The Defense Can Still Adapt
While the Huskies have a lot of practice going up against the spread air raid attacks of Washington State and such, they haven’t played a true Run-and-Shoot team such as Hawai’i in recent years. Against Washington State last year the Huskies played a Dime personnel package about 82% of the time with a combination of 3 DL and OLB plus their standard 2 ILB. It was about a 60/40 split whether they would run 1 DL and 2 OLB or 2 DL and 1 OLB.
Against Hawai’i the Huskies played in a Dime look 85% of the time (excluding Hawai’i’s last possession when the 3rd team D was in) but they almost exclusively went with only 1 OLB at a time. Josiah Bronson, Tuli Letuligasenoa, and Taki Taimani all saw a season high in snaps played while it was a season low for Ariel Ngata.
The most interesting thing to me about the defense was that Keith Taylor was removed from his starting outside corner role to play a much more unique position within the defense. Last season, Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy played exclusively on the outside while they were on the field and in 4 CB sets Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant would take the 2 inside receivers. Against Hawai’i Trent McDuffie/Dominique Hampton and Kyler Gordon played the role of Miller and Murphy while Taylor played more akin to Myles Bryant which you wouldn’t expect given his size.
It’s unclear if this is a vote of confidence for Taylor’s flexibility or if it’s a sign that they don’t want to overburden McDuffie or Hampton and they’re most comfortable on the outside. When the Huskies played in zone, Taylor was brought up to the line serving as a psuedo-OLB. Consequently, Taylor ended up rushing the passer on 5 snaps this Saturday after doing so just once in the first two games. And when the Huskies decided to bring in an extra linebacker they shifted Taylor back to his outside spot and it was McDuffie who came off the field.
Hunter Bryant: #1 Option
I think everyone knew that Hunter Bryant would be exceptional this season provided he stayed healthy after he missed substantial time due to injury in each of his first two seasons. But he may have still surpassed expectations to this point somehow. While Bryant may be 3rd on the team in targets, he’s first on the team by a decent margin in % of routes targeted at 31.5% (McClatcher is 2nd at 25%, Baccellia 24.2%, Fuller 22.8%). Last season Aaron Fuller led the team with Jake Browning at QB at 26.8%.
It’s not exactly a surprise that Bryant grades out as the #1 TE in the country so far according to Pro Football Focus. His numbers are absurd on a rate basis. Bryant is averaging 9.13 yards after the catch which ranks second on the team behind Salvon Ahmed. But his average air yards per target of 8.13 is almost 10 yards more than Ahmed. He’s averaging almost 14 yards per target as well as 4.37 yards per route run. Last season Quinten Pounds led the team in yards per route among players with at least 12 total targets at 3.19. Bryant is well ahead of that mark even though Pounds was essentially a go route specialist last year. Finally, the team has a success rate of 70.6% when targeting Bryant on the season. That figure is 46% on all other passes this season.
While Bryant has been spectacular, Andre Baccellia has fallen off in a major way this season. Keep in mind that he scored on a 50-yard TD in the opener against Eastern Washington. Despite that he’s averaged just 1.65 yards per route run with a drop percentage of 9.1%. Last season he averaged 1.83 yards per route and had a drop percentage of just 1.5%. The odds are that he’ll go several games without a drop and that figure will start to normalize. But the lack of production leaves fans completely justified in calling for change for a player who has been on the field for 81.6% of offensive snaps this season. And the team has a success rate of just 36.4% when targeting Baccellia compared to 55% on all other pass attempts. Not great, Bob.
Hook, Offensive Line, and Sinker
Quality of opponent not withstanding, the Washington offensive line played by far their best game of the season against Hawai’i and it wasn’t particularly close. Jacob Eason has demonstrated in his short time as the QB for Washington that giving him a clean pocket to work with will be paramount if this team wants to rally for a Pac-12 north title. Now the results for every QB are going to be better when they’re under pressure compared to when they’re not but Eason’s relative lack of scrambling ability makes it even more apparent.
So far on the year Eason has averaged 8.44 yards per play with a success rate of 49.43% when he isn’t under pressure for a passer rating of 164.1. That number across an entire season would’ve been the best in the Pac-12 last year. Of course the flip side is that when under pressure so far Eason has averaged 4.6 yards per play with a success rate of 30% for a passer rating of 68.64. The good news is that we haven’t seen the kind of wild “toss it up for grabs and hope for the best” decision making that Browning exhibited when under severe pressure. But we also haven’t seen the “loop around and somehow pick up a 1st down when we thought he was toast” scrambles either.
I credited Hawai’i with 0 pressures against the Huskies. Part of that was the play calling of a lot of quick throws to the outside but the only sack was Eason bailing from the pocket before it was necessary and running out of bounds untouched for a 1 yard loss.
The offensive line was also at their best in the run game on Saturday. Husky running backs in the first two games of the season gained at least 3 yards before first contact on 48% of their carries. That mark was 61.5% against Hawai’i. There has also been consistent improvement in the percentage of times a ball carrier was hit in the backfield (20.5% vs. EWU, 11.1% vs. Cal, and 7.7% against Hawai’i). If the line is truly gelling into the unit we thought we might get in the preseason then it should allow this team to put forth an offense much closer to that of 2016 than in 2018.