Game one is in the books, finally. Let’s grade the position groups.
Quarterback - B
Dylan Morris received his first career start and graded out as the 5th best Pac-12 QB of the weekend, however it is unclear if he’s the full time starter or just played because Kevin Thompson was out. Either way, Morris wasn’t asked to do much, and played pretty decently within the strict confines of this game plan. The ball has some velocity coming off his hands, but getting three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage won’t convince anyone he should be the starter over say, someone like Jacob Sirmon who stands at 6-4. But he avoided mistakes and executed the game plan, which was clearly designed to insulate him. He only completed three passes longer than 9 yards, but that appeared to be part of the conservative approach. Between it being his first start as a redshirt freshman, the weather conditions, and unveiling a brand new offense with no spring practice, perhaps this was inevitable. He appears to be a very “high-floor” player and his performance Saturday night seemed to confirm that. He wasn’t asked to do much, but he executed mostly pretty well in what he was asked to do.
Running Back - A-
This game was all about the running backs, and they mostly delivered, especially Sean McGrew. Out of 26 running backs graded by PFF over the weekend, McGrew ranked first, Cam Davis (with his two carries...) graded 10th, Kamari Pleasant 11th, and Rich Newton 17th. Sean McGrew looked particularly dangerous with his speed, shiftiness, and ability to read blocks. Pleasant admittedly looked much better than I expected and ended up with 5.1 YPC. Newton didn’t show much vision but at times wasn’t helped by his blockers and averaged less than 3 yards per carry. Overall the three main backs (McGrew, Newton, and Pleasant) carried 36 times for 193 yards. That is a good game, but I think most fans would like to see more Cam Davis out there - he officially had two carries but one long gain was wiped out for holding.
Wide Receivers - C+
Terrell Bynum was great and graded as the 3rd best WR in the conference. Aside from one drop, he showed to be a good option in the intermediate routes and showed more playmaking ability on jet sweeps than I think most anticipated, with 33 yards on both his attempts. Outside of that, the WR group looked pretty underwhelming. Fan favorite Puka Nacua looked a bit rusty with one drop and another fumble that he thankfully fell right on top of. Ty Jones had just one catch and a drop of a possible TD. Rome Odunze nearly had a touchdown catch but it was broken up by an Oregon State DB - it could have been called pass interference, but frankly it was pretty close.
Tight Ends - B+
This unit was primarily used to block and I don’t believe they were targeted for any passes other than Cade Otton in the first quarter, which he hauled in for four yards. Jack Westover played more of an H-back/fullback type of role and was successful on his dive plays, getting the few yards needed. More on the fullback dive later. It was awesome to see Mark Redman out there too, though again, he wasn’t targeted and just blocked, but he’s got a very bright future.
Offensive Line - A-
This unit was mostly great. No sacks given up, only two TFLs allowed, and the team rushed for 267 yards. However, at least twice in the red zone they were unable to open up holes in the Oregon State DL and had to settle for field goals, one of which was missed. Out of 66 OL in the Pac-12, PFF graded Victor Curne as the 6th best, Luke Wattenburg at 15th, and Jaxson Kirkland at 27th. MJ Ale graded out at 20th, but had a huge disparity between run and pass blocking. His ability to pass block on the left side with Kirkland is something to watch moving forward - he clearly can be a road grader, but the finer points of pass blocking are something he can improve on. But, it was encouraging to see a new starter in Curne grade out as well as he did, and two players in brand new positions be in the top third (roughly...) in the league.
Defensive Line - C
So, some context here. Obviously losing Levi Onwuzurike had an impact, but combined with apparent semi long-term injuries to Laiatu Latu and Tuli Letuligasenoa, the DL was clearly impacted and rush defense suffered. Some credit goes to Oregon State - Jermar Jefferson could be the best back UW faces all year. And I know this isn’t a recruiting article, but it just goes to show the critical importance of bringing in talented players every single year. Even losing a possible All-American in Levi, and having the presumed starter in Tuli be injured, the Huskies could still roll out high ceiling players in Jacob Bandes, Faatui Tuitele, and Taki Taimani. Anyway...Taimani played well and appeared to have a TFL though it might have been a tackle right at the LOS. He graded as the 7th best interior DL in the conference, out of 46. Other than that, this unit didn’t particularly distinguish itself. I had hoped this would be the type of game Josiah Bronson could dominate, but he was fairly average. It was far from a disaster, but you’d expect better than 4.9 yards per carry and two TDs against the Beavers, especially when in a “down year” for the defense last year, they routinely held opponents under 4 YPC.
