — inside linebackers against Zack Moss — but a few worries I’d otherwise have were taken care of on Saturday. For starters, I’m much less worried about the offense and only equally worried about the defense. The biggest factor to me feels like Puka by now being well-established enough for his increasing productivity to not be a fluke; showing up once in Hawaii and for three catches at Arizona was great, but going into Oregon that wasn’t a large enough sample size for me to feel confident fully hitting “buy” on his role going forward. After his multiple targets, three catches, one touchdown, and YPC average of 14.3, it feels like he’ll have a consistent, significant role in the passing game going forward.

More importantly, the air offense didn’t shy away from both tight ends and liberally getting the ball in the hands of multiple targets. This is not only an upgrade for its own sake but, if that continues, really should help the play of Aaron Fuller as well. I’ve said it a bunch before and I’ll say it again: his #1 receiver role the last two years really wasn’t suited to him, but with more targets opening up, he can be fantastic.

Lines of the Week

When Washington earnestly lined up on fourth and one only for every Oregonian and their mother to jump offsides:

You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to use this.

Aaaand all of us, now:

Okay, but let’s end on a good note since we’re all too sad anyway, so... all of us to Eason and Ahmed?

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.