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Film Study: What happened at Stanford?

The defense was just... bad.

Washington v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Bad stuff. That’s what happened.

The Husky defense gave up big plays in a myriad of ways - Stanford ran, they threw deep, and they threw short and ran. And ran. A depleted (but not untalented) Stanford offensive line bullied the Washington defensive front, and the Husky front seven was mostly complicit in their own failings. The secondary then added new ways to be beaten to their own mixtape.

Offensively, the Huskies had success early throwing the ball, and then employed Richard-Newton-as-battering-ram until what looks like an ugly injury forced him from the game. Red zone woes reared their ugly head again. Bush Hamdan and Chris Petersen found new love with the five-wide, empty backfield set, against a team known for its inability to defend the edges in the running game.

Super excited to get to the film. Hooray.

(#1) 1st and 10:

The Huskies spent a fair amount of the game in what for them is a “heavy” front, with three defensive linemen in the game. The starters on the opening offensive snap were DT #8 Benning Potoa’e, DT #95 Levi Onwuzurike, and DT #90 Josiah Bronson. The Huskies have shown this 5-1 front in the past, mostly in 2017. OLB #9 Joe Tryon is at the top of the line, and ILB #30 Kyler Manu is at an edge defensive end. ILB #13 Brandon Wellington is the lone inside ‘backer.

The first thing to notice at the snap is the feet of the three down linemen. At contact, it’s a bunch of guys mostly standing flat-footed, trying to win an upper-body wrestling match. That’s a win for the offensive line, right off the bat. Good job by Tryon on the defensive left side. On the other side, Manu just sort of....does not much. He’s not in position to make a play, nor is he blown off the ball. He’s just there, velcroed to Stanford’s tight end. S #5 Myles Bryant charges hard once he reads run - he has the difficult role of defending the “C” gap, meaning all 180 pounds of him is expected to take on tight ends, fullbacks, maybe a pulling guard, and tackle running backs that weight 30 pounds more than him. That’s a big ask of the coaching staff. He’s up and he fill, but as the back runs past him, he’s in full rodeo mode.

Brandon Wellington makes a good read here. He’s in the hole right away. But right at the moment of impact, he flinches. Instead of attacking, he backs away from contact. And because he’s falling away, he gets taken for a ride. Credit to Stanford’s running back for the leg drive and the want-to on this play, but frankly, it’s pathetic defense that’s the culprit here. What should’ve been a non-descript gain of three turns into a tone-setting gain of 8.

(#2) 2nd and 2:

Big, strong, athletic pass-catching tight ends and slot receivers have been the achilles heel of Washington’s base nickel defense over the years. That might not be too insightful; those types of players are tremendous weapons against any defense, and luckily, the Huskies haven’t faced all that many of them. Stanford, though, seems to always have one or two or seven of them, and they regularly do stuff like this to the Huskies.

While the damage is mostly often done as the result of a physical mismatch (UW’s slot defenders usually don’t have the size to defend these physical receivers), this is also the result of a mental breakdown.

A little play action here, with Stanford pulling their left guard to show a power run. The OLB on the left side (#90, Josiah Bronson) looks like he has the opportunity to jam the tight end on his release, but hesitates and misses - in fairness, this isn’t probably a big part of Bronson’s repertoire. The DT inside Bronson (it’s #95 Onwuzurike) takes an outside rush; with the pulling action, it basically takes him out of the play in terms of applying a rush. If he’d stayed inside, he probably at least affects the timing a bit.

Both inside linebackers blow this play. ILB #13 Wellington on the left is caught in the no-man’s land of seeing the tight end release down the field and also reading the offensive line key of run, and isn’t able to drop into his pass zone to bracket the tight end (the DB behind the play is in trail position, expecting help in the shallow zone in front of the play). The other ILB, #30 Kyler Manu, expends a great deal of energy in very intensely covering a grand total of four yards (that’s both frontward and backward), then “leaping” vainly into the air.

