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Mailbag: “Suggestions for a Title Wanted” Edition

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

We got like 40” of really light snow during one storm last winter, and I have this really funny video of one of my dogs trying to swim through it. You guys should totally see it.

Gary from MI: What are the offensive and defensive benchmarks that a team strives for (IE for YPA YPC etc)

UWDP: That’s a good question, but it’s one that the coaches are highly unlikely to ever really address publicly. I’m sure they have targets for just about all of them, but as they relate to “leading to wins” far more than as stand-alone goals, the way fans see them. Every once in a while, we hear something almost anecdotally (such as “we want our QB’s to complete at least 65% of their passes”), but that’s about it.

I can’t recall the study just now (I’m sure somebody like my brother might have it and could offer it up), but the (offensive, at least) stat most closely correlation with winning was quarterback yards per attempt. Dylan Morris is currently sitting at 7.4 YPA, which is fairly middling (that’s just a fact, not any sort of indictment about his play just yet). By comparison, Jake Browning was at 8.8 YPA in 2016, and fell to 8.2 in 2018. Jacob Eason was at 7.7. Jake Locker’s best season statistically was 2009, and he managed 7.1 YPA. The disastrous 2008 season, Ronnie Fouch was at just 5.4 YPA. Keith Price had a great season individually in 2011, and his YPA was 8.5. That fell all the way to 6.3 YPA as the team struggled in 2012, before rebounding to 8.4 in the high water mark of the Sarkisian era.

It should go without saying that, while yards per attempt is a stat that’s tracked for quarterbacks, there’s a lot more to it than just the guy throwing the ball....

Darin Johnson: I turned the Utah game off a halftime. Did anything interesting happen after that?

UWDP: No idea, I turned the game off at halftime.

Darin Johnson: There’s been a lot of discussion about the frequency of inside runs against Utah’s eight-man front. What’s your take?

UWDP: If the question is “running inside vs. running outside,” then I’m not sure who you’d point to on the UW roster that you’d suggest has the speed to be beating a heavy box to the edge. I’d argue that attacking straight ahead is the better option for the Huskies personnel at running back and offensive line.

If the question is “running inside vs. passing more,” then I think there’s too much overreacting to small samples. Prior to the last-second drive of the first half, the Huskies ran a total of 21 plays - 10 rushes and 11 passes. That’s barely getting out of the first set of scripted plays for the offense (assuming that John Donovan scripts his first 15 plays, as is commonly done). The runs picked up 49 yards, granted half of which came on one run. But given the breakdowns of execution displayed in the first half by the UW offense, I don’t think it was actually clear that the running game wasn’t going to work. Really, the passing game wasn’t working any better. Of those first 11 passes, seven were checkdowns and/or within a yard of the line of scrimmage. And they weren’t thrown very accurately, even the completed ones.

It was a bad half of football. By both the offense and the defense. The answer wasn’t one single thing (unless that single thing was “play way better football.”)

RunningFaster: In the first half (and parts of the second half) it almost felt like the Huskies forgot how to tackle. There certainly did seem to be moments where guys simply didn’t wrap their targets up like they should.

That said, how much of an impact does the uniform itself have? Do some teams’ uniforms have a lower friction coefficient than others? Were the Ute’s uniforms just so skin-tight that our guys couldn’t get a grip on them? Or was the cold, dry weather a factor?

UWDP: I completely agree that the tackling wasn’t great, especially early in the first half. It seemed like every play that Jake Bentley made on the ground was the result of a missed tackle in the backfield. I’d say the tackling has been pretty slow to come around consistently this season, and with the premium the defensive scheme places on it due to the very light box in run support, it’s been particularly rough at times.

I don’t think it’s the uniforms, I don’t think it’s the weather. I think it’s focus on fundamentals and a little help from your friends.

Darin Johnson: Isn’t it interesting how much momentum can shift from one moment to the next? I know everybody has a story about adjustments and play-calling and whatever, but none of them are very satisfactory. In the end, the Dawgs started playing better than the Utes — who, in fairness, probably thought they had it in the bag. Crazy. What *is* momentum??

UWDP: Right. I agree. They just started playing better (which circles back to the question about running the ball a little, because it’s not like they just stopped trying....).

I don’t know what momentum is. Alabama could play New Mexico and seemingly have the momentum the entire game, no matter what happens. When two evenly matched teams play, though, it can be fickle and fragile and change on a single play. It can be the cause of a score, or the result of it. It’s 75% physical, and at least 80% mental.

I don’t really know.

WilliamJr: During this pandemic, using “social distancing” as a happy excuse, who are you most likely to avoid?

UWDP: My family.

WillJr: Though 67.3% of statistics are meaningless, what percentage chance do you give the UW defense to holding Stanford to less than 14 points?

UWDP: Once again, Washington has a really good defense. Top 10 in the country by FEI in this young season. Stanford has a middling offense. About the only thing they’re actually “good” at is taking care of the ball. But it’s an offense that seems to pose special issues for Washington because David Shaw is one of the few coaches that is possibly more patient than Washington’s staff, and will take 3.34 yards per play as a win.

Stanford is going to score precisely 14 points.

Flip: Seriously, how many times are we going to run it up the gut and get stuffed for no gain (or maybe one yard), and keep calling the same play time and time again. So predictable. Pass the damn ball!

UWDP: Not directed just at you Flip, but it needs to be said again in 2020: Fans don’t actually care about play calls, they just want the coaches to call the ones that work. Passes, runs, it just doesn’t matter if they get stuff and lead to losses.

Washington threw the ball 38 times, and the backs and receivers carried it 23. So, you got your wish....?

