As part of our summer coverage, we’re looking back at the extremely limited schedule UW was able to play in the 2020 season. Today, we’re rewinding the offense’s performance in what would turnout to be our season finale against Stanford.
Coming off the adrenaline high of the previous week’s comeback win over Utah, our Huskies were starting to find the team’s identity. Morris’ moxie was infectious (no pun intended), and the offense had all the confidence in the world despite the offense being a major factor in digging the hole against Utah.
To further set the scene of this replay, I dug back through my Coach’s Corner notes heading into this game:
On the defensive side, Stanford also matches up pretty well with us. Their defensive front is as big as its been in years with 2 300 LB DEs and a 320+ lb NT. Like Utah, they should be pretty stout, and they like to mix in a diverse pressure package. Their secondary is pretty young, and their best DB (Paulson Adebo) opted out of this season for draft prep. My guess is that Stanford will follow the Utah game plan and dare us to throw, betting that Morris and the WRs haven’t figured out their chemistry enough to march down the field.
Additionally, during pre-game, it was announced that both Puka Nacua and Terrel Bynum would not be suiting up for the game. Ty Jones would be the sole veteran WR available, and Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze would be starting against a well-coached division rival. Given Stanford’s expected strategy of forcing us to throw, losing two starting WRs wasn’t a great look heading into the game.
1st Series - Washington 0 - Stanford 7
Right off the bat the offense finds itself in a hole with Stanford’s offense marching down the field and scoring with the opening possession. We open up the series with a vanilla one-back power up the middle with a jet motion fake as window dressing. McGrew seems to have earned the start this week, and he has a brief moment of hesitation before plunging ahead for 3 yards. I don’t care for these inside runs against crowded boxes for McGrew. He’s a solid back, but we should know his limitations at this point. Where bigger, more physical backs like Newton or Davis might’ve known to hit the hole with momentum, McGrew continues to second guess his reads and shy away from the clutter.
A quick glance-RPO slant to Odunze on 2nd down puts us at 2nd & 2. This is a good example of how Donovan prefers to incorporate his RPO looks and the different types that are common. Our OL & RB run zone slice action up front while we run double slants to the backside with Odunze and Jones. While Morris doesn’t run the mesh action (the hand off action typical of read options) this is in fact an RPO. Morris had a pre-snap inkling that Stanford was in man coverage based on their reaction to Otton’s pre-snap motion, and all he needed was the split-second confirmation post-snap that he read the defense correctly. The coaching point on this play would be Morris’ footwork. Rewatching the play, you can see Morris sneak a quick hitch in his footwork between the quick ball fake (sub-Drama 101 level acting on this quick of a fake) and resetting his feet to throw. This adds a split second to getting the ball to Odunze where the DB recovers after the break and immediately tackles him on the spot. That could’ve easily been the difference of 2 yards if he was able to catch it in stride, and that would’ve been enough for the first down.
Donovan dials up a great play design on 3rd down that plays right into our run-heavy tendencies in short yardage situations and in heavy personnel. Stacking the box to match our run front, we are able to slip the aggressive downhill gap shooting and get Culp free in the flats. He’s a natural athlete in space despite his size, and he had ample catch-and-run opportunity. Hopefully we see more of this as the game progresses.
Back to first down, we mix things up with a quick pitch play to the perimeter. Our line and TEs do well to block the perimeter despite Stanford clearly selling out to snuff out the run. Outflanking the stout Stanford DL seems like a good idea, and it plays into McGrew’s strengths reading cutbacks in space rather than in the box.
Going right back to the well on 2nd & 5, we try our luck with another bootleg check down to Culp. This time Stanford was ready for it, and the decently well covered Culp dropped the pass on a play that would’ve likely been tackled short of the line to gain anyways. I like the idea of consistent misdirection with the bootleg and trying to slip Culp across the formation on slice action, but situationally it was ill-timed. I’d probably wait longer than one play to hit them with the same ruse, and on 2nd & medium, Stanford has no reason to sell out on the run.
Consecutive 12-man in the huddle and delay of game penalties back us up to 3rd & 15. With his hands tied situationally, Donovan dials up a “Sail” concept that was DOA given the borderline-prevent defense Stanford called.
Morris ends up scrambling short of the line to gain, and we trot the punt team out onto the field.
Unlike previous weeks, Donovan doesn’t have the benefit of extra possessions to let his opening script probe the defense for answers before countering in the second half. Stanford’s M.O. has always been to play keep away with more talented opponents by sitting on the ball and killing the clock. Getting caught having to mount a second half comeback against the Cardinal is almost always a losing proposition.
I’m already feeling the anxiety creeping in on this one. Not a great start to the game.
