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Film Study: Huskies handle BYU in routine fashion

Can we just schedule 12 games against “Cougars?”

Washington v BYU Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Brigham Young had more wives (16) than Husky QBs have had incomplete passes in the last three matchups between these two teams (15).

To the film.

#1, 1st and 10:

Nothing quite like setting the tone for the day on the very first snap from scrimmage.

Washington deserves the benefit of the doubt as being a solid rushing team, even with their typical slow start to the season that’s almost become a trademark under Chris Petersen; it’s right about this time (usually the start of conference play in game 4) that the run game “suddenly” gets healthy. In 2016, it was at Arizona when Lavon Coleman went apedung cutting back on power runs to the tune of more than 180 yards; in 2017, it was Myles Gaskin huntin’ Buffaloes for over 200; last season it was Gaskin again, but at Utah in week 3 doing the work. On Saturday, it was Sean McGrew getting the start against a very porous BYU rush defense.

The Huskies are running the stretch here (a wide zone run). At the snap, you 1,750 pounds of Husky offensive line (and tight end) moving laterally in unison, creating a shield to get McGrew to the outside and around the corner. RG #51 Jaxson Kirkland almost looks like he’s a pulling guard, but he’s actually getting far enough to the play side that he can turn and seal off the pursuit from the play (which he does). LT #72 Trey Adams and LG #76 Luke Wattenberg absolutely dominate at the point of attack; they’re both driving their men five yards down the field. C #56 Nick Harris is able to seal off the nose tackle, and then make a late seal on the inside linebacker (almost as an afterthought). TE #87 Cade Otton has a difficult job here; he’s supposed to put a “reach” block on the outside linebacker #3 who starts well outside of him on the snap. Otton can’t quite get there and is forced to make the block head-up; McGrew sees this and cuts the play inside Otton’s block.

At the top of the screen, Puka Nucua was given the start at one receiver spot, and he doesn’t make a great block here; that’s a solid win for the defender. Aaron Fuller, in the slot, does a nice job.

Great physical run here by McGrew; after cutting off of Otton’s block, he puts his shoulder down to milk every last bit out of this play. Almost five extra yards after he takes on the BYU safety.

#2, 3rd and 1:

This is a power read out of the wildcat (note LG #76 Luke Wattenberg coming through the hole). It’s good defense from BYU, and either a less-than-optimal decision from “QB” Richard Newton, or a designed run for Newton all the way.

This angle is a very instructive for the “read” portion of this play. This isn’t a missed block by Wattenberg, he intentionally leaves #40 unblocked and heads upfield looking for someone else. Once he receives the snap, Newton puts eyes on #40 while simultaneously putting the ball in Sean McGrews belly; if #40 attacks the ball (this is called the “mesh point” between the QB and RB), then Newton completes the handoff. If #40 stays in position to attack the RB, then Newton pulls the ball out and keeps it himself (hence, the read). #40 does a great job here. He stays in the no-man’s land of not committing to either play while still being in position to at least kind of make both. It’s easy to say from the comfort of our recliners, with the benefit of hindsight, but the play here was the handoff; there’s almost no way outside of a superhuman effort #40 would’ve been able to catch McGrew, who had a head of steam and was moving away. And really, as soon as there’s a true read going on (like there was here; Newton definitely puts the ball into McGrew’s stomach), you’ve opened yourself up to the most dangerous aspect of the read-option (the fumble at the mesh point, which we saw later in the game). So it seems most likely that this was a true read, and Newton had the option to hand off.

The wildcat has been successful much of 2019, and this play still gained a positive yard, but this wasn’t the best game for this play. The element of the handoff adds a lot of versatility and big-play potential, but not without some risk.

#3, 1st and 10:

The Huskies were justthisclose to a huge play here, but still end up with a really nice gain on a heads-up play from RB #24 Kamari Pleasant.

Right at the start of this gif, you see TE #1 Hunter Bryant shift to the offense’s left. That shift tips off BYU’s coverage; the linebacker over Bryant had him man-to-man, and the Cougars were in a cover 2. Bryant was running up the seam here on Jacob Eason’s play action, with an advantage athletically. If you watch closely, though, you see him stagger and eventually fall....

Pleasant is in the “I” formation. He takes the fake from Eason and steps up to block an oncoming BYU defender. At the last second, the defender vacates the area, and Pleasant readjusts and heads into the pattern. This was a play that was designed to go to Bryant all the way, and once his route is dead and the defense hasn’t had to adjust, the play is largely dead - you can see Eason looking, looking, and then finding Pleasant, almost unexpectedly. No jokes about a pleasant surprise, please.

Heads-up adjustment by a guy that hasn’t gotten a ton of snaps, and really hasn’t been a huge part of the passing game. Even in the face of a blitz, Eason still has a ton of time. A play that likely could’ve ended as a throwaway or even worse turns into a 20-yard gain.


#4, 2nd and 5:

This is a pretty horrible attempt to cut block by the offensive line, a timing throw that’s a beat too late, but it doesn’t matter because Jacob Eason has a reeeaaaaallly strong arm.

The Huskies are in an empty backfield. BYU’s defenders are lined up giving just a bit too much cushion here, leaving the slant wide open to the offense’s right side. An obscured view or tipped pass is about the only defense BYU has - hence, the cut block to bring the defenders to the ground, or at least to lower their hands to fight off the knee-level attack from the offensive line.

What’s the number one rule of an offensive lineman leaving his feet? He’d better damn well make the block. That’s a fail by C #56 Nick Harris on the nose tackle. RG #51 Jaxon Kirkland also misses, unless getting in his teammate’s way counts. And he definitely keeps RT #70 Jared Hilbers from doing anything productive. Two defensive linemen have free rushes, but neither end up in the throwing window. Eason catches the ball and double clutches instead of catching and firing. Had the ILB #34 been aware at the snap, this pass might’ve been deflected. Instead, Eason can throw the heat, and even with the less-than-perfect execution up front and a hiccup in the timing, this ends up being first and goal.