Such a simple play, so many defensive mistakes, or at least opportunities to make it more difficult. There was possibly the opportunity for an even bigger play from Stanford; Washington’s defender over the slot receiver to the offense’s right falls down while trying to change directions.

(#3) 2nd and 5:

If only the coaches schemed to contain the edges....


Fundamental football here, folks. From pee wee on up. The end man on the line of scrimmage has to contain the edge.

The Huskies are in their five man front, with ILB #30 on the edge to the wide side of the field. Stanford is in the shotgun, and they run a zone read to the narrow side of the field. The tackle on the play side (Owuzurike) has done a fabulour job of relocating the line of scrimmage two yards into the backfield. This is the “read” man, and Stanford’s QB wisely pulls the pull out of the running back’s belly for the keep to the wide side. Manu is initially in okay position - but he “thinks” he sees a handoff, and crashes to the running back. Stanford QB then peels into vacant space, but luckily for the Huskies, the other inside linebacker (Wellington) sees that the running back doesn’t have the ball and heads to the QB to keep this a minimal ga....

No, instead, Wellington also thinks he sees the ball, and vacates the middle of the field, and....just damn.

(#4) 4th and 2:

Stanford is running what’s called a “duo” concept here (read CoachB’s fantastic breakdown for more information on this). The back sees an opening to the back side of the play (the point of attack is actually to the offense’s right), and hits it. Great read by ILB #13 Brandon Wellington, as he sees the cut and steps up to fill the hole. From that point on, though, Wellington is out-physicalled by the running back; he stops at the point of impact and loses any power and momentum he might’ve been able to bring to the play, he’s too high, and he ends up getting bulled backward three yards. What’s just as disappointing during this slow motion crawl, is that not one other Husky defender is able to get to the play to help make the tackle. There’s some walking (#9, Joe Tryon, who’s the OLB on the play side), there’s some velcro imitations, and there’s some running around not doing much (CB #22 McDuffie).

We’re still early in the game at this point. There’s zero excuse for the lack of effort on this play. Just none.

(#5) 2nd and 5:

Washington is bringing pressure, moving from a two-high safety look to a single high safety right at the snap. That’s #23 Brandon McKinney on the pressure, and his timing is great. But the work up front here is notable as well. OLB #55 Ryan Bowman is across the line and holding position. DT #95 Onwuzurike is on the wide side next to Bowman, and he does a fantastic job again of creating havoc and resetting the line. He and McKinney are the ones that team up on the tackle, but the work here from the entire front is pretty good.

(#6) 1st and 10:

Richard Newton’s powerful, downhill style had a lot of success against Stanford, but the key to this play is the fantastic job by the offensive line and the receivers. After a big play through the air, the offense is moving quickly. The offense stays in 12 personnel (two tight ends with the single back), but they’re both to the offense’s left, in a tight trips formation.

The play is a simple inside zone. The offensive line not only makes the initial blocks on the d-line, they’re able to get up to the second level as well. Special kudos to TE #87 Cade Otton; he’s in the slot closest to the left tackle. He gets a head of steam and buries a defensive tackle on the play. Really though, it’s pluses for everyone here.

Richard Newton has been a revelation so far this season, and this game might’ve been his best. Sad to see him have to be carted off the field, and it almost seems like a formality to wait to hear that he’s out for a long, long time.

(#7) 4th and 2:

It’s now a few downs later. On 3rd and 6 from the 17, Washington ran Newton again on an inside zone. With almost zero hesitation, the offense is at the line. It sure seems like there was a lot of emphasis placed on scoring a touchdown here. The normally conservative Chris Petersen eschewed the chip shot field goal for the tie. While going for it is statistically the right call in terms of the number of expected points the offense can hope to get from either attempting the field goal or going for it on 4th down from this spot on the field, it felt a bit out of character for Petersen at this stage in the game.

With the way Richard Newton had been running the ball this game and on this drive, another carry seemed logical. Maybe even a (shudder) wildcat....

