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Mailbag: “Mirage Not Oasis” Edition

What happened on Friday? Not exactly sure but I’ll try my best to explain

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Washington at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I have never understood momentum swings and/or how a team can go from being completely dominated and looking inept (like the first 3 quarters Friday) to looking like a completely different team and stringing together multiple scoring drives (like the 4th quarter Friday). Another great example might be the Seahawks Packers gazillion interception NFC championship game a handful of years ago. I get that there are adjustments that happen, but why does it take 1/2 or 3/4 of a game? Or that a team with a lead might shift to a prevent defense and let the other team back into it (happens in the NFL all the time). But seriously...what the heck happened on Friday? That was such a weird game... - What happened to Ragu?

Whew. I’m winded just from the lead-up to the question.

I went back and watched every Morris dropback from Friday night in more detail to try to get a sense for how the offense managed to perform so much better in one half versus the other. The easiest explanation is that football can be a very random game and when games are close it’s often due to very small differences in execution.

But let’s look at 4 consecutive plays to tell the story. In the first half Washington’s pass protection was atrocious. After a completion on his first throw of the game, the next 3 Morris dropbacks were: Sack (Morris injured), Defensive Pass Interference on a designed bootleg, Sack.

I haven’t looked at the All-22 angle but on the first of those sacks it certainly looked like Washington ran 3 deep routes with their receivers while Otton and Pleasant both stayed in to pass protect. That means there were no check down options for Morris and he should’ve thrown the ball away but that’s just bad play design setting your QB up for failure. The next play they moved the pocket for Morris and he had the choice between a probably 5 yard gain to Otton or a shot to Bynum. He decided to take the shot but unsurprisingly was unable to throw it 55 yards while on a dead sprint to his right and it was underthrown for DPI.

On the next play after the penalty UW lines up empty and Arizona blitzes their middle linebacker making it 5v5 in protection. Unfortunately the OL was completely unprepared for the possibility of that guy blitzing and LG Ale is left standing with no one to block as the linebacker comes free between the C and RG and crushes Morris for the sack just as he hits the bottom of his drop.

Then we come to the next sack in which Morris ran out of the pocket and was quickly chased down from behind. That pocket I mentioned? Here’s what it looked like at the moment that Morris pulled down and bailed.

That’s about as clean of a pocket as you’re going to see. #18 hasn’t been engaged with yet but Ale is looking straight at him and is in position to pick him up. This is what a complete lack of trust looks like. Morris had absolutely no faith that the pocket was going to hold up and there weren’t any good places for him to escape to since...the pocket actually was completely fine.

There were definitely breakdowns in the second half as well. However, there were 3 or 4 plays where the offensive line actually held up fine and Morris made the most of those with the 2 long completions to Bynum which put them in great position to score a touchdown both times (helped along by a timely holding call against Arizona on 3rd down in the red zone).

When you have fewer than 50 passing yards at halftime and then throw multiple 50+ yard passes in the second half it tends to make your offense look dramatically better. The difference though really comes down to the OL blocking a little better and the QB throwing it a little more on-target. It’s not as if UW magically started gaining 12 yards on every play. Arizona plays a high risk high reward style of defense and after all reward in the 1st half the Huskies finally managed to show the risk.

In the first quarter, there were 41 combined offensive yards and 45 combined penalty yards. When was the last Husky game, if ever, there were more penalty yards than yards of offense both teams combined in a quarter? - Northside Dawg

I don’t actually have an answer for this question. It is just kind of an incredible stat so I wanted to include it. but I’m going to guess it’s actually more recently than we think. Washington has definitely had some very poor offensive quarters and some very good defenses so it wouldn’t completely shock me if this happened sometime in the last few years. Still, oof.

Cade Otton caught two passes for 17 yards in the first quarter. Then what happened?

Per Pro Football Focus Otton ran 29 routes against Arizona. I definitely saw on my re-watch several times when Otton was open underneath and Morris decided to take a shot deep or else was overwhelmed by pressure and never made it through his progressions to find him. Morris did also target Otton on the 3rd down in the red zone when Otton was held and also on a deep shot where Otton seemingly tripped and fell down and the pass was way overthrows. It definitely seems like UW could help out Morris though by making Otton’s 5 yard curl route the primary option on 1st down given his dependable hands and ability to either make the 1st guy miss or drag them for extra yardage.

UW may be in for long season. But if one stops watching games does that make one a fair weathered fan? - DawgFan12

I present you with an exchange from our slack thread.

There are definitely people out there that think that if you don’t watch every second of every single game then you aren’t a true fan. I’ve never fallen into that camp. Mental health is important. Linking your sanity to the coordination of a bunch of students who mostly are too young to legally drink is not a recommended strategy for success in life unless you grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

I think we can all agree that this Husky team is about as frustrating as it’s possible for a semi-competitive team to be. 5 of their 7 games have been within 7 points so you can’t just turn the TV off because it’s a blowout. The offense has brief moments of brilliance that only make it worse when they go into deep hibernation for entire halves. The defense has a clear strength and a clear weakness and seem completely unable to make any changes to improve on that weakness which keeps every opponent in the game if they aren’t completely idiotic.

