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Film Study: Eastern Washington

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Huskies roll to a big win, but still plenty to work on

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Eastern Washington at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As coach “Doc” Hines said in “Remember the Titans” after Sunshine’s first snap at QB, “We’ve got ourselves a football player!” I’m sure Chris Petersen had that exact line literally running through his head while watching Jacob Eason and the Washington Huskies dismantle the Eastern Washington University Eagles last Saturday afternoon, to the tune of a ho-hum 47-14.

Literally, that line.

The Huskies dominated on both sides of the ball, but were far from perfect. In a lot of ways, that’s the best way possible to come out of a game against an FCS opponent - the feel-good win, but plenty of coaching work to be done.

Let’s take a look at the film:

2nd and 8:

First, welcome back to college football, Chico McClatcher. It’s great to see you in the purple and gold.

This is one of the many screen concepts the Huskies showed on Saturday. The Huskies are in 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers), with the tight end standing up in a tight slot position. McClatcher comes in motion across the formation, moving the offense from a balanced 2x2 set to 1x3, trips to the right. This is a tunnel screen, where the throw is made to a wide out who then looks to cut back into the middle behind the “tunnel” created by the offensive linemen releasing down the field. This is a somewhat unique variation, because the throw is made to such a narrow receiver, and the offensive line blocks this almost as if it’s a middle screen. Just the interior offensive linemen release down the field (LG Wattenberg #76, C Harris #56, and RG Kirkland #51). LT Trey Adams #72 attempts to cut block the right defensive end but misses; it doesn’t matter on this play, but the rule for offensive linemen is “if you leave your feet in order to make a block, you’d better damn well MAKE THAT BLOCK!!” and Adams doesn’t. RT Hilbers #70 stays to pick up the right defensive end; had that end taken an outside or up-the-field rush, he could be in the throwing lane, and Hilbers’ job is to make sure he doesn’t obscure Eason’s vision or jump up an tip the pass. The end rushes inside, so Hilbers is beaten, but it doesn’t much matter.

The throw is on target, and TE Otton #87 in the slot picks up the first outside linebacker. LG Wattenberg finds himself in “chase” mode, and doesn’t end up blocking anyone. RG Kirkland gets on “okay” block on the playside inside linebacker. C Harris recognizes the opposite side inside linebacker too late (this is the defender that ends up making the tackle), but at least continues on to a safety at full speed instead of stopping.

If Harris recognizes the pursuit sooner, McClatcher has a cutback angle to the outside and is basically one-on-one with a safety for the end zone. Instead, he does the smart thing and just puts his shoulders behind his blockers and takes what’s available. In this case, that’s 10+ yards and a Husky first down. Cue the band.

4th and 2:

The most important thing about this play is that Chris Petersen says that 4th and 2 with a theoretically makeable 40-yard field goal is “go for it” territory. That’s great news. Whether it was due to the opponent, or will be the philosophy of the staff moving forward remains to be seen, but going for it here was absolutely the right call and should be the same all season long.

When asked who was going to be the “Wildcat” QB with the graduation of Myles Gaskin, I doubt any Husky fan would’ve said Richard Newton. Sean McGrew was the most logical choice given his experience with it in 2018, but decisions like this is why Chris Petersen makes the big bucks.

The timing of this play is absolutely impeccable; Newton calls for the snap right as Salvon Ahmed is crossing his face for the perfect mesh action on the “read” of this play. It’s not the typical “zone-read” here, this is actually a “power read;” note RG Jaxson Kirkland pulling to his left. And there’s actually supposed to be a lead block from the running back next to Newton as well, but he gets caught up in the action and doesn’t follow through on his assignment.

Whether the fly action by Ahmed for the “read” is real or if it’s just window dressing, we don’t really know. This could very well have been a called run for Newton all the way. The blocking isn’t outstanding, but Newton’s running absolutely is; he hits the hole like he’s shot out of a cannon, and turns his first carry as a Husky into a TD. That’s something pretty special.

2nd and 16:

A very simple play here turns into a great way to get the ball into the hands of a playmaker in space.

A delayed rush by a linebacker the Eagles puts four coming after Eason and seven dropping into zone coverage. The Huskies very commonly keep their in-line tight end in to help block in pass coverage; in this case it’s TE #1 Hunter Bryant on the offense’s right. Bryant sells pass protection hard at the snap, the inside linebackers see this and drop deep away from him. After a beat, though, Bryant releases down field and turns, giving Eason a very simple pass here. Bryant has excellent abilities with the ball in his hands, and the fact that Eastern disregarded him gives him a lot of room in the middle of the field to maneuver. Bryant shakes and moves, and turns 2nd and very long into 3rd and quite manageable.

Nice job all the way around on this play; great design, the offensive line communicates and finds the late rush, Bryant sells the block, and then makes a play. You can maybe pull this off twice a game; it’s a bit of a sucker play. I’ll take it here.

3rd and Goal:

If you remember the Washington defense of 2016 versus much of what we saw the last two years, you can see the shift back in game one of 2019 with the way the outside linebackers are being used. The last two seasons saw the outside linebackers tighter over the offensive tackles, which definitely hindered their ability to rush the passer (but aided their use to contain the run). As in 2016, we saw a lot more of the outside linebackers out wide of the tackles, in a 7 or even 9 technique alignment, with their hands on the ground “aimed” at the QB at the snap. It’s important not to read too much into the pass rush given that Eastern is an FCS team (albeit a very good FCS team), but the look after game one is definitely a bit more importance being placed on the rush by the coaching staff.

Husky fans rejoice....

