If you watched the first half of the Husky/Hawaii game last Saturday, then turned it off and did something else with your Saturday evening, We’re jealous. That first half was brilliant.
The third quarter had Husky fans stressing, as the Rainbow Warriors came within a two point conversion of making it a two-possession football game with more than a full quarter remaining. Then the Huskies refocused, and put away Hawaii with a long touchdown drive, a quick turnover, and another score.
To the film:
1st and 10:
This is a very well-designed play.
The Huskies have two receivers to the left, and two tight ends to the right. There’s a lot of action here, but it’s almost all just window dressing to occupy the defense’s neural processors during a play that’s designed to go to Hunter Bryant all the way.
At the top of the screen, the outside receiver runs a clear out, simply taking off down the field. The slot receiver inside of him flares to the outside for a swing pass (not a bubble screen, since there aren’t any blockers). There’s power read play action in the backfield. QB Jacob Eason gives just a quick lean to show the ball to the running back, but you can see that it’s enough to draw a few steps forward from all of the linebackers. LG #76 Luke Wattenberg is pulling, which also serves to influence the linebackers, but since this is a pass, he stops near the line of scrimmage and looks for someone to block. After his fake, the running back flares to the opposite side of the field from his original alignment, draws some coverage and basically just stays busy. Hawaii’s three man pass rush is largely non-existent.
To the tight ends: Hunter Bryant is in the h-back alignment, and TE #87 Cade Otton is in-line on the line of scrimmage. Whether you call this route concept switch, exchange, rub, it’s all the same - both drive vertically down the field and then cross. In the inside receiver Otton breaks toward the corner, and the outside receiver Bryant runs to the post. The defenders switch men (just like in basketball), but that causes just enough hesitation to gain Bryant a step on the defense. A perfect pass finds him 20 yards down the field, and the rest is just crossing t’s and dotting i’s on his way to the end zone.
2nd and 6:
Sometimes, it’s the small stuff.
TE #87 shows that football is part of his DNA on this one.
The Huskies have 3 receivers in the pattern on this play, plus a tight end and running back leaking out late. Hawaii is only rushing 3, the protection is good, and there’s no real penetration through the line. Jacob Eason gets uncomfortable, though, and leaves the pocket wide to his left (note - a much better play here is to step up and to his right). Cade Otton sees this, and heads out toward the flat. This serves two purposes: puts him in position to be a blocker and a receiver, and it draws the defense to him. Eason sees the lane and shows pretty decent speed to get 8 yards. Eason had better options here (waiting, stepping up, resetting after his initial roll), but a first down is pretty much always a good thing. For Otton, subtle excellence from the son of a coach who has blood cells shaped like footballs.
2nd and 10:
Considering how little effort the Huskies invested in creating pass rush pressure, this is a pretty good play.
The Huskies played a three man front virtually all game against the Warriors, with only two inside linebackers behind them - dime, and sometimes seven defensive backs, with only five men in the box. One of those guys on the line was an outside linebacker, meaning the Huskies just didn’t really much in terms of bodies or weight of bodies to rush or defend the run.
DT #91 Tuli Letuligasenoa is quickly becoming an FSF (that’s Film Study Favorite) for plays like this. The two defensive tackles run a stunt here - Letuligasenoa is over the center, but attacks left, toward the offense’s right tackle. DT #8 Benning Potoa’e is is lined up here as a traditional 30 defensive end, a four technique, square over the right tackle. As soon as Letuligasenoa crosses his face, Potoa’e is working behind him, toward the middle, and rushing up the center. Whether it’s Potoa’e’s pressure, or the sight of a hard-charging free safety coming up looking like he’s going to blitz (and he was going to blitz, as long as the running back didn’t head into the pattern; this is called a “peel blitz,” and the blitz is aborted for coverage in this instance as the safety picks up the back - it’s the same play Alabama used on their interception-for-TD against the Huskies right before halftime in 2016), the QB leaves the pocket to his right. Letuligasenoa shows some quicks here, and half-evades, half-runs-through the right tackle to get some legitimate pressure and force the dump-off.
1st and 10:
We’re going to use this play to give you a little bit of an idea how a quarterback’s decision-making works pre-snap when an RPO (run-pass option) is called.
Here are the two options Jacob Eason is looking at: He has an inside zone to the offense’s right, and the pass option is a bubble screen to the inside slot receiver (also to the right).
The decision here is based on simple counting. Hawaii has four defenders in the vicinity of the bubble screen. Not only is there no advantage for the offense there, they’re actually at a pretty big disadvantage. Now, for that running play...
