When Mitsubishi Motors, the manufacturer of fine vehicles such as (I’ll think of one later), in 2018 invested in a sponsorship for the Las Vegas Bowl, they had a pretty good idea that they at some point might be hosting a Boise State program that had played in four of the previous eight bowls. Little did they know that just one year later, they would be getting Boise State’s legendary former coach under circumstances that would lead to the rest of the college football world renaming their bowl to the “Coach Pete Bowl”.
It probably was the best thing that ever happened to the Vegas Bowl.
In what may have been the most hyped Las Vegas Bowl of all time, the Washington Huskies and their spectacular defensive secondary completely smothered Boise State 38-7.
The Huskies set the tone early in the first half emphasizing defense and special teams in order to gain field position advantages and to put maximum pressure - both physically and mentally - on Boise State true freshman QB Hank Bachmeier. The strategy worked well as the Dawgs were able to play their very best bend-don’t-break style of defense with an optimal amount of quality tackling. Quarterback pressure was present as Bachmeier had to deal with blitzes coming from just about everywhere on the field as well as directly from pass rushers such as Ryan Bowman and Joe Tryon. The net effect was an offense that produced zero points, just 91 yards and a paltry 2.1 yards per rush in the first half.
Jacob Eason and the Huskies offense were able to take advantage with some gritty first half offense. With big plays nowhere to be found in the first 30 minutes of game clock, the Dawgs emphasized a heavy rotation of running backs and a short passing game complemented by solid pass protection to move the ball down the field with efficiency. Demonstrating abilities to convert on third downs and in the red zone - areas that had been suspect all season - the Huskies strung together three first half scoring drives including two TD drives that were made up of 12 plays and 13 plays, respectively. Eason was the catalyst in both those TD drives making good decisions with his passes and completing 16 of 22 for 124 yards. Washington ended the first half with a 17-0 advantage,
The second half got off to a more explosive start for the Huskies. After an Elijah Molden interception early in the half, Eason came out throwing haymakers. A 22 yard strike to Terrell Bynum led to a subsequent 2 yard TD run for human flame thrower Richard Newton and a commanding 24-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Things just got better for the Huskies from there. A trick play called by Boise State head coach and former Chris Petersen protégé Bryan Harsin got the Broncos on the board, but that was about all that the Broncos could muster. The Washington secondary just continued to wreak havoc against a physically overmatched Boise secondary and frustrated not just Bachmeier but Boise backup Jaylon Henderson once he was inserted into the game. On the flip side, Eason and the Washington offense continued to roll.
By the time it was over, the numbers told the story of the physical and tactical advantages that UW exploited all game long. Washington finished 50% on third down conversions (7 of 14), 6 for 6 on red zone conversions and +2 in the turnover margin category. The Huskies also enjoyed a +17 yard starting field position average throughout the game.
The Coach Pete bowl marks the end of the Chris Petersen era at Montlake and, perhaps, the end of the line for a wildly successful college football coach who has posted an absurd 146-38 record over a decorated career. Petersen leaves a UW legacy that includes two PAC 12 championships, a Rose Bowl, one of just two PAC 12 College Football Playoff appearances and three straight New Years Six bowl appearances. There will be much to write about and debate as we reflect on the successes and failures of Petersen’s time with UW football. For now, we look ahead to midnight when Washington Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake officially assumes the reigns the program. Of immediate interest will be the fates of certain offensive assistants, the draft status of Jacob Eason and speculation on “what will change” under the watch of Petersen’s prized protégé.
Let the offseason begin.
- Jacob Eason finished 22-32 for 210 yards and 1 TD. Afterwards, he gave no indication of his NFL future going so far as telling ESPN reporter Molly McGrath that he had not yet made a draft decision.
- The Huskies were absent several key contributors to begin the game including TE Hunter Bryant and LT Trey Adams, both of whom opted to not play in the Las Vegas Bowl and to instead focus on preparing for the NFL Draft. Tuli Letuligasenoa, Jaxson Kirkland and Puka Nucua were all injury scratches.
- If this was Salvon Ahmed’s last game as a Husky, he certainly made his mark. His speed and his elusiveness were on full display on both of his rushing touchdowns. He finished with just 46 all purpose yards, but he made his limited number of touches all count.
- Speaking of UW’s rushing attack, the Huskies rotated all five of their running backs liberally throughout the game. Richard Newton, who was ridiculously violent all game, led the team with 15 carries for 69 hard fought yards and a TD.
- There was a significant rotation of second and third string defensive players utilized throughout the game. I thought Zion Tupuola-Fetui really distinguished himself among those rotational players in some of his most significant playing time of the season.
- The starting offensive line for UW from left to right was Jared Hilbers, Luke Wattenberg, Nick Harris, Henry Banivalu and Henry Roberts. Victor Curne rotated in for Roberts for much of the game. Matteo Mele also got some snaps at center in the second half after a Nick Harris injury.
- One of the more emotional moments of the game happened early in the first half on a simple rushing play when Boise State senior wide receiver Akilian Butler while blocking was had his ankle rolled up on during the tackle of the ball carrier. Butler, who has lost both of his parents to different health issues over the last few years, was knocked out of what was to be his last game as a collegiate and had to be comforted by his teammates on the sideline when he came back from the locker room.
- After a bit of a mid-season lull, Elijah Molden, the Vegas Bowl MVP, really differentiated himself in both the Apple Cup and now the Vegas Bowl (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF). The big question Husky fans are wondering about now is whether or not Molden sees himself as a potential early draft entree
- How appropriate for a Chris Petersen coached team that “details” were one of the key success factors of the game? The Huskies did not incur their first penalty until a man downfield penalty on Jared Hilbers wiped a Cameron Davis TD off the board in the fourth quarter.
- Incidentally, that wiped out TD was reclaimed with a Richard Newton touchdown pass out of the wildcat to Terrell Bynum. You asked for it.
- Finally, a shout out to all of the seniors who wrapped up their Huskies careers. There were many great swan-song performances among them including Brandon Wellington, Benning Potoa’e, Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, and Nick Harris. I would also point out that although Myles Bryant’s stats weren’t eye-popping (2 tackles, 1 INT) he was also a huge factor in the game. Congrats to all of UW’s seniors and best of luck to them all.