1. Man Without A Plan
Coming into last week’s game we heard from Jimmy Lake that Washington was nowhere near the point where they’d consider a quarterback change. That quickly became contradicted when rumors started to fly that Sam Huard would be getting some playing time against Arizona. Jimmy Lake on Monday confirmed that was in fact the case the plan coming into the game even though it happened a little earlier than expected with the bloody nose that Dylan Morris ended up getting which knocked him out for a series.
Let’s start from square one of this plan. Lake said the plan was to get Huard into the game for a series or two presumably to get him some live reps against an opponent that coming into the game didn’t seem particularly tough. In order for this to make sense it means either you have to feel there’s not really any drop-off between #1 and #2 on the depth chart, or be willing to sacrifice short-term results for a potential long-term payoff. Coming in it seemed very plausible that UW could have Huard look terrible for 2 drives and still come out with a decisive victory. Okay.
Now we get to Friday night and Morris is out and potentially had a broken nose and/or a concussion so Huard comes out for the next drive. Washington on that drive then goes: Rush for 5 yards, rush for 4 yards, rush for 5 yards, rush for 2 yards, offsides on AZ, rush for 2 yards, false start on UW, incomplete deep pass on 3rd and 6. Then Huard never came back into the game as Morris took back over down 3-0 and the Huskies utterly failed to move the ball the rest of the half while going down 13-0.
Let’s see how we did on the achieving Huard’s goals checklist:
Get him live reps against an opponent? Nope. He threw one pass that counted and handed the ball off 5 times. He can do that in practice.
Preserve his redshirt? Nope. He used up the 2nd of his 4 games to throw one pass.
Push Morris to play better? Nope. Huard never got an extended look and Morris continued to hold his job even when at halftime the Huskies were averaging less than 2 yards per dropback with Morris at the helm when including sacks.
I’ll give Lake the benefit of the doubt that when Huard went into the game he didn’t know if Morris would be healthy enough to return. If Morris had suffered a concussion and was out the rest of the game then you’d want Huard to be the guy rather than bringing out O’Brien for one drive, finding out Morris was out, and only then putting Huard into the game. However, if you truly were planning on playing Huard before the game started then presumably you installed a few plays that he has been working on (please?). Why not run any of those with him in the game instead of looking like you didn’t trust him to do anything other than run the ball?
There’s no scenario in which all of the actions taken by the coaching staff make sense under any given hypothetical and so the only explanation is that there wasn’t a coherent plan from the jump. Shocker.
2. Tackling Dummies
At the end of spring practice it seemed clear that the Huskies had a lot of bodies at the inside linebacker position but not a lot of proven depth. Then we found out that Miki Ah You and incoming freshman Will Latu both were off of the roster due to personal reasons. That cut into the position even further. Then Daniel Heimuli got hurt during fall camp after it looked like he had sewn up at least one of the #2 spots. He’s healthy now but we found out on Monday that Edefuan Ulofoshio is out for the season. Nominal #3 inside linebacker MJ Tafisi didn’t play against Arizona and his status is unknown.
Where that leaves the Huskies is potentially (in the short-term) down to a rotation with Jackson Sirmon and Daniel Heimuli starting plus Carson Bruener and Alphonzo Tuputala backing them up. Even with the playing time they’ve accumulated this season the trio of Heimuli, Bruener, and Tuputala have combined for a career 246 defensive snaps. That’s just about equal to the amount that MJ Tafisi has in his career. If you add all 4 linebackers together that’s still fewer snaps than Ulofoshio has accumulated.
Last season Ulofoshio finished with the highest PFF grade of any ILB in the country. He hasn’t lived up to that billing so far this year but he has still been by far Washington’s most dependable player at that spot. His 3.7% missed tackle rate is the best on the team for any player with at least 9 total tackles. Daniel Heimuli is one of the few that has done better with 0 misses but even so if you combine him with the trio of Tafisi/Bruener/Tuputala they have 8 missed tackles against 35 solo. Ulofoshio was at 2 misses out of 37.
The Husky run defense has been an abomination this season but without Ulofoshio (and without for the moment starting safeties Cam Williams and Alex Cook) it looks like things could get even worse as Washington plays its toughest 3 game stretch on the schedule coming up. Yikes.
3. Stunted Growth
For the 2nd consecutive game Washington faced an opponent who enjoys blitzing. UCLA sends 6 rushers as often as the send 3 and brought extra pressure on about 44% of UW’s dropbacks. Morris didn’t handle those extra rushers very well as he was 7/13 for 44 yards against UCLA when they brought 5+. Arizona with DC Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown went even crazier. They never rushed 3 and brought at least 5 on 52% of Morris’ dropbacks per Sports Info Solutions. The results?
Morris actually did better against the blitz than he did with a more standard rush. Obviously the pair of 51-yard completions to Bynum helped but those still count and Morris was 7/13 for 151 yards and 2 TDs when Arizona rushed 5+ with only 1 sack. Meanwhile when they only sent 4, Morris was 6/8 for 66 yards but was sacked 3 times and scrambled twice for 5 yards (again those stats courtesy of Sports Info Solutions).
I went back and watched every Morris dropback from the Arizona game again and even when the Wildcats sent only 4 they generally included at least some type of tackle-end stunt. And Washington reacted like Arizona had invented a completely new type of schematic advantage. I’m sure the film study guys will get into this later in the week but the Husky OL just consistently failed to identify extra rushers and had an offensive lineman standing there without anyone to block and seemingly making no effort to find anyone.
Morris was pressured on 44% of his dropbacks against Arizona. Sure, he didn’t play well but that’s unacceptable against Arizona even if the opponent is constantly blitzing. Some of it is on the offensive line for not protecting him and some of it is on the play calling for not giving him realistic hot route options but it’s hard for any college QB to thrive under these conditions. Lake hasn’t to my knowledge answered how much of identifying pressure and setting the line to account for it is on Morris and how much is on Wattenberg but over and over the job isn’t getting done.