Hawaii shows a pretty light box, with only six guys in there because the play side outside linebacker is so far out. Easy decision to hand the ball off.
Up close, you can see that the offensive line does its job, and tight end #1 Hunter Bryant gets the key block on the play side inside linebacker. That opens up a huge crease, and turns a good play into a great one. Good vision by Ahmed, great speed (as always), and it’s only a little bit of geometry and those pesky ankle tackles that keep this from going the distance.
2nd and 4:
While a lot of Husky fans might not like this play, it’s actually a well-executed tunnel screen down near the goal line that picks up 12 yards and a first down.
The pass is to #6 Chico McClatcher, who’s lined up in the inside slot to the offense’s left. At the snap, the interior of the offensive line - both guards and the center, are releasing down the field. They’re the guys that form the tunnel. LT #72 Trey Adams stays in to block to keep the defensive end from crashing the play or attempting to tip the pass. TE #87 Cade Otton is almost on the line, but standing up. His job is to stalk block the man over him. He gets the job done, and the fact that the defender tries to run around Otton’s block instead of taking him on actually aids the Huskies; it creates traffic a hard-charging Hawaii DB can’t negotiate. RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland and C #56 Nick Harris do an excellent job of turning and sealing the pursuit coming from the back side of the play. LG #76 can’t quite catch the safety, but he ends up creating a human shield that McClatcher uses to create a cutback angle. At the bottom of the screen, out of the frame and then coming back in late, that’s a really nice block from WR #5 Andre Baccellia. Excellent.
2nd and 3:
This is what’s known in the biz as a “busted coverage.” One man (#22 CB Trent McDuffie in this case) cannot possibly cover two.
You get a very brief view of what’s happening here before the action unfolds. Hawaii is balanced, with two receivers on either side, and a running back. The Huskies have two high safeties, showing Cover 2, and show man-under on the line of scrimmage.
The dangers of blitzing....
The Huskies bring the slot defender from the wide side of the field, which usually means that unless a safety is “filling” that coverage gap, each coverage defender should be rotating one man toward the direction of the blitz. The play action holds the inside linebackers here. Keith Taylor is lined up as the boundary-side outside linebacker, over the slot receiver. At the snap, he’s reading the QB and dropping back into flats coverage. Pretty much every route in the Run-and-Shoot can be converted to a vertical route; whether this is a post-snap adjustment by the receiver and QB based on the coverage, or the designed play, we don’t know. But with the clean release, it’s a very simple throw and catch, and McDuffie is left to save the touchdown.
At the very end of the play, you can see the deep safety on the boundary side of the field #16 Cameron Williams come into the play, from the middle. While we can’t see him, his angle coming late into the play suggests that he’s rotated over to cover or the blitz; that plus the fact that the opposite side safety has come into cover the slot for the blitzing DB suggests the only person really able to cover the receiver with the ball was Taylor, and that he simply made a mistake here.
This isn’t a defense the Huskies have played much this year, particularly with Taylor as a linebacker. While the Huskies have played Air Raid teams out of a dime defense, this might be one of the few times they’ve played a true Run-and-Shoot team, and we’ll have to see if things change should they face another. More likely, this becomes a teaching tool for the entire defense.
The offense came out on fire against the Warriors (the Rainbow Warriors?), and the scripted portion of the game - the first 15 plays - produced 190 yards and three scores. That isn’t bad. The defense recorded its first three takeaways of the season, including two very fine plays from senior leader Myles Bryant. While nobody is going to be happy with Hawaii’s back-to-back-to-back long (and we mean loooooong) touchdown drives spanning the end of the second quarter and almost all of the third, Washington’s small play defense forced them to take far too much time on each to actually make the game close in any real way. Other than the aesthetics. Thankfully, both sides of the ball were able to create the distance that makes things look “okay” in the end.
There’s very little to criticize with the offense, they just didn’t see the ball all that much, especially in the 2nd half. Maybe you’d like to see Richard Newton with a little better per-carry average, but he kept getting tackled by the goal line. Defensively, it’s tough to equate much from this game to either of the other two, since the team didn’t actually take a snap in their base nickel all game. The continuing emergence of Tuli Letuligasenoa is a definite bright spot, Trent McDuffie is doing good things, and it was nice to see Cameron Williams get his first takeaway in purple.
Take the comfortable win, pack up the grass cleats, and get ready for Provo and the 1984 national title runners-up, the BYU Cougars.