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Film Study: Utah

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NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

So close.

The Huskies maybe played their best game of the season against the Utes, and their best wasn’t good enough. While the team can point to their own mistakes, Husky fans would be doing a disservice to not tip our collective hats in the direction of Tyler Huntley, who put on one of the most impressive displays an opposing QB has had in Husky Stadium since at least the game Vernon Adams had with Eastern Washington back in 2014.

Turnovers, injuries, penalties...the usual killers. Assignment errors, missed tackles. Ah, hell. Let’s just look at the film.

1st and 10:

For Husky fans that have forgotten, this is how the UW defensive scheme is supposed to work. There’s nothing that offenses can “figure out,” the game doesn’t “pass the coaches by,” it’s pretty much destined for success. Two interior tackles that command the attention of 3.5 to 4 of the offensive linemen, two outside linebackers that suck up the rest plus any running backs or tight ends that stay in to block, and a lot of clean looks for inside linebackers to step up and make easy tackles. IF one of those defensive tackles doesn’t shed the double team and make the play himself....

DT #95 Levi Onwuzurike came to Washington as an outside linebacker/defensive end according to the recruiting sites, and over the last 3.5+ seasons has eaten and lifted and worked his way to becoming a very good one-gap defensive tackle that can play ever-increasing stretches as a credible - dominant, even - two-gap tackle. This play doesn’t quite work out like the description above, but the individual effort is enough to get the result we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

Onwuzurike first takes on the left guard, and is then chipped by the lumbering left tackle who then lumbers toward ILB #13 Brandon Wellington (before lumbering his way to the turf). Onquwurike is then able to split the double without losing any of his position, and still meet the running back in the hole. The cavalry is a bit late to arrive (c’mon Wellington, step up like you mean it!), but they do get there, and the gain is minimal.

Onwuzurike can’t do it by himself, of course, but we’ve featured some up-and-coming play from a couple of young defensive tackles that should have Husky fans fairly excited about the future of the line.

1st and 10:

This is a very well-designed play that both breaks tendencies as well as takes advantage of a fast-flowing, aggressive defense.

The offense starts in a 2x2, single back formation. Motion brings trips to the right, and you can see Utah’s defense shift to it. With TE #87 Cade Otton as one of the split out receivers, there’s a high likelihood of a screen. At the snap, the man in motion sells that screen, and Otton’s first couple of steps show that he’s looking to block. Utah sees these two things and three of the defenders (one ILB, one OLB, and a safety) break like mad to the screen. Otton slips his block and rus a wheel route, and the outside receiver (#82 Jordan Chin) is on the skinny post (a common exchange combo). There’s only one defender left to cover the two UW receivers and he....falls down. Had he stuck with Chin and kept his feet, Otton was going to be wide open coming behind him.

Good route, good throw, but this was a play that was made in its design. Utah took themselves out of any chance of stopping it by being a little overly aggressive early in the game, ready to stuff one of Washington’s screens.

2nd and 10:

And now, one of the reasons we’ve seen the defense struggle this season, in ways that just make it seem like it’s outdated and vulnerable.

All of the guys that play defensive tackle have made a mistake just like this, so it’s not an attempt to single anyone out, but this is not getting the job done by DT #8 Benning Potoa’e. While part of his struggles might be that his trunk lacks a bit of the requisite junk, the technique is the real problem here. He’s the man at the point of attack, and unfortunately, the first thing he does at the snap is stand straight up and stop his feet. With that aforementioned junk, he becomes more difficult to push out of the hole even if he makes this critical and common mistake, but just standing there, and lunging with his upper body, and not being as big a guy as you’d like to see at the position, means that he’s easily driven back out of the hole, and has no chance to affect the play. You see DT #95 Onwuzurike try to make a play, but he’s two gaps over and has no real chance to get there. OLB #9 Joe Tryon gets too far upfield on the rush, but he’s outside containment and likely wasn’t going to be able to pinch down that far to make a play. ILB #30 Kyler Manu fills the hole but given that he’s not really a playmaker at the position, that means he’s going to have to take on and defeat the block of an offensive linemen. He does this, but not before absorbing some punishment.

This isn’t exactly a “huge” play for the Utes, and it’s not like the Huskies were going to stop it for a big loss. But with proper technique, a gain of 7 is going to be a gain of two, and 3rd and 3 is instead 3rd and 8.

