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Three Things We Learned: Stanford

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There’s some young defensive talent out there still and the unsustainability of red zone performance

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

1. Where Were You?

We knew that Washington’s defense was beat up going into Saturday night but it wasn’t until near kickoff that we learned the full extent. Edefuan Ulofoshio and Ryan Bowman are both now officially out for the season. Safeties Alex Cook, Cam Williams, and Asa Turner weren’t able to start. That meant we had to call up reinforcements and they involved a few standout performances from players we haven’t seen a lot of this season.

The biggest standout performance came from ILB Carson Bruener who somewhat surprisingly started over Daniel Heimuli with Ulofoshio officially gone for the year. The redshirt freshman finished with 13 tackles plus a strip sack which ended up being recovered by Sav’ell Smalls and set UW’s offense up in position for a field goal. He received an 80.0 game grade from Pro Football Focus which is the 3rd highest by a UW inside linebacker since the 2019 season (unsurprisingly Ulofoshio had the other 2).

Stanford was able to abuse him in zone coverage at times with tight end Ben Yurosek as McKee was 5/5 for 34 yards when going after Bruener. However, Bruener was still a net positive on passing downs with his strip sack plus an additional hurry. So far this season Bruener has 4 pressures on 15 pass rushes which is a 26% pressure rate. Ulofoshio for his career is at 43% but so far this season was at only 19% so Bruener might actually be able to give UW a boost in that regard. Ultimately Bruener’s performance will make fans wonder what might have happened in earlier games if UW had started an Ulofoshio/Bruener combo with Jackson Sirmon as a back-up but at the very least Bruener’s emergence should give fans hope the unit won’t completely collapse with Eddy out for the year.

The other man rising to the occasion was Dominique Hampton who got a ton of preseason hype only to see almost no playing time after a personal foul penalty on his second defensive snap of the year. Hampton was essentially benched after those 2 snaps and played only on special teams until playing 87 snaps the last 2 weeks including 60 against Stanford. Hampton’s physicality and tackling ability shone through as he had 5 solo tackles with 0 misses. The missing trio of Turner, Cook, and Williams all have missed tackle percentages of 16.7% or greater while Hampton’s currently sits at 0. That’s a small sample size but it will be interesting to see as UW gets healthier at that position if Hampton continues to see major playing time.

2. Safety Dance, Movement III

The safety position was the most contested battle throughout camp this past August with there seemingly being 6 real candidates to start: Alex Cook, Kamren Fabiculanan, Dom Hampton, Julius Irvin, Asa Turner, and Cameron Williams. It was viewed as a surprise when the depth chart came out and Fabiculanan and Irvin were the starters and played the most snaps against Montana. That faded over the next two games and Cook and Williams became entrenched as the starters with Turner serving as the primary backup.

As noted above with all 3 banged up we ended up seeing Dom Hampton as one of the starters at safety. It would’ve been reasonable to expect either KamFab or Irvin to occupy that second safety spot, no? No. Instead we saw Bookie Radley-Hiles moved back to safety, Kyler Gordon replacing him in the slot, and Mishael Powell starting at outside corner opposite Trent McDuffie.

After playing 107 defensive snaps in the first 4 games, mostly at safety, Fabiculanan hasn’t gotten a non-special teams snap since week 4 against Cal. Julius Irvin played substantial snaps last week at Safety (28 vs. Arizona) alongside Asa Turner but when Turner also got banged up the team instead opted to shift Bookie back to safety rather than allow Irvin to start. He ended up playing 4 defensive snaps.

PFF grade obviously isn’t everything but right now based on their play this season they have the safeties ranked in this order: KamFab, Turner, Williams, Irvin, Hampton, and Cook. This might be a case of Washington just feeling like Powell has gotten to a point where the team feels 4 of their best 5 players in the secondary are the 3 corners plus Powell and so they’re going to do what they can to keep all of them on the field in the best combination possible. I’ll be interested to see what happens if Cook, Turner, and Williams are all 100% healthy against Oregon and whether they keep up the 4 corners look in that event.

3. Regression to the Mean is a B****

On the telecast on Saturday night we heard multiple times that UW was only 3 teams that had scored on every single red zone possession this season (now the only ones). There was a time earlier in the year when it was also true that the Huskies had scored a TD on every single red zone possession. Washington still only scored 17 combined points in their first 2 games because they just decided to never get to the red zone and avoid the pressure. On Saturday we saw Washington finally regress back to the mean as they ended up kicking 4 field goals from inside the red zone before finally getting a game winning pass from exactly Stanford’s 20-yard line and are middle of the road in RZ TD%.

I went back and charted every play from 3 of those field goal drives with the exception of the last drive before the half when UW had to kick the ball on 1st down as the clock expired (although the clock management there is its own issue). On the first RZ possession which got split up by the start of the 2nd quarter, Washington ran the ball 4 times and threw it twice once they got to the Stanford 19. The 4 runs went for a total of 7 yards and included a fullback dive to Javon Forward. A quick pass to Rome Odunze gained 5 yards and on 3rd ang goal from the 6 Morris had absolutely nowhere to go with the football and had to throw it away. Almost every play in this sequence had 2 tight ends and several used the fullback.

On the second trip Washington got a nice gain of 5 yards on another quick throw to Odunze on 1st down. There was perplexing execution on second down as Luke Wattenberg just left the Stanford NT completely unblocked and Cam Davis made him miss but was ultimately only to pick up 3 yards. Then UW on 3rd and 2 refrained from jamming it up the middle but tried an old school option play. Cam Davis tried to stop and cut inside rather than racing Stanford’s linebacker to the edge and slipped for a loss of 4.

On the third trip UW again went with a quick throw on 1st down, this time to Culp on a nifty route we haven’t seen before this season but he only picked up 3 yards. Washington finally went with play action and Morris looked like he let it fly a beat late to Odunze and it was a little too high for Odunze to come down with it. From the TV angle it was impossible to tell if Odunze’s off hand was being held but he only jumped to catch it with one hand so it’s possible. After taking a shot, UW goes back to inside zone with McGrew and Fautanu whiffs on a block which causes McGrew to get immediately but he manages to still gain 4 yards.

There’s no overwhelming trend across those 3 series. On some of the running plays there was a key block missed by an OL that generally wasn’t happening between the 20’s against Stanford. UW went with at least 2 actions that I haven’t seen them use before this season so it’s not as if they were completely without innovation. On the only 2 pass attempts that weren’t essentially extensions of the run game, one of the throws was a little off and on the other Stanford dropped 8 and had perfect zone coverage in a condensed space. It sometimes happens.

And because it sometimes happens you can’t rely on being able to punch it into the end zone every time. The best way to score points is consistently get close and take your chances rather than being hyperefficient on limited opportunities. Against Oregon and Arizona State you can be sure that kicking field goals on 4/5 red zone trips is not going to get it done.