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Coach’s Corner: Bright Future Ahead?

Or just some more “one step forward, two steps back” action?

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Lots to cover this week, so let’s dive right in.

Exorcising Demons

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

I was thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to following up the last two weeks’ “one step forward, two steps back” lede with “We just sat down”, but nope, our Dawgs did it. They actually did it. We finally won at The Farm down in Palo Alto.

In a slow rolling affair, the Huskies played some of their most competent football (holistically) all season against the Cardinal. We finally clamped down on defense with an infusion of young, physical talent (more on that in a bit), and despite some red zone woes, our special teams came in clutch to keep us in the game long enough for the offense to start clicking. For just the second time all season, our offense gained more than 200 yards on the ground, and the defense held our opponent to under 100 yards on the ground. In both cases, the previous occurrence was against an Arkansas State team that has since proven itself to be one of the worst teams in the FBS.

All that being said, there clearly is still a ways to go on offense. From a high-level perspective, I am still concerned with the borderline schizophrenic identity on offense. Much like our previous offensive low-point during Bush Hamdan’s final year, our offense doesn’t seem to have an identity to hang its hat on. We have yet to commit to either the pass or the run to much effect. We sort of prefer 11 personnel, but then we’ll focus on 12 or 21 personnel at different times. Against Stanford, we leaned on the 21 personnel I-formation more than we have in any other game this season, and we also leaned on the gap run game. I don’t think its a coincidence that our rushing attack benefitted from this tactical move, but I worry that this is just a flash in the pan as just one of the many things the staff has thrown at our offensive problem.

This goes hand-in-hand with the disjointed play calling. We’ve had success in the WR screen game, and we’ve also had success at times with our play action mid-field passing game to Otton, but we haven’t seen either of those packages of plays become integral parts of the offensive identity. This could be caused by the staff valuing the “pro” experience. In the NFL, its pretty common to custom tailor large portions of the offense or defense to the opponent rather than just leaning on what your team does well. I’m not sure if this is the best approach for this team.

On the defensive side of the ball, one wrinkle that caught my eye was our revamped nickel personnel package. With injuries ravaging our depth chart (down Ulofoshio, Turner, & Cook), we turned to a nickel personnel line up featuring Bookie and Dom at safety, Gordon kicking inside to play nickel, and McDuffie and Powell pairing up as the outside CBs. This would be something like the zillionth defensive backfield combination that we’ve tried this year, but it looked promising. Bookie and Dom look like the most physical pairing at safety that we’ve seen so far, and moving Gordon into the slot (a role he’s played before) gets him closer to the action where his play making ability can be better showcased and we can avoid any drop off in physicality now that Bookie is back playing safety. Pair all of this with a defensive front that’s continuing to improve, and you have the makings of a much better run stuffing defense.

Week 2 of “The Kids are Alright”

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

On the other side of the ball, we had a couple of break through games for our younger defensive players. Carson Bruener got his second shot at extended playing time, and boy did he make the most of it. Bruener finished the game with 15 tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble while filling in at ILB in place of the injured Ulofoshio. He was an active and physical tackler whose contribution in the run defense was a major factor in holding Stanford to under 100 yards on the ground. I will continue to eat crow on my recruiting evaluation of Bruener, but its starting to look like Bruener is just too good to keep on the bench, and I’m all for quality ILB play.

Dom Hampton was another player who flashed with extended playing time. As I mentioned before, Hampton got extended playing time at safety, but that almost does him a disservice in describing the full scope of his responsibilities. Hampton played everywhere from single-high FS, to Cover 2 safety, to in the box, and all the way down onto the LOS as an OLB setting the edge (successfully) on a stretch play. His versatility and physicality around the LOS are far more important to our defense at this point than a pure ball hawking free safety’s would be. I expect him to continue to see extended playing time.

Voi Tunuufi was another defensive player that has continued to catch my eye, and he’s continued to make his presence felt as his role has expanded. Finding himself as the 3rd DL in the rotation after Taki’s injury, Tunuufi has flashed as our most disruptive DL. Despite being listed at just 6-1, 275 lbs, Tunuufi’s explosive first step, active hands, and tireless motor has gotten him into the backfield on almost every play he’s in on. Unlike Taki, Tuli, and some of our other DL, Tunuufi seems to be playing a more aggressive, gap-penetrating role that suits his skillset better. Finding roles that fit the player within the scheme is the key to getting impact players on the field early, and I hope that we don’t put him in a square-peg, round-hole situation as his reps grow.

All three of these guys (plus Powell and Davis, who have had extended PT throughout this season) are guys who have had an immediate impact, but we’ve had to wait until the second half of the season to give them a real shot despite being out of contention for most of our pre-season goals and lacking any answers to our biggest defensive problems. Their situations are reminiscent of how Eddie first broke into the rotation a couple of years ago. I understand that you have to earn the opportunity to start, and I understand that the trust in the starters that the coaches talk about isn’t just coach speak, but it really makes you wonder why the staff seems to be a bit late in making the appropriate changes to the line up, and usually only after their hand has been forced by injuries.

Other Ramblings:

  • Thanks to all who sent well wishes to the Lincoln Lynx last week. The team unfortunately lost to Roosevelt HS last week, but they will be finishing their season in an exhibition game against Lakeside this Friday. The opportunity to finish just their second varsity season (and their first with seniors) at 8-1 is a tremendous feat, and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for this team.