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Three Things We Learned: Arizona

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You mean besides that this team might be pretty darn good?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you missed last week’s edition, this year I’m going to be including some fancy Tableau charts in this weekly column. You can access the full dashboard right here at any time.

Inside you can find snap counts as well as a variety of advanced metrics based on my own game charting. I will generally try to have it updated by the Tuesday night following each game. With the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to it.

Morris Code

The stat line for Dylan Morris in game #2 wasn’t all that different from game #1 but it certainly felt different. Part of that wasn’t necessarily because of Morris’ strengths. His long TD to Puka Nacua was slightly behind Nacua and only 5 yards downfield so Nacua did the vast majority of the work turning that into a score.

The big difference was the frequency with which Morris took shots downfield. Against Oregon State there was only one attempt further than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage which was a 44-yard failed strike to Terrell Bynum when both Bynum wasn’t open and the pass was 5 yards out of reach. Officially, 6 of Morris’ attempts went at least 27 yards through the air against Arizona and a 7th was negated due to a penalty.

While it’s nice that the Huskies appear willing to take deep shots to their talented receiving corps, you do have to occasionally complete those passes. The only one of those deep shots that were completed was a pass down the seam to Cade Otton. I graded that only 3 of those 7 attempts were accurate passes and that only 2 of them were to open receivers.

However, it did seem like there may have been improvement throughout the night. True freshman Jalen McMillan saw 3 deep shot targets and failed to reel in any of them. However, the second one would’ve been a catch if not for a perfectly timed swat by the defender who connected with both of McMillan’s elbows just as the ball hit his hands. And the third was maybe slightly too far but McMillan has no excuse for not catching it when it both hit his fingers and he made no attempt to dive to secure it.

Morris showed a newfound willingness to let the ball fly but the accuracy needs to kick up a notch to truly make the Washington offense unstoppable. If he can do that while keeping up his avoidance of negative plays (0 INTs, 0 fumbles, 0 throwaways, 1 sack when he ran out of bounds 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage) then the Huskies have something special at the position with 4 more years of eligibility.

Wrap It Up

If you somehow turned the UW/Arizona game off with 13:57 remaining when the Wildcats were down 37-0 and facing a 4th and 8 from just past midfield and also not read anything Husky-related since then until just now...have I got news for you. Obviously, no one is happy that the Washington mostly backups surrendered an additional 3 touchdowns after the starters dominated for almost the entire night. However, I think the sight of Elijah Molden on the ground injured even if he ended up being fine was enough to scare Jimmy Lake into deciding it wasn’t worth it to lose a starter to injury when up 44-6.

Still, it wasn’t exactly a great sign to see the Huskies get dominated by Arizona’s offense over those final 3 drives. Let’s look a little closer though to see how it happened. On the first of those drives at 44-6 the Husky pups on defense actually forced a 3 and out before a running into the kicker penalty gave Arizona an automatic first down and kept the drive alive. From that point on it was mostly a matter of tackling.

Washington’s strategy in these situations since Chris Petersen arrived has been to play a zone, make them throw it in front of you, and wrap up on the tackles. Arizona over those next 12 pass attempts averaged 4 yards after the catch per throw. That includes a pair of touchdowns where the receiver caught it in the end zone and thus there were by definition no possible yards after the catch. Looking at just the other 10 attempts it doesn’t take much to figure out what happened. The Huskies missed 6 total tackles on those 10 completions: 2 by Irvin and 1 each by Heimuli, Tafisi, Fabiculanan, and Esteen.

Zoom back out to the 19 total plays after the special teams penalty and Washington missed 10(!) tackles with an extra 2 by Heimuli, 1 by Smalls, and 1 by Tuputala when we also look at the couple of running plays and the scrambles by Gunnell. For almost everyone playing this was the first time they were getting live reps against a non-teammate at the college level so some rust is understandable. But that level of tackling is unacceptable even for the backups.

Destroyer of Worlds

After last week’s outing I was incredibly intrigued to see what Zion Tupuola-Fetui was going to do going against Arizona’s set of tackles. In their first game against USC the pair of Zona bookends were the two lowest graded offensive starters on the team per Pro Football Focus. Let’s just say that things didn’t exactly change in week 2. ZTF had another 4 pressures and 2 sacks although he didn’t manage to force a fumble (what a slacker).

There’s still questions about the competition. The right tackles for Oregon State and Arizona who he did most of the damage against are currently ranked 26th and 28th out of 28 Pac-12 OTs with at least 30 pass blocking snaps in win rate. However given that 12 of Arizona’s snaps came against UW and 13 from Oregon State it’s hard to tell at this point whether they are truly terrible or if ZTF is really that good.

There were small flashes last year but I really did not see this coming (I would’ve believed it about the injured Laiatu Latu however). It’s a 2 game sample but ZTF has played at an All-American level so far. Maybe that’s what he is now but it seems more likely that he can’t keep up anything close to this pace. Although...the player at #27 in pass blocking efficiency from above? Utah RT Simi Moala. Hmm...