There are certainly fans who are stuck in the danger zone of rooting for your team to lose so they are forced to make changes which is never recommended. At least if you’re Arizona you knew you were going to be bad and so every good play provides a brief glimmer of hope for that specific player. Washington has a ton of players who are supposed to be good and so when they are it feels like we’re just getting back to expectations rather than creating newfound excitement.

If you turn off the TV and don’t turn it back on again until the next time Washington is ranked in the AP Poll then yeah, that probably makes you a fair weather fan. If you decide that there are better things to do at 9p on a Friday night than see if your team can mount a comeback from down 13 against one of the worst teams in the country but tune in again for the beginning of the next game then that’s called taking care of yourself.

Clearly coaching changes are needed. Assuming Lake has another year, who besides Donovan are odds on to be replaced. Should Gregory, for example be replaced or demoted?

The fun (see: not fun) thing about this situation is that you could make an argument for just about anyone to get the axe given the way the season has played out. The 3 guys who I think are/should be safe are Ikaika Malloe, Rip Rowan, and Derham Cato. All 3 of them are in their first year in their current position so there’s not a huge track record to make a definitive statement on them one way or the other.

Malloe has been one of UW’s strongest recruiters and had been doing a good job with the defensive line before moving to the OLBs this offseason. I haven’t exactly been impressed with the OLB play this season but I’m not willing to move on from Malloe based solely on that. Rip Rowan took over from Malloe and hasn’t exactly shown success on the recruiting trail (2 decommits who then went to Oregon) but tough to put that entirely on a 1st time coach. The same with Derham Cato who at least has made the 2 layups on the recruiting trail in the 2022 class with Ryan Otton and Chance Bogan.

Everyone else though I’m essentially willing to hear the argument if not make it. OL coach Scott Huff is viewed as the best recruiter on the staff but the terrible play of the line this season has been in my opinion the single biggest contributor to this team not living up to expectations. Even in past years the group has seemingly played below its raw talent level. Junior Adams has recruited well at the receiver spot and the future looks bright with McMillan and Odunze if they stick around but drops and inattention to detail have still been issues.

The recruiting has been solid at the running back spot and I’m putting more of the running game’s struggles on the line than the backs but this year’s performance has been extremely troubling. Keith Bhonapha is closer to safe than not for me personally but that would change if we can’t reel in some of the local studs in the 2023 and 2024 classes.

Bob Gregory was a favorite for many fans to get fired when he was just the inside linebackers coach and now we’ve seen one of the worst run defenses since the Willingham days with him nominally in charge. Essentially the only 2 inside linebackers who have been above average over the past 5 seasons have been BBK and Ulofoshio and no one else has really developed. The only argument in favor of Gregory when he was hired was “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but there definitely is a major component broken now.

Terrence Brown and Will Harris are coaching the strongest position group with the secondary but they’re also a pair overseeing the same group the head coach used to teach and it’s unclear how much credit to give. With UW’s reputation for developing defensive backs the inability to bring in our top targets at that position over the last 2 years in recruiting seems impossible.

I think if Jimmy is back this year that the pound of flesh is going to be more than Donovan but I also don’t know that I see Lake getting rid of both of his coordinators even though I think Gregory is the 2nd most deserving. I’m going to put the order from most to least likely to go at: Brown or Harris, Gregory, Huff, Rowan, Adams, Bhonapha, Cato, Malloe.

How much is Jimmy Lake’s contract buyout? - Michigan Dawg

Assuming that Lake is fired for on-field performance rather than off-field scandal which makes it for cause then he’s owed the rest of his contract. That amounts to $9.9 million over the next 3 seasons. That money would get paid out as if he were still the head coach in normal monthly installments rather than a lump sum. However, if Lake takes another coaching job then the amount that UW owes him is reduced by the amount he’s making at the new job.

You also have to assume that if Lake were to be fired that the new head coach would not be keeping the current staff or at most keep 1-2 of them. That’s going to add another several million to the buyout costs for all of the assistants. All in all you’re looking at probably somewhere in the $12-15 million range over the next few years if you make the move this offseason depending on if Lake takes a DC job somewhere in the next few seasons after getting let go (which will happen if he wants to do it based on his prior rep).

Then you have to factor in the cost of bringing in an entirely new staff on top of it for which raises will likely be needed to bring in a premium candidate. UW definitely got a “discount” by hiring in-house for both their head coach and some assistants lately. Give a 10-20% bump on all of those numbers to bring in the staff that UW fans feel they deserve and you’re looking at an extra $15-19 million over the next 3 years to make the move now. Would the loss in booster contributions/ticket sales amount to that much? That’s the math the AD and her staff are going to have to figure out.