2nd Series - Washington 0 - Stanford 14
Ouch. Finding ourselves in an even bigger hole, we need to keep things in perspective. It’s still the first quarter, so there is time left to catch up. However, I’ve found myself in similar situations coaching an offense that’s got to dig out of a hole when the defense still hasn’t figured out the right adjustments, and I’ll tell you its hard not to start pressing.
Mixing things up and dialing up a pass on first down, Morris finds McGrew on a quick check down for 6 (again proving why RBs who can contribute in the passing game can be a real weapon). With the whole playbook open on 2nd & 4, Morris catches Stanford off-guard with read option play for a quick first down. I would’ve considered taking a deep shot here, but I can’t complain about a fresh set of downs.
Right as I’m looking for a deep pass, Donovan dials one up. Building off of a familiar single back jet motion look, we go for another shot play to Jones running a deep crosser/post out of a tight split. Edge pressure gets to Morris mid-throw and the pass sails into open grass. No one looked open from the TV angle, so this wasn’t much of a miss.
A quick pass to McMillan gets the 1st down on the next play, and negligible gain on a weakside A-gap power play takes us to the 2nd quarter.
How are we only on our 2nd possession?
Another negligible gain on an A-gap power play to open the 2nd quarter puts us at another 3rd & long. Morris scrambles for the first down on a play that would’ve yielded a first down on a defensive penalty anyways gets us to 1st down on the 24. Another shot play off of hard play action doesn’t get us anywhere after Morris needs to dump it out of bounds under duress. These long developing passes seem to be wearing on our pass protection.
An incredible snag by Odunze on another RPO pass gets us inside the 10. I really expected us to go to our jumbo package and try to match up in the trenches given that we had less than 10 yards to go in 3 or 4 tries. We make good progress on a first down run with Pleasant, getting all the down to the 6 yard line, but again we try to get to cute. On 2nd down, Donovan dials up a RPO rub route concept to Jones in the flat that doesn’t go anywhere, and now we’re backed into a corner having to pass on 3rd & 6. The questionable call of an empty set pass on 3rd down isn’t as bad as the play design on 2nd down in my opinion (still would’ve rather seen a run on 3rd down to see if we could get a 4th & short situation). The flat-slant rub concept isn’t a bad concept by any stretch, but the wide splits between the WRs cause the rub action to develop too slowly, and the ball on the far hash combined with passing to the flat route makes this a play that is almost impossible to complete quickly and consistently. Jones ends up almost having to make an over the shoulder catch given the angles he was working with.
We end up needing to settle for a short field goal, but at least we got points.
3rd Series - Washington 3 - Stanford 21
Somehow we’re still hemorraging points on defense, but at least we got on the board during the last series. Time to follow up with touchdowns.
Again going back to the zone slice/rollout action on first down, we try to sneak Otton across the formation this time, but an aggressive Stanford edge rush forces Morris to desperately heave the ball to Odunze on the comeback route. The ball is dropped for no gain.
Trying to take the heat off the edge rush and lean into their aggression, Donovan dials up a pitch play off of a jet motion fake. McGrew makes hay and we finally get a chunk yardage run for 10.
Trying to press the momentum, we go to a quick snap and McGrew finds the cutback lane for another quick 6 yards. Westover takes a handoff to get us to 3rd & 1 where Pleasant takes another quick snap handoff for the 1st down. Interestingly enough, one of the broadcast graphics brings up the good point... where’s Otton’s targets?
A close but probably fair incomplete call on a chunk gain to McMillan just sucks the wind out of our sails on such a promising drive. Donovan again tries to get too cute with a revers to Odunze that gets blown up for a loss of 5+ yards, and we’re forced into a screen on 3rd & 20 just to scrape together some yards before trotting the punt team back out onto the field.
4th Series - Washington 3 - Stanford 24
This is where we need to score a touchdown just to stay in the game. With only 3 possessions in the first half, little hope for consistent stops on defense, and a 3 possession game, its do or die time. Adjustments here would be great, and the intermediate passing game over the middle to Otton could really boost our offensive outlook. We just aren’t connecting or blocking for our deep shot plays, so we need some efficiency in the run game and some chunk plays from other aspects of the passing game to get us on the board.
Right on queue, we miss on another deep shot to open the half with Morris again under duress. However, we are able to follow it up with another successful toss play that gets McGrew sprung into space on the perimeter where he’s able to get the first down. The mix of inside zone slice plays with perimeter run plays seems to keep the Stanford front on their toes enough to get consistent yardage whenever we don’t play matador on the line (I’m looking at you Ale).
Great chunk plays from Odunze and Ty Jones (on what might be our first shot play that worked all season) got us right down the field and into the red zone where McGrew punched us in on another toss play. It’s amazing what can happen once the passing game can take advantage of 1-on-1 looks.
5th Series - Washington 10 - Stanford 31
Looking to build on some of the offensive momentum, we go right back to the well on a shotgun outside zone play to McGrew to continue attacking the perimeter. However, this time, we are unable to take advantage of Stanford’s aggressive edge rush because we go with a traditional handoff instead of the quicker hitting pitch action.
