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Three Things We Learned: Oregon State

We haven’t found the floor but we may have found the ceiling

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

1. I Am What I Am

It’s very possible/probable that we could’ve written this after the Cal game but I am now 100% ready to declare it for all the world to hear. This team is just mediocre and there’s no realistic way to optimist yourself out of that view. Washington has now played 2 of the 3 least “raw” talented teams in the division and both have been tied 24-24 with 5 seconds left in the game. And it’s very reasonable to think that the Huskies were lucky to be in that position both times.

Shouts to for their advanced box scores which include Expected Points Added (EPA) which is a stat that judges how well a team performs compared to the average team given their down/distance and field position on every play. Large discrepancies between the EPA differential and the final score suggest that a few key 3rd downs or turnovers dramatically swung the game. Washington finished the Oregon State game with -14.62 EPA compared to OSU’s 6.48. If it felt like the Huskies should’ve lost by 3 touchdowns instead of a field goal to you, there’s a reason for that.

Oh and Washington’s Offensive EPA by game? -20.16, -5.47, +9.96, -5.26, and -10.14. If the Huskies had even an exactly average offense they would have scored 27, 15, 42, 29 (in regulation), and 34 points instead of what they ended up with. I would love to say that the Huskies are only up for one good half per game but it’s really like they can put together 3 competent drives per game so like 25-40% depending on the pace of play. Outside of that they’re completely miserable to behold. And they’re running out of options for what to change. The receiving corps has mostly gotten healthy. The running backs have been changed out. That just leaves...

There was a brief hope that better health might get this team back to somewhat resembling the team we thought we’d get in the offseason. At the beginning of spring practices it would’ve been reasonable to call the 5 most important offensive players Morris, Otton, Kirkland, Bynum, and Odunze taking into account the depth at each position and on defense pick ZTF, Ulofoshio, McDuffie, Tuli, and Radley-Hiles. 7 of those 10 players have missed at least the majority of 1 game and combined they’ve missed about 14 games or on average about 28% of the snaps. I would love to be able to use that as an excuse but nothing I’ve seen suggests the performance would be that much more improved if they had all been 100%.

Does Washington score that touchdown right before halftime if Otton is in the game blocking near the goal line or drawing extra defensive attention? Maybe. Does ZTF get an extra sack/fumble that gives UW an extra field goal opportunity? Maybe. But every team deals with absences and outside of the first game when Washington got completely decimated at the same position it’s hard to feel they’ve been that much more unlucky in that regard than the average team. They’re not who we thought they were but they are who we think they are. And we don’t want to crown them.

2. Tea Time (with an extra side of beef)

It feels weird to say this when the opponent ran for 254 yards but at the same time this was the first game all season where it seemed like the Huskies were getting impact plays from the defensive tackle position. Don’t get me wrong. We’re still a long ways off from giving out the nickname of the Killer T’s to Taki, Tuli, and Tuitele (although I really want them to earn that moniker). But the trio finally started to make the occasional play behind the line of scrimmage.

By game’s end Taimani was credited with 2 TFL, Tuitele with 1, and Tuli with 0.5. The most consequential positive play of the game for Washington was the sack fumble forced by Tuitele returned nearly all the way by Taimani to give the Huskies (unfortunately briefly) the lead in the 4th quarter. Over the last 3 games Tuitele has 6 pressures with 3 sacks on 56 pass rush opportunities per PFF. That 10.7% pressure rate and 5.3% sack rate is very good for a player who is nominally a DT even if he plays some snaps outside in heavier alignments. For some context, Levi Onwuzurike’s career pressure rate was 11.1% and his sack rate was 1.6%. The negative is that PFF also has Tuitele as an atrocious run defender but at the very least he’s shown he is a plus interior option on passing downs.

Taki Taimani may have trouble getting off blocks at times but at the very least he has become a sure tackler and was able to occasionally get into the backfield against Oregon State. His 82.9 tackling grade from PFF is by far the highest among anyone on the defensive line and he hasn’t been credited with a missed tackle yet this season. Meanwhile Tuli had a few truly disruptive moments as well and the last 3 games he looks more like the player we saw in flashes during the 2019 season. They still absolutely have to get better clogging lanes in run defense but at least now there are flashes of what we hoped to see coming into the year. Which is better than the position being completely invisible like it was in 2020 and in the first 2 games.

3. The Kid’s All Right

When Bookie Radley-Hiles went down with an apparent shoulder injury in the 2nd half against Cal the Huskies decided to insert Kamren Fabiculanan at the nickel. That was in part because Trent McDuffie was also unavailable and so Washington’s depth at corner was really tested. It was reasonable to assume with McDuffie returning to action and Radley-Hiles still out that we would see KamFab get the start at nickel with Gordon and McDuffie outside. Instead, whenever Washington went to their base nickel defense it was with Kyler Gordon playing in the slot and Mishael Powell outside.

Now part of this could be that KamFab ended up getting banged up in practice last week. There was no mention of him being injured by Jimmy Lake post-game or on Monday but after playing at least 19 defensive snaps in each of Washington’s first 4 games he got his first non-special teams DNP. Which is extra curious since the starter for the position where he was seemingly the backup did not appear in the game due to injury.

Regardless, it’s still interesting that the coaching staff felt that their best bet was to shift Gordon inside rather than go with someone like Irvin in the slot. Powell didn’t exactly have the game of his life or anything but he did come up with a key deep pass break up late in the game one of the only times Oregon State tried to ever stretch the field. For the season PFF now has Powell down for 10 targets on 95 coverage snaps giving up 6 catches for 72 yards. And one of those was a late Cal first down on which Powell lost his footing as he tried to turn back towards the receiver. I definitely haven’t seen enough out of Powell to think he has anywhere close to the ceiling of Gordon and McDuffie who are truly special athletes. But in a world where both of them could easily head to the NFL this spring it’s nice to know that Powell has gotten his feet wet and has some of the confidence from the coaching staff.