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Three Things We Learned: UCLA

ZTF is still UW’s best pass rusher, underthrown deep balls galore, and a missed opportunity

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

1. Superhuman

Let’s start with the little bit of good there is. Zion Tupoula-Fetui appeared in a game almost exactly 6 months after tearing his Achilles tendon. It’s a ridiculous accomplishment and proof that I am not the same species as ZTF. I will admit that I was quite worried that the way the season has gone so far would result in ZTF getting rushed back on to the field and potentially cause him to aggravate the injury. Maybe that still happens but things look good in that regard.

ZTF only played 10 snaps against UCLA and all of them were in pass rush situations. The results? He finished with 3 hurries and 1 hit for a 40% pressure rate. The rest of Washington combined? 3 hurries in 114 pass rush attempts for a 2.6% pressure rate. Clearly the coaching staff is taking their time with putting him back into a starting position. As much as I would love to see ZTF cause havoc over the course of an entire game I would much rather have him be fully healthy and end up with a long successful NFL career whenever he decides to embark on that path.

We also saw Washington go with a 3-man pass rush team in the rare 3rd and long that was made up of ZTF and either Ryan Bowman or Bralen Trice outside with true freshman Voi Tunuufi lined up over center. Early results don’t dispute that Voi might already be UW’s best pass rushing DT but he didn’t have a great game against UCLA. Although playing DT while in almost exclusively a 3-man rush doesn’t usually lend itself to a lot of great pass rushing opportunities.

2. Taking the Under

UCLA’s secondary was the clear weak link in their defense coming into this game as opponents have generally killed them through the air all season. Coming into this game it seemed quite obvious that given their relative strengths, Washington would need to be able to throw the ball consistently to win the game. While the game plan was clearly to mostly rely on a quick throw game to counter UCLA’s blitzing tendencies, Morris still took plenty of shots downfield. They...didn’t go so well.

Morris officially finished 1/6 for 26 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs when throwing the ball further than 20 yards downfield. That doesn’t account for an additional 2 throws on which the defender was called for defensive pass interference. One of those 8 attempts was practically a throwaway since it went about 5 yards past the defender while nominally going to a perfectly covered Bynum. The other 7 of those throws were basically all underthrown including both of the interceptions.

The pick on the first drive wasn’t entirely Morris’ fault. He very clearly was hit as he threw the ball and while it maybe still would’ve been underthrown it definitely would’ve gone farther than it did. The second pick is the one that will haunt Husky fans. Jalen McMillan very clearly had a step on Devin Kirkwood and a perfectly thrown ball that hits him in stride results in a game-tying touchdown or at the very least a ball inside the 5-yard line. Instead, it was underthrown just enough for Kirkwood to tip the ball and it happened to then land directly in Kirkwood’s arms. While it wasn’t exactly like the INT on the sideline to Ty Jones last year it certainly seemed reminiscent of it given that the UW receiver made very little attempt to break up the interception.

The chronic underthrows aren’t exactly a feature with Dylan Morris. The first two games last year Morris overthrew just about every deep pass attempt and struggled to put touch on the ball. On Saturday Morris put touch but needed to get the ball out 2-5 yards further on just about every throw. Outside of the Arkansas State game (possibly the worst defense in the country) Morris hasn’t shown any consistency with how he’s throwing them off-target, but showing plenty of consistency in not being able to complete them.

3. Bye Bye, Bye

There wasn’t much hope that having an extra week of preparation to attempt to fix things would lead to magical improvements but it wasn’t completely crazy. Except it might have been. This game went just about exactly as we would’ve predicted it to go 2 weeks ago in the aftermath of the Oregon State loss.

UCLA was a team built on its dual-pronged rushing attack featuring a QB much more dangerous with his legs than his inconsistent arm. Yet Asa Turner and Alex Cook each only came into the box on 14.7% of UCLA’s offensive snaps. All three of UCLA’s primary rushers (DTR, Charbonnet, and Brown) averaged at least 6.2 yards per carry against the Huskies. Washington stuffed only 10% of UCLA’s runs and they averaged +0.34 EPA per run. For context Michigan averaged +0.25 EPA per rush against UW and Oregon State averaged +0.26. Every time UCLA had the ball on offense and chose not to pass it they essentially gained one-third of a point.

For the 6th straight game in a row Washington ended up with negative EPA per play when running the ball. Kamari Pleasant managed just the 2nd explosive run play of the season but outside of that it was once again tough sledding. That was expected against a stout UCLA front. Their weakness was in the secondary and there were glimpses of an understanding of that at times. Dylan Morris’ time to throw was the lowest of his career against a blitz-happy front as UW tried to stretch the field horizontally in the passing game. On UW’s last drive however needing a touchdown to win the game, how did things start? Kamari Pleasant run up the middle for 2 yards, Kamari Pleasant run up the middle for 3 yards.

It’s a short week for Washington playing woebegone Arizona down in the desert. Expect some eye-melting (not in a good way) action on your Friday night from both teams as opposed to just on UW’s end.