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Washington-Oregon State Defensive Replay

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Deep safeties and light boxes, but no Vita Vea

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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 defense’s performance in the season opener against Oregon State.

Before the Washington Huskies’ defense even hit the field as a unit in 2020, we had this:

The Husky linebackers put on a clinic here. But who’s the real star?

  • Is it Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who’s first reaction to a play already in double-disaster is to scoop it?
  • Is it MJ Tafisi’s mid-tempo jogging?
  • Is it Jackson Sirmon getting leveled by the 185 lb return man? (kudos to Trevon Bradford who hustled all the way from his own 9 yard line)

All good choices, but possibly Alphonzo Tuputala is on the hook for not tackling Race Porter when he had the chance; or at least shouting “No.. Dude... NOOO!!”

First Quarter

(UW 7, OSU 7 - 7:44 - OSU 25) - The Huskies get a three and out from the Beavs (who’s first offensive possession begins halfway through the first quarter), thanks largely to a first down holding penalty that put OSU in a 1st and 20. It should be noted that the only “break” the Huskies got here is that Oregon State tried to block Tupuola-Fetui with a tight end. He whiffs and then grabs a free rushing ZTF who would have had Tristan Gebbia for a sack.

OSU behind the sticks is what we want to see. The Dawgs then get good pressure with a four-man rush to force an incompletion, then it’s your obligatory five-yard run on 2nd and 20, and a screen pass that Edefuan Ulofoshio reads immediately and destroys. Beavers Punt.

(UW 10, OSU 7 - 2:10 - OSU 33) A sign of things to come, OSU gets runs of eight and five yards against a very light UW box of six, with Sam Taimani getting pushed back while being asked to be Vita Vea.

But, UW gets the Beavs behind the sticks again, with a decent first down effort to hold BJ Baylor to three yards. The Huskies put seven in the box this time, bringing in Asa Turner, but the key here is good push from Taimani and Josiah Bronson, and Ryan Bowman shedding his block to make the stop.

On 2nd and 7, UW rushes both inside linebackers, but drops Bowman into coverage. Gebbia looks confused, gets jittery in the pocket, and throws behind his tight end.

3rd and 7, this is what UW wants against OSU’s offense, and Lake and co. dial up pressure. Bowman goes over center, while Ulifoshio is lined up inside of Sav’ell Smalls on the right side of the defense. The Huskies bring five, and it’s Smalls who overpowers the right tackle and gets into Gebbia’s face, causing him to lose sight of ZTF, who reaches in and forces the fumble. Huskies recover.

2nd Quarter

(UW 17, OSU 7 - 14:15 - OSU 20) The Beavers gash UW with runs.

Jermar Jefferson breaks off three runs totaling 40 yards, beginning with this 16-yard burst:

Against a bunch formation, UW has a two-deep safety look, and again ask a young DT to be Vita Vea. This time it is #99 Fa’atui Tuitele, who’s assignment is to take on the center and guard and fill basically all the inside gaps. Smalls gets a “welcome to the Pac-12” moment when he his knocked off balance by a quick combo block, and completely fails to set the edge. Asa Turner makes the tackle 5 yards further downfield than Taylor Rapp would have.

The Dawgs are on their heels, and Gebbia completes his first pass of the game to set up 3rd and 2. ZTF almost gets BJ Baylor in the backfield, but instead is one of several Huskies to miss a tackle, and the 9 yard gain puts Oregon State just outside the red zone.

After a short completion, Jefferson runs free up the middle while Ulofoshio cant get away from a double team, and Sirmon is blocked out of the play by the center. 1st and Goal from the 8, UW is in a two high safety look, Jefferson takes it to the three, and two plays later this:

This was just way too easy. Nobody really wins here for the Huskies, but both safeties are deep in the end zone against a run-first offense. Somehow it seems the scheme is worse than the execution on this one.

(UW 17, OSU 14 - 8:26 - OSU 27) The Huskies force a three and out, and top it off with a 45 yard punt return by Trent McDuffie:

The interior line doesn't lose ground the way they did on the previous possession, and nice individual plays by Alphonzo Tuputala and Ryan Bowman put the Beavers in 3rd and 7, then it’s ZTF time once again. The Huskies bring only four rushers, but Ulofoshio fakes a rush before dropping, causing the OSU guard to block no one. Josiah Bronson comes on a twist, but it’s all ZTF this time as he beats the right tackle (who probably thinks he’s pushed ZTF beyond the pocket) and reaches in to knock the ball out from Gebbia as he starts his throwing motion. Beavers recover and punt.

(UW 24, OSU 14 - 2:11 - OSU 44) The last Beaver drive of the half begins at the OSU 44 yard line, thanks to a 42 yard kickoff return by Champ Flemings, and they go right down the field.

After a nice completion over the middle to the tight end for 15 yards, BJ Baylor gets loose over the left side for 12 more yards to the Husky 29 yard line. Bowman gets way too far upfield on this play, and surrenders the cutback lane. Meanwhile, the Beavs use a 3-on-2 mash job to push back the Husky interior tackles, and still make it to the second level to get a block on Tafisi (who keeps hustling and makes the tackle).