3rd and 8:

A well designed play in the red zone from the Utes.

Motion brings the outside receiver to the offense’s left into a tight bunch formation. At the snap, the inside and outside receivers in bunch cross at the their releases from the line, and the running back heads into the flat in the space just vacated by the bunch. The traffic of three receivers plus the three defenders covering them creates a lot of chaos and traffic, and it slows down the inside linebacker (#48, Eddie Ulofoshio) that’s assigned to cover the back in the flat. Ulofoshio eventually makes it through, and should be able to make this tackle for a gain of four, likely forcing Utah to kick a field goal. Instead, he hesitates ever so briefly on the stutter step of the running back, and gives up the edge. At that point, he’s in chase mode, and a nice stiff arm puts him to the ground.

1st and 10:

This is a play that Jacob Eason has to make. So many things work great here in terms of design and execution.

Ultimately, this is a little delayed release to the tight end (#1 Hunter Bryant) on the left side of the formation, off of play action. Bryant is in blocking at the snap, the offense shows zone to the left. Eason shows the ball to the whole world and then pulls it and still keeps his eyes away from Bryant. What he sees is an outside linebacker on a delayed rush (his responsibility became the QB, with no tight end on his side and the running back going to the other). Eason needs to slow down here...just stop...and when he’s at the 42 yard line, after that first bunny hop, if he takes just one step forward, he can set his feet and make an accurate throw. If he does, this is a touchdown. Instead, it’s an incompletion, and he takes a hit that could’ve easily been avoided.

From the reverse:

Hey Quinten Pounds (#21), good to see you.

Bryant is Wide open. Wiiiiiiiiiiide open. Really well-executed play, except for that one pesky little detail.

Stepping forward in the pocket is a very difficult thing to do for a QB. It’s unnatural. But it can easily be the difference between this ugly incompletion and a momentum-saving touchdown.

3rd and 3:

Utah runs what it almost their version of the wildcat, with backup Jason Shelley playing quarterback. Things actually go pretty well, except...

#43 ILB Jackson Sirmon guesses wrong here. It’s the same sort of mistake we’ve seen from all of the inside linebackers this season. We have a read-option play here, and the QB correctly reads that the handoff is DOA (great job by the right side of the Husky defensive front - OLB #55 Ryan Bowman on the outside and maybe DT #90 Josiah Bronson?). Sirmon thinks he sees something, and he attacks. Unfortunately, he didn’t see what he thought he saw (a handoff), and attacking in this case means abandoning his gap - the gap that Shelley slides and finds.

Cam Williams (S #16) reads the play and fills the gap, and to his credit sticks his nose in against an offensive linemen outweighing him by well over 100 pounds. Keith Taylor eventually makes the tackle, but not until the damage is done.

3rd and 3:

Utah runs the option right at OLB #9 Joe Tryon here (and unlike the Huskies, Utah actually has a QB that’s a threat as a runner, should he keep the ball.....)

Tryon can take away the QB run by crashing to the ball, or he can take away the pitch man by staying between the QB and the running back, the way he does. The QB has not choice but to keep the ball, and cut inside Tryon. The defensive coaches would hope that the two-gapping defensive tackle inside of Tryon would be able to slow this play down if not make the tackle. But as you can see, the tackle (appears to be #90 Josiah Bronson) loses his leverage and gets turned inside, and is rendered unable to make the play. You can see ILB #13 Brandon Wellington read the play an scrape over, but when presented with an oncoming offensive lineman, Wellington chooses a route that simply takes him out of the play; his poor decision adds another 10 yards to the run.

Sigh.

Film Study game balls go to - Hunter Bryant on offense, Levi Onwuzurike on D, Joel Whitford for special teams.

This one hurts, because just like the Oregon game two weeks prior, the Huskies had their hands on a defining win; the type that can inspire a team for a season and jump start the confidence that creates years of success from a core group of players. Instead, Washington faltered in the end. Some fans want to call it choking, or say the team is soft. Fine. They can’t be taught what they need, they have to go and take it. We’ve seen Husky teams that did it successfully (the 1989 team, that built into 1990 and 1991, and the 2015 team, that built into 2016) and others that failed (1985, 1996, 2012).

Friday night is the next chance to get it started.