To add to that, this is just not something you see too often from the Husky defense. From the base four man front, the Huskies blitz both inside linebackers, and then bring in a player from the secondary as well. It’s a seven man rush....sort of. There’s a defensive lineman dropping back into the shallow “hook zone” right behind the line of scrimmage. He manages to impede the progress of the late-arriving DB. The rest of the rush does its job, as there’s a wall of purple closing quickly on the ball. In the end, this is fantastic individual effort by OLB #55 Ryan Bowman. Bowman comes from the defense’s right, and uses a speed rush to get by the left tackle. The tackle is beaten but gives Bowman a shove; as Bowman is falling, he lunges toward the QB and gets a shoestring to bring him down for the loss. The sack probably happens anyway, but just great effort.

1st and 10:

This is a play that’s been featured a handful of times here at the UWDP Film Study - it’s the inside zone split. The basic design of the play is a zone run between the right guard and right tackle (you can see offensive line walling off the defense in that area), but with the added twist of the play side tight end coming all the way back across the formation almost line a pulling lineman, and creating a “big play” cutback angle. The tight end’s primary job is actually to take out the defensive end on the opposite side of the play to prevent his pursuit down the line to catch the play from behind. But sometimes, that block can create a big opening against a fast-flowing defense.

The blocking at the point of attack is fine, there’s a positive play to be made if RB #28 Richard Newton hits that hole. But watch as the defense flows toward the line’s action. Bryant hasn’t been lauded much for his blocking, especially relative to the other tight ends on UW’s roster, but his effort Saturday was fantastic. This play might’ve been his best as he invites the defender to a good old fashioned firehall pancake breakfast.

Newton takes the monster opening, but doesn’t have quite the wheels to get all the way around the defense for another TD, and instead has to settle for a second 20+ yard carry in his first game as a Husky. Nice run, but put the ball in the other arm.

1st and 10:

Watch the defensive line on this play; they do pretty much all they can to influence Eastern’s offensive line to the defense’s right. This is all to set up an alley for the blitzing Elijah Molden, and it almost works. Eastern is rolling their QB toward the blitz at the snap, so Molden has to adjust the angle of his rush a bit in order to contain the roll. There’s also an Eagle running back serving as a personal protector for the QB, and Molden’s rush serves to create an open lane for the QB to set up an throw this pass.

Consider that the first step in “what goes wrong when you blitz.” Either there’s a coverage bust in the front half of the defense, or Keith Taylor loses contact with his man (the latter being more likely), but either way the result is a defense that is a bit out of sorts in adjusting locations to their blitzing DB. The final nail is a bad angle by true freshman safety #16 Cameron Williams, who comes up too fast and at the wrong angle to make the tackle and really only serves to knock both himself and Taylor off the play. Williams was otherwise solid in his first start as a true freshman. Husky fans should expect a lot of good football from him moving forward.

1st and 10:

Nice throw, fantastic catch, but the two bigger factors in making this play are pretty subtle.

One of the first things a QB is taught in the passing game is how to use his eyes to influence the defense. You can’t exactly see it from this angle, but watch the free safety at the very back of the play; he’s sort of frozen as to what he should do. Eason erases him from the play just by staring at him as the routes develop.

Second, watch Aaron Fuller’s route on this play, which is known as a “post-corner route.” Fuller stems toward the post at five yards, and the second the defender changes his direction from a straight backpedal to get to the in-breaking route, Fuller cuts back out to the outside. Nice.

This might look like an underthrown pass, but the defender is in “off” coverage. Eason knows he has the most room to work by throwing the ball behind the receiver, and letting him work back and away from the defender. Fuller sees the ball and has plenty of time to adjust and turn back inside. While fans drool over Eason’s fantastic arm strength, the fact that he threw the ball on time was the bigger factor in how “on” he looked virtually all game on Saturday.

1st and 10:

You have to love seeing the future of your program getting together to do good things when they get a chance to see the field.

Trent McDuffie (DB #22) might have been the most impressive of the true freshmen to see the field on Saturday. He looked very much like the next in line to be the Budda Baker/Myles Bryant/Elijah Molden playmaker in the nickel corner role. On this play, he’s in coverage on a tight end, but largely playing against the run like an outside linebacker. He may have been burned by a delayed release to the tight end here, but you have to admire the speed at which he diagnoses this play, and he DOES have help in coverage. He’s in the backfield right away, and it’s only a late shove from the tight end that prevents him from being the true freshmen to score first in 2019.

Instead, he slows down the play, and OLB #56 Laiatu Latu first manages to straight-up defeat a double team and then pursue the running back from inside out, and then make a rather emphatic tackle to maintain the safety. That was just a lot of really good stuff from a guy that’s been talked about as one of those “freaky” type of freshman that just isn’t going to be kept off the field.

Coming up hard is true freshmen ILB #40 Alphonzo Tuputala; while you maybe don’t want to see him give up the cutback angle the way he does on this play by overpursuing to the outside, that’s pretty good desire to get to the play.

The Huskies are 1-0, and they handled a very talented FCS team with enough style to make the pollsters sit up and notice by......dropping the Dawgs a spot in the next poll. Yeesh.

Whatever.

The offense maintained its annual slow start to the rushing attack, which is saying something considering they gained 200 yards on the ground. No one should be worried - yet. The defense wasn’t exactly in midseason form, but the heirs apparent to the big guys in the middle suddenly seem a little bit more apparent, as redshirt freshmen Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani both had spurts of being dominant two-gapping defensive tackles. The biggest concern is the health of center Nick Harris, but freshman Matteo Mele stepped in well as a blocker (even though he had a few inconsistent snaps). The Huskies have a quarterback. Emphatically. The coaches get to teach instead of managing egos, which is a good thing coming off a 30+-point win.

Bring on Cal. Cal needs to get beat.