The offense lined up balanced, with two receivers to each side, plus Newton in the backfield. And then, Newton motions out into an empty set, eliminating the threat of the run...

Yes, the offense has man coverage, and no, throwing isn’t a terrible idea in and of itself. But by moving Newton out of the backfield, there’s no play action to hold a linebacker. The offense has traded that for Newton in single coverage, 30 yards from the ball.

Not a fan of that.

It’s double slants, with Andre Baccellia working against Stanford’s best cornerback, an All American in 2018. And it’s worth noting that the refs had allowed some pretty physical play in the secondary at this point. Inside of Baccellia is Hunter Bryant. Bryant is on the line of scrimmage, but his defender is off. By alignment, this just seems like a no-brainer. Being so far inside will allow Bryant to use his body to shield the defender and give QB Jacob Eason a maximum width target. Yes, the middle linebacker is now free to close, but this should be a fastball right into Bryant’s gut, one of those “folding in half while falling down so the ball almost lodges itself in his navel” catch that looks unimpressive but picks up the necessary yards.

Instead, Baccellia runs his slant, but with no real move to sell anything but the slant. The DB is on it right away, and mauls the unphysical Baccellia to knock the ball away.

Going empty here isn’t a good look. But this is an extremely poor read by the QB. This is a complete lack of awareness of the situation and personnel.

(#8) 3rd and 5:

Two things came out of this game: 1. Jacob Eason is a better athlete than a lot of Husky fans gave him credit for being, and 2. His pocket presence just isn’t his strongest suit.

This is one of the slowest-developing tackle twists in the history of football. Stanford has walked a linebacker up to the defense’s left side, showing blitz. At the snap, he feints an upfield rush and then loops back into the middle. Husky fans might recall Washington using this exact rush with much success back in 2016, when Psalm Wooching registered three sacks against the Cardinal in a much more satisfying game.

As the linebacker twists back into the middle, there’s a lot of congestion for him to navigate. It ends up taking him a lot of alligators to get back to the middle and finally begin his upfield rush. Eason has plenty of time, and right as the pressure starts to reach him, not one but two targets are suddenly open. There’s the running back out of the backfield, and a tight end that’s been working across the formation. One defender is covering both. This is an instance that Eason needed to use his eyes sooner during the route progression to manipulate that defender. Instead, he brings his eyes down to the the rush and attempts to spin out and away from pressure. His initial move gets him space, but unfortunately that means that what would’ve been a loss of 8 turns into a loss of 18.

Eason had to move frequently on Saturday against Stanford. He really didn’t ever have room to step up, as that’s where the pressure usually came. But instead of using his legs to escape and throw the ball away, too often he wasn’t willing to give up on a play.

(#9) 3rd and 8:

Washington struggled to get Stanford behind the chains all evening, and too often when they did, Stanford was able to convert on third (or 4th) down. Stanford’s screen game was outstanding on Saturday, and they hit running back and receivers in a number of different concepts to pick up big yardage against a defense that just didn’t come to play.

It’s 3rd and 8, and the Huskies desperately need a stop here. Stanford runs a tunnel screen, but they’re line is so fast getting down the field (relative to the way Washington runs this play) that it’s a much more north-and-south run. At least on this day.

Ryan Bowman recognizes the screen and has the chance to make a play from behind, but can’t quite get there. Brandon Wellington cuts over the top of a block, taking himself out of the play. Defenders run into each other or are velcroed to blockers. When it’s all said and done, Washington’s defense makes this play look like the crane technique - when do right, no can defend.

Too bad the whole thing is illegal. The receiver fakes downfield before coming back for the ball. He needs to get all the way back behind the line of scrimmage at the catch, or 1. No ineligible receiver may be more than three yards downfield, and 2. No eligible receiver can block prior to the catch being made. This ball is caught beyond the line of scrimmage with offensive linemen five yards downfield, and receivers are already blocking.

This was the sort of break the Huskies needed Saturday, and one they just never made for themselves.

Disappointing. The Huskies need to get right in a hurry.