#5, 2nd and 8:

Washington is in a five-wide, empty backfield formation again on this play, something they ran against BYU more than they had the first three games combined. Two of the Huskies in the pattern are tight ends, #1 Hunter Bryant at the bottom of the screen and #87 Cade Otton in the slot second from the top.

BYU shows casino here, meaning they are bringing the house; a six-man blitz and only five in coverage. When a team has the audacity to play you in Cover 0 (no high safety) on 2nd and 8, you MUST make them pay.

This is just way too easy. Washington manipulates the coverage they want with their personnel group (the aforementioned two tight ends) and formation. By putting Otton in the slot, and #5 WR Andre Baccellia in the tight slot, the Huskies have Baccellia in man-to-man coverage with a linebacker. Jacob Eason sees this and audibles, while the linebacker looks around and feels the 42,000 (many of whom are Husky fans) remaining sets of eyes staring into his soul, and knows he’s a dead man walking. The snap, the set (without the bunny hop), the strike, the TD.

Too easy.

#6, 2nd and 20:

Nobody wants to hear Yogi Roth talk about “The Taki-Tuli combination on the line” anymore.


But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pretty awesome combo. Like surf and turf. Or anything and bacon, including bacon and bacon.

Tuli Letuligasenoa has earned praise for the Film Study guys here the last two weeks, so it’s only natural that #94 Sam Taimani certainly wanted to get into the act and earn some of the praise. Because it’s pretty valuable and all.

Frankly, this is just awesome.

Lots of times, when you see a big man make a play on a screen, it’s because he got blocked or somehow made a mistake. In this case, Taimani actually beats a block, and then has the juice to get out and make the play. The block is a half-hearted double team; Taimani has the split-second wherewithal to realize that it was a little too easy....Instead of engaging in the fruitless rush toward the QB that is the destiny of most d-linemen on a play like this, Taimani finds the running back and puts on a rather impressive set of afterburners for a man that size.

Love seeing hustle like that get rewarded.

#7, 2nd and 10:

A play like this should definitely give you hope for this group of 20 or so guys that make up the bulk of the Husky defensive rotation.

It’s near the end of the first half, and BYU had moved a little too easily down to near field goal range. The Huskies line up with seven DBs, with the only true defensive lineman along the three-man front being Benning Potoa’e lined up at the nose, flanked by OLB #55 Ryan Bowman and OLB #52 Ariel Ngata in a two-point stance. The Huskies bring all five along the front at the snap, as ILB #13 Brandon Wellington and safety-as-ILB #16 Cameron Williams rush. You can see S #5 Myles Bryant coming late; it’s very possible his rush is a result of the RB staying in to block.

From the reverse angle, the coverage down the field is simply spectacular. BYU’s QB Zach Wilson had hurt the Husky defense with his ability to move throughout the half, but there’s just nothing here on this play. The rush overwhelms the line with both numbers and agility here; lots of fast guys coming down hill cause confusion with BYU’s offensive line. But in that chaos, the defense still stays sound in containment; on the defensive left, you see Bowman doing a fantastic job of holding the edge and not over-committing upfield, and on the right, Ngata and Wellington seem to keep their wits as the fight through the line. In the end, Wilson should’ve been able to throw the ball away, but the rush is on him really quickly as he exits the pocket and it’s a play that’s easier said than done.

This knocked the Cougars back into “absurdly long field goal range” which to their credit, they made.

#8, 3rd and 4:

#22 CB Trent McDuffie has played his way into a starting role - by merit - by the fourth game of his true freshman season. Plays like this say the spot is his as long as he stays here. Meaning, this year, then 2020, then 2021, before it’s off to the NFL.

All he’s missing at this point is a fellow freshman to be part of some clever Yogi Roth name alliteration to truly “arrive”.

Spectacular play. The form tackle, the contact like a miniature linebacker, the awareness to find the ball and then fall on it. Any one of those things is good, but putting all three together on the same play, in game four of your true freshman season, that’s just awesome.

The string of amazing cornerback back play we’ve seen, from Desmond Trufant, to Marcus Peters, to Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Byron Murphy, it’s special. McDuffie is on the cusp of joining that list. The man can simply play the game.

#9, 3rd and 7:

Great defense from all 11, again.

The Huskies are in dime, showing man coverage. The initial rush is five, but there are adjustments from a deep safety and then CB #27 Keith Taylor at the snap; Taylor is in coverage, almost like a linebacker, on the tight end (tight to the formation on the offense’s right). When the tight end shows blocking, Taylor rushes, but is also ready to cover a late release. The running back also stays in, prompting the safety to come up to cover and rush.

The coverage right at the snap is fantastic, and Ariel Ngata manages nearly five yards after contact, as he breaks the tackle of the BYU running back in order to pick up the first complete the rush, since he plays defense and all. That’s holding, in case anyone didn’t pick up on it.

Yup, holding. BYU is lucky to escape with a long incompletion.

Washington didn’t play a perfect game, but it used fast starts out of the locker room in each half to keep BYU from ever making a game of it on Saturday. Winning this type of road game is a necessary building block for a team like the Huskies. The diversity of looks the coaching staff used on both sides of the ball to attack the Cougars was on full display; as this team looks to create its identity, you can expect more of the same. On now to USC’s Air Raid, and the fifth different offensive look this defense will see in five games.

Film Study Game Balls go to: Sean McGrew on offense, Trent McDuffie on defense, Aaron Fuller on special teams.