Two plays later on 3rd & 6 we take a play out of Stanford’s own playbook using a slot fade to shake Ty Jones loose for a 40 yard gain. It’s nothing fancy schematically, but it allows us to target mismatches using formation design. I’m surprised we hadn’t tried to attack a specific passing match up yet given the youth in Stanford’s secondary.
The rest of the series seems to follow the formula for success that Donovan developed during halftime. A steady mix of pitch plays to attack the DBs with our auxiliary blockers, selective inside runs in short yardage, and a couple of tough catches over the middle by Odunze.
It’s also worth noting that Davis gets subbed in for McGrew late in the series and continues to show his physical running while being equally adept at hitting the perimeter runs. I think we should probably be giving him more reps at this point.
6th Series - Washington 16 - Stanford 31
Having finally gotten a stop on defense, and a full quarter of football left in a 2 score game, its anyone’s game.
Much like the last series, we’re leaning on the pitch plays on the ground and a few chunk plays in the air to keep things moving. There’s still enough time where we can stick to our formula, but we can’t get behind the sticks.
Pleasant getting subbed in doesn’t seem like a good move here down the stretch. We’ve been finding success with McGrew and Davis, so rotating in someone else is an odd move, especially when Pleasant is probably our least capable outside run threat.
I guess I’m quickly shut up when he picks up a first down on a heads up play to bail out a mid-sack Morris on a check down shovel pass. That play breathes enough life into the drive to keep things rolling until Otton finally makes his presence known on a huge catch-and-run post over the middle for 40.
With our offense knocking on the door of the end zone we finally learn our lesson and just punch it in on the ground.
7th Series - Washington 23 - Stanford 31
Miraculously, our defense finds its mojo again and we are gifted a 1st & goal possession on a strip-sack fumble return that seems to finally be pointing us in the right direction on defense.
What do we do in the sudden turnover situation? Go for the end zone of course.
Running hard play action, we immediately spring Ty Jones for a the touchdown in the end zone. Unfortunately, Ale was again caught whiffing his block and got tagged with a holding penalty trying to recover. With momentum and emotion swinging so wildly in a matter of seconds between the turnover, touchdown, and reversal, I’m not getting a good feeling about this possession’s chances for success.
Set back to the 20 yard line after the penalty, its an odd move to go with the run play, especially when its an inside run play that goes against the pitch/toss-centric run game that worked so well on the previous possession. There could be some bias in that we got a negligible gain on the play, but even in the best case scenario, we could’ve only expected 5-10 yards there. Passing there might not have gotten us anything at all if it was an incomplete, but given the distance to gain, you need chunk yardage just to bring the run game back into the equation.
Facing 2nd & 19, we are again facing an obvious passing situation. This time we do pass, but Kirkland gets called on a pretty picky holding call as Morris scrambles out of the pocket. Pretty much from that point I knew we were melting down mentally. When it rains it pours, and we were barely still in scoring position on 2nd & 30 after getting gifted a red zone possession by the defense. That big of a momentum swing is hard to shake. On the very next play, Pleasant drops the screen pass, and Morris starts to see ghosts in the pocket on the 3rd down play.
Lake is forced to trot Henry out to try the field goal to cut it down to an 8-point game, but I feel like the possession was a huge missed opportunity.
Sure enough, we never get the ball back for a chance to tie the game.
- Our offense wasn’t the reason why we lost this game, but this was a reminder that we need to get more efficient on offense to be able to bail out the defense if they have a bad outing.
- Untimely penalties and drops were killers against such a disciplined opponent that aims to kill the clock. While the overall number of penalties and mental mistakes weren’t particularly egregious, we have little margin for error given how few impact plays we managed to produce on offense. We will improve with more experience, and this is a good reminder that despite having an older group at many positions, this isn’t a battle hardened group yet.
- The Stanford pressure package and front 7 consistently challenged our protection on our deep passing plays. Given how much we relied on play action and how frequently we took deep shots, we need to diversify our passing attack to be able to shift gears into quick passing mode when we can’t sustain the 5 second drop backs.
- Cam Davis continues to show that he’s a superior talent and should be pushing for a larger share of the running back carries.
- Rome Odunze is a star in the making. Not only did he make a few awesome snags, he is also getting solid separation. Consistency catching the ball will be important, but he seems to be further along than McMillan in that department, which should keep him in a prominent role next season.
- Over the course of the 4 games, Ale continues to struggle with consistency in both run and pass blocking. For all his athleticism and talent, I struggle to see flashes where he actually translates it to effective play. If he’s truly our best option at LG next season without significant improvement, I will have serious concerns about the status of our whole OL.
If you actually got to the end of this replay, kudos. Let me know your thoughts on our offense this game in the comments below.