Welp. That sucked.
There is simultaneously a lot and not much to unpack this week, so let’s dive right in.
Finding Ways to Lose
Our performance against Colorado summarizes just how far the program’s fallen from an on-field performance standpoint. Ignore our past games where our offense simply couldn’t move the ball or our defense couldn’t stop the run. In those performances, it was easy to point to the schemes as a key limiter. However, this week, our coaches couldn’t coax basic levels of technical competency out of our players at critical junctures. Botched Center-QB exchanges (both in prime scoring position and deep in our own territory), inopportune interceptions in positive territory, and an inability to finish plays on defense.
On the defensive end, there’s not a whole lot for me to say. Heading into the game, I had a feeling that Colorado’s offense might pose a tougher challenge than initially thought because of Brendon Lewis’ mobility (dual-threat QBs being a notable match up weakness for our defense, in addition to all their other flaws). Tackling was another on-going issue that was put front and center this week. Our inability to make defensive stops in short yardage situations (such as Lewis’ last TD) can be attributed to poor tackling. Holding Colorado to a FG in that situation would’ve kept it to a one-score game, and it might’ve been a deciding factor in the game. On a positive note, I thought that we looked sharp in the man coverage (which it seemed like we played more than usual). In the end, it could probably be said that the defense did all that they had to do to beat one of the worst scoring offenses in the country by keeping the Buffs to under 100 on the ground and barely over 100 in the air.
Our continued offensive ineptitude in some form or fashion astounds me for the 11th week this season. How a 6th year center mishandles a snap to a 3rd year QB, not once, but twice is beyond me. I’ve had my reservations about Wattenberg’s ceiling for some time, but I’ve refrained from calling him out because of his perceived high-floor as the most experienced player on the starting line. That might’ve been a mistake. Over the course of this season, he’s regularly been brutalized in pass protection, and he was always a square peg in a round hole for our (maligned) rushing attack, so his experience and supposed steadiness might’ve been overvalued. Regardless, we’re at a point where his play isn’t so bad that it’s worth benching him with only one game left in his UW career.
The same can’t be said for Dylan Morris, who unlike Wattenberg might’ve seen his last start for us. Congruent to the divergent trajectories of our scheme and individual performances, Morris’ box score statistics and job security are also on divergent trajectories. Despite Morris responding well to Junior Adam’s play-calling and snapping out of his frustratingly undulate record of performances this year, Morris has yet to play at a level that would keep him off the hot seat. We are well past the point where Morris’ struggles with deep ball accuracy and pocket awareness can be chalked up to mitigating factors like small sample size. I mean, he couldn’t even place the ball in the end zone on the halftime Hail Mary. I feel comfortable saying that he’s proven himself to be a QB with gunslinger mentality but game manager talent. Adams has pared down the passing attack to focus on underneath crossers, screens, and the occasional match up shots in obvious 1v1 situations because that is all that Morris can really be trusted with. None of us really know what we have in Huard until we give him extended playing time (like a whole game), and now that we know what we have in Morris, we might as well see if Huard’s ceiling gets us closer to winning football than DMo.
Also, speaking of our QB situation, we should address the brief appearance of Patrick O’Brien. We knew going into this game that Sam Huard was pretty much off limits due to his redshirt eligibility, so POB was going to be our only other option at QB. Between the two QBs, Morris is the only one with eligibility after this year, so any move to play POB against Colorado should be seen as a move to win right now. However, I’ve been going back and forth on this decision. In hindsight, POB’s 2 series looked like a botched handling of the QB situation a la 2018 Browning-Haener vs. Cal and Morris-Huard vs. Arizona this year. His 4 passing plays over 2 drives aren’t nearly enough to get in to a rhythm, and the argument was made to me that we would’ve been in a better position to win by keeping Morris in because stopping short of getting POB in the groove, we just wasted possessions that Morris might’ve been able to get us into scoring position. While that may be true, its revisionist history to say that it’s a clear decision to stick with Morris considering his thoroughly underwhelming performance all season. Sure, his 2 interceptions were better plays by the defense than bad passes, but nothing about his play would be considered high-level playmaking. Simple distribution of the ball was all he was doing, and its not hard to think that POB could’ve met that standard and potentially provided more explosive downfield passing (at least not be a total liability throwing past 20 yards). Hindsight is 20/20 though, so sticking with Morris was probably the better decision at the end of the day.
Overall, it felt like we were taking our eye off of fundamentals and messing with our line up right as the scheme was getting sorted out. Heading into a short prep week, we’ll have to cross our fingers that the team wakes up for the Apple Cup and the staff can make the necessary adjustments to lock down the aesthetically familiar, but fundamentally different Cougar Run N’ Shoot offense. The Cougs are rolling under Interim HC Jake Dickert (edge to WSU in Jakes?), and they have their most dangerous defense in a long time. I expect this week’s game to be the closest its been in years.