Outside Linebackers - B
How about a round of applause for ZTF? He played with passion and energy, and was generally disruptive all night, finishing with two strip-sacks. Other than that, this unit didn’t stand out. Ryan Bowman had a TFL but was not particularly effective outside that. True freshman Sav’ell Smalls (finally!!!!!) and Cooper McDonald got into the rotation and recorded 1 tackle between the two of them. This is a unit without Latu that needs someone to step up. No reason to think a guy like Smalls won’t continue to grow and be a disruptive edge player. McDonald feels more like an inside guy to me, so we’ll see where he ends up moving forward.
Inside Linebackers - C
Everyone’s favorite position group. Eddie Ulofoshio was pretty good, with 9 solo tackles and four pass break ups, which is shockingly high for a linebacker. But he can’t do it alone, and Jackson Sirmon did not grade out particularly well manning the inside with him, ranking 33rd of 39 Pac-12 linebackers. Alphonso Tuputala played a decent bit and had two tackles, but like the outside linebackers, this unit needs another body to step up and play at an above average level, at least.
Secondary - A
Shouldn’t be a huge surprise - this is likely yet again the strength of the team. Molden continued to look like a force at the nickel spot, playing with linebacker physicality and covering like a corner. McDuffie seems to be building upon his hugely promising freshman season. The lowest graded player was Keith Taylor, who ranked 7th out of 41, so pretty great overall. They didn’t allow a TD pass, held Tristan Gebbia to 3.5 yards per attempt, and were as suffocating as usual. I’m curious to see how Alex Cook progresses at safety, as it was a surprise to see him starting. He played well against Oregon State, but the tests will be harder in coming weeks. Asa Turner wasn’t tested deep but played in the box for 15 snaps and had the game sealing interception, and was generally around the football.
Special Teams - C-
Would be a D if it wasn’t for McDuffie’s punt returning, where it appears the Huskies have found a weapon back there they haven’t had since Dante Pettis. Outside of that, the special teams were poor. They let Champ Flemings get loose on two kick off returns, gave up a TD on a poor snap for a punt, and Peyton Henry missed a field goal inside 30 yards. The poor snaps on punts were from a true freshman, which hopefully were just first game jitters. Overall, this unit played sloppy and the coaches need to clean it up.
Coaching - C+
Well, Kirk Herbstreit was impressed. Me? I am not quite sure what to think. On the one hand, I appreciated that the coaches stuck to a plan that seemed to be working - running the ball. They eased in their new starting QB and didn’t throw him into the deep end. But some questions emerged from a win that probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. If a few very lucky calls from the refs had gone the other way, Washington might be 0-1 right now.
Moving away from Sean McGrew after a huge first half is a mystery. Sound Special Teams is typically a sign of good coaching and the Huskies were sloppy in that phase. The issues at linebacker don’t seem to have been fully resolved from last year. And for all the talk of an attacking and aggressive offense, 3 fullback dives were not what many had in mind. Again, the game plan was clearly very conservative, but this looked like an archaic offense and did not resemble modern college football in my eyes.
It’s only Week 1, and perhaps against other teams they will push the ball vertically down the field, but right now it seems like this offense will keep every game very close. Similar to Herm Edwards ASU team - it’s an NFL style approach where every game is close and less talented teams are kept in the game until the end and not put away. Maybe the coaches were seeing what they have and will get it dialed in, but personally, this did not give me any more confidence in the John Donovan Offensive Coordinator hire, where expectations were already pretty low. We got the win, but I’m not sure we got the answers we were looking for. Arizona comes to town next week and I think we all hope to see a cleaner performance on defense and special teams, and some of those explosive pass plays we’ve heard so much about.