Gebbia is in a rhythm as the Beavs are in hurry up, and he threads a slow velocity pass between Ulufushio and Sirmon.

After two near-disaster misfires by Gebbia, he hits Kolby Taylor on a short dump-off 4 yards short of a first down. Somehow, Sirmon allows Taylor to drag him for 4 more yards, despite having him wrapped up near the sideline, and two more Husky defenders nearby.

The Beavs O-line blocks down across the UW three-man tackle package, washing them to the right while Jefferson slips through the hole to get the 4th down conversion. Gebbia wastes one in the end zone, before OSU runs the same sweep they scored on earlier. This time it’s to the other side, it’s Jefferson, and instead of the Husky DBs being 7-yards deep in the end zone, they are positioned well, and choose to totally over-pursue. Touchdown Oregon State.

Third Quarter

(UW 24, OSU 21 - 15:00 - UW 49) The Huskies get a quick three and out from OSU after another huge kickoff return by Flemings gets the ball into Husky territory.

After the big return, UW plays this possession well, getting great push from Bowman and Bronson on first down to put the Beavers in 2nd and 9. Then a delayed blitz from Alex Cook gets Gebbia uncomfortable and he sails a pass nearly into the arms of Keith Taylor. On 3rd and 9, UW brings a delayed blitz from Ulofoshio and Asa Turner. Turner realizes a bit late that Jefferson is not staying in to block, but is releasing. Good thing for Turner that Elijah Molden is his teammate, and #3 quickly sees what’s up and changes his own assignment to drag down Jefferson well short of the first down. Beavs punt.

Grat play by Molden:

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(UW 24, OSU 21 - 5:42 - OSU 20) Beavs go 75 yards in 13 plays for zero points.

Jefferson breaks off runs of 15 and 7 yards as ZTF and Bowman take turns getting too far upfield to stop the cutback. This sets up a bootleg by Gebbia to the tight end for a 10 yard gain. A reverse to Flemings almost goes for a big play, but McDuffie hustles from the other side of the field to hold it to an eight yard gain. Bronson and Taimani stuff the 2nd and 2 run, but on 3rd and 1, it’s the cutback again with Bowman unable to disengage from the tight end after Tuitele gets pushed inside. The Beavers use Jefferson and the cutback against the poor technique of ZTF (too upright) to get the ball inside the five for a 3rd and 1 as the third quarter ends.

4th Quarter

Bad spot? Bad camera angle? However you saw it, UW did not allow Oregon State to win the line of scrimmage. On third and short from the Husky four-yard-line. Taimani blows up the center, and Sirmon takes on a block from the pulling LG to deny the forward lean to Jefferson.

On 4th down, it’s a solid push from the right side of the Husky defense, as Taimani and Bronson are assisted by Ulofoshio to push the OSU line into Jefferson a yard behind the line of scrimmage. From there, somehow, apparently, Asa Turner comes in and makes a very quick tackle of Jefferson before he can extend the ball from where he is carrying it down in his belly.

(UW 24, OSU 21 - 11:21 - OSU 1) Beavs are pinned on 1 yard line by Race Porter.

With OSU backed up, the Huskies stuff BJ Baylor on first down getting good push from Bronson in particular. With another big push from Bronson and Taimani, Bowman stays home enough on 2nd down to help Ulofoshio make the tackle to put OSU in 3rd and 3. Gebbia makes a quick decision and throw to pick up a first down.

Johnathan Smith then puts a bit too much on Gebbia’s plate, having him roll out on first down and try to thread the UW secondary while on the run. Not close with that throw. Then it’s second and long, and Gebbia is just not much of a threat from an empty set. Good coverage, incomplete short left. Then 3rd and 10 they get him uncomfortable, and he actually makes a pretty good throw, but Molden has the coverage and easily breaks it up. OSU gets the one first down, then punts.

(UW 27, OSU 21 - 1:45 - OSU 21) After the Dawgs suck seven minutes off the clock, Oregon State needs to 79 yards in less than two minutes with zero timeouts. UW will give OSU all the underneath throws in the middle they want, and Gebbia foolishly takes them. Time ticks under 1:15 as the Huskies keep OSU in bounds. Now Gebbia is forced to make plays down the field, and on third down he gets antsy and forces one into coverage. Next play, Ulofoshio gets a piece of one over the middle, and on 4th and 5, Gebbia tries to pick up the first down on a short crossing route, but instead hits his own lineman in the helmet and Asa Turner grabs the carom. I had no worries that Oregon State would score on this drive. They did nothing from behind the sticks all night.

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Overall, the defense showed up when they had to, but if this is the personnel, and no one develops into Vita Vea, it stands that the Dawgs might look to ask more than one DT to plug two gaps. Probably also keep Asa Turner in the box more often against QBs like Gebbia.

It was a 2nd half shutout, and OSU only gained a total of 252 yards for the game, but it was far from easy to watch. Plug the middle, set the edges; the Huskies didn’t do either consistently in this game. But they generated pass rush and were excellent in coverage the entire game.