HeavenHelptheFoes: So, Stanford is basically a more experienced Utah, right? A team that loves to play old school smash mouth football and seems to always be a thorn in UW’s side. What would you like to see from UW to help avoid a first half like the one we just saw??

UWDP: I don’t think the answer is very complicated. It’s “just play better.” Tackle, block, throw, run, catch like they did in the second half. Execute.

OsidePup: Does the Huskies huge comeback in the Utah game signify they have it in them to repeat that again in a future game, or was it a result of a fortunate set of “lucky” breaks?

UWDP: There didn’t really seem to be anything particularly “lucky” about the second half of the game against Utah, as far as I could see. The forced fumble when Utah had driven deep into Washington’s territory was very timely, maybe even lucky, but Dylan Morris’ very bad pass coupled with a “not great” effort by Ty Jones evened that out pretty well.

Washington played well on both sides of the ball in the second half, after playing poorly on both sides in the first. No reason they can’t do any part of that again.

PoulsboDawg: Why do you think our run defense has been poor and how worried should we be about playing a Stanford team that historically likes to run the ball? Has it been scheme, matchups, youth and inexperience, poor luck, injuries, poor tackling, lack of execution, opponents inability to throw against us, or all of the above?

UWDP: Hmmm....I’m not sure I’d actually say it’s been “poor” per se. It’s similar to what it’s always been: the defense commits very few assets to the running game (a base 6 man box), and works first and foremost to prevent giving up big plays. Teams that are talented and patient enough to fully commit to the run will have success until the red zone, but all teams will have a difficult time scoring points.

That being said, there are a few personnel issues up front that certainly haven’t helped yet, and it’s worth mentioning again how exceptionally young this defense is. The tackling can be better (and likely will be so), and of course nobody has played a flawless game, so the execution has room to improve. But this boring defense is one of the best in the nation, once again.

Rheago: Where does that rank among your favorite Husky Games? If it’s not very high, what about more specifically Husky Comebacks?

UWDP: Not high. Not in this non-football season, against a winless team. I’m sure I’ll remember it, but I can probably name 25 or 30 games I’d put ahead of it without trying very hard. It’s definitely a great comeback, though not in the category of, say, 1991 Nebraska even though the margin was larger. Or 1999 Stanford, or 2000 Stanford, the 2002 Apple Cup, 2009 Arizona, 2009 USC, The Whammy....

It was a good win, it’s the sort of thing that can help a young QB gain confidence. A lot of young guys can hang their hats on playing much better at the end than at the beginning.

Ragu: Why does mailbag get so few comments these days? Do you think it’s your performance?

UWDP: I’m sure that’s the single biggest factor, yes. I don’t comment much anymore, so that eliminates probably 40% of the comments from mailbags past.

I’ve offered to let you guest write one, and the invitation still stands.

Rhaego: Current Bradworth odds that UW wins the Pac12 North?

UWDP: 65%.

Rhaego: Maybe it was the hair, but did Wittingham look especially old and feeble to you? Seems like he has aged a lot since last year.

UWDP: I didn’t actually notice, but current odds he could still kick your ass using only his left arm are 83%.

Rhaego: If there was a Brad and Rhaego themed sitcom or podcast, what would it be called?

UWDP: “Brad’s Personal Hell”

Home made tomato sauce: Our WRs are getting open down the field and Morris continues to straight up miss like he is Tom Brady throwing 20+ yards down field. He also threw 2 BAD ints. While Morris has been okay, I don’t think we beat Oregon or a good out of conference opponent in a bowl game with this QB play. At what point does Sirmon or Garbers get at least a drive or 2 worth of a shot in game?

UWDP: Dylan Morris has also suffered some drops on those deep passes as well.

I think Morris has looked a little timid at times (Oregon State, the first half against Utah), but I think he’s been really sharp at times as well (most of the Arizona game, the second half of the Utah game). I’m fairly comfortable with him out there at this point, but I don’t have an issue taking a look at one of the other QBs just for grins, either. However, I don’t get the impression that either Jacob Sirmon or Garbers are the first man off the bench. I think we’d see Kevin Thomson before either of those two.

ewstein: How poorly thrown must a pass be for Cade Otten NOT to catch it? Wobbly and cannon-fired? One full yard beyond his reach? Crossbar height? Can he coach our WRs on his game-tested techniques (probably passed on from his grandfather)?

UWDP: Cade Otton has been fantastic the last two games. One of the worst things about this traveshamockery of a season is that these few games are likely going to be the last we see of him as a Husky.

Otis: Can I nominate kamari Pleasant for comeback player of the decade? I used to cringe every time he came onto the field. He is like a whole different player this year. What a great surprise. Apparently perseverance does pay off.

UWDP: A lot of Husky fans have wanted to bury Kamari Pleasant for years. I’m happy for him, he’s healthy and found a nice role. He’s turned into a solid receiver, which is great to see.

murph4bonz: so Morris is playing fairly well and it raises the question for me wondering what coemption would look like next year. Does a true freshman Huard come in and unseat a player that like Morris who is doing fairly well and knows the system?

I mean how often does that happen?

UWDP: Where the true freshmen comes in a beats out an established veteran, probably just about never. There are obviously guys that have been so talented that they’ve gotten snaps as true freshmen (like Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields). It’s possible that something like that could happen. But I don’t know if Sam Huard is that type of transcendent talent, physically, to demand snaps that way. Maybe. But I could easily see him redshirting and not even seeing the field for a year or two, or (gasp!) more.

All for this week. If you ask nicely, perhaps we can get Ragu to fill in as the guest mailbagger for next week.