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Three Things We Learned: Cal

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The pass offense and the run defense need some serious adjustments and fast

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Cal at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same

After a fantastic game against Eastern Washington, the UW passing game looked exactly as it did throughout much of the 2018 season. Particularly against quality passing defenses. There were simple mistakes made in all areas of the passing attack:

Receivers dropped passes. Five of them (and you could easily make an argument on a couple more which I instead put on Eason).

The offensive line consistently struggled in pass protection. Pressure on 22% of dropbacks.

Jacob Eason was unwilling to throw downfield and inaccurate when he did. Only 23% of throws traveled at least 10 yards in the air and more than half of those weren’t on target.

And the offense made crucial mistakes in the red zone. Eason threw it too late and Baccellia couldn’t control his body well enough to get his foot down on what should have been an easy score in the left corner of the end zone. Luciano committed a false start on 4th and 1 from the 2 yard line.

The hope was that with Junior Adams on board that the UW receiving corps would be able to take a significant step up in execution and route running which would create separation. That didn’t happen in the first big test of the season and it was a major determinant in the loss. Maybe having Ty Jones and Quentin Pounds available would’ve made a difference. And maybe the young receivers could have done better (18 combined snaps out of 199 total for UW receivers). But the coaching staff insists they’ve got the best available guys on the field so this is likely what it will look like again in 2019 against top defenses.

The offensive line was also supposed to be a strength of this team and they held up well in the running game but did Jacob Eason no favors against Cal. The Bears consistently blitzed an inside linebacker off the edge while dropping the opposite outside linebacker into coverage. It’s something the Huskies do all the time as well. However, Cal did a much job dealing with it than the UW O-Line. Repeatedly there would be all 5 offensive linemen blocking only 2 or 3 defenders while either Cade Otton or Salvon Ahmed would left with multiple defenders bearing down on them. The tackles need to do a much better job passing off their assignments inside and not allowing the opponent to successfully overload one side. With Jacob Eason’s limited mobility there’s no fear that he’ll beat them with his legs and therefore no worry about having to keep contain in the pocket.

This Isn’t Your Older Brother’s Husky Defense

The Washington coaching staff has reloaded the defense on the fly enough times that they were given the benefit of the doubt in the offseason replacing 2/3rds of the total defensive snaps. At least early in the season it seems that might’ve been a slightly optimistic view. I recorded the defense with a total of 12 missed tackles. That was more than in any single game last season (the three worst games were Auburn- 11, Washington State- 10, and Ohio State- 9). And that doesn’t include plays where a player very clearly lost contain and therefore wasn’t even in position to attempt a tackle.

The lack of contain against cutbacks was probably the most glaring issue as the team got gashed time and again in the second half. California had a 68.8% success rate when running the ball in the second half and averaged 7.25 yards per carry. Garbers chipped in with another 4.5 yards per carry when scrambling. Joe Tryon and Brandon Wellington seemed the primary culprits in failing to keep up the structural integrity of the defense and freelancing. The Husky defense will absolutely have to fix those issues going forward.

Finally, Kyler Gordon had a rough night in what was otherwise a great effort by the secondary. There’s no question that he has the inherent athleticism to be a star but his technique clearly still needs work. Garbers was 4/6 for 43 yards when attacking Gordon plus the defensive pass interference penalty on the final drive which moved Cal to the edge of field goal range. He finished 7/12 for 68 yards on all other pass attempts. The Bears attempted just 6 total passes that traveled more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and 5 of them were at Gordon. He played a little too far off his guy on several of those 9 yard comebacks for my taste considering Cal gave no indication they were going to realistically challenge the defense downfield.

Wide Rotations in the Front Four and Not So Much Elsewhere

A blowout week 1 win against an FCS opponent allowed the Huskies to open up the rotation and get a lot of freshmen into the game. It looks like the rotating is going to continue to be a constant along the defensive line and at the outside linebacker spot but not in a lot of other spots in the defense. Five players played at least 15% of the snaps along the defensive line against Cal with Levi leading the way (63.9%) followed by seniors Josiah Bronson and Benning Potoa’e (both 42.6%) and then redshirt freshmen Tuli (24.6%) and Taki (14.8%).

Joe Tryon and Ryan Bowman had a much bigger grip on the outside linebacker spots playing about 73% of the time but Ariel Ngata, Myles Rice, and true freshman Laiatu Latu all got significant playing time. The inside linebacker spot is much more clear cut as the redshirt freshman duo of Jackson Sirmon and M.J Tafisi went from playing 40% of the snaps against Eastern to just 10% of the snaps on Saturday/Sunday. Last season it seemed that Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor each got at least one or two series even when the starters were healthy but I didn’t see anyone but the base nickel out there except when Dominique Hampton came in as a 6th DB in clear passing situations.

The lack of rotation at wide receiver will frustrate many fans but Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia each played more than 90% of the snaps against Cal followed by Chico McClatcher at 39.5% and Terrell Bynum at 17.3%. At the tight end position I think we’re seeing evidence of Hunter Bryant’s knee being managed a bit. He played just 38 total snaps compared to a combined 22 snaps for Corey Luciano, Jackson Sirmon, and Jake Westover. If Bryant is 100% healthy I think he likely is on the field for half of those.

Meanwhile, the running back rotation appears set for now with Salvon Ahmed the unquestioned leader with Richard Newton the #2 and Sean McGrew coming in for one or two series per game. Kamari Pleasant got the fewest snaps and performed the worst against Eastern and then didn’t get on the field against Cal. With 2 more running backs joining in the 2020 class and none graduating I’d look at Pleasant as a prime transfer candidate if the playing time split continues this way the rest of the season.