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Three Things We Learned: Michigan

We found 1 piece of good news and it was wearing #1 on 2 less good things

Photo Credit: Tyler Carlton

1. Why Run The Ball When You Can Run From The Truth?

Last season the Huskies played 4 games and the running game was effective in the first two and ineffective in the final two. That was a 50/50 split where you could hope that game script and just a few key plays were the culprit behind the lack of success. Now though we’ve got an extra 2 games of sample size and it’s looking more and more like any initial success running the ball was because of either terrible opposing play or a lack of familiarity with the scheme. Because at this point it certainly seems that the offensive coaching staff have run out of ideas to deploy (there are plenty out there, we just haven’t seen them capable of running them).

Washington has seen some difficult to explain rushing performances in the past year but this was the low point even if it was against the best rushing defense they’ve seen in that time. It’s reasonable to think that the Husky running backs deserve some of the criticism and they’re not without blame. But it’s tough to say this isn’t entirely on the offensive line and the scheme.

Richard Newton got 23 of his 24 yards after contact on Saturday night per Sports Info Solutions. That’s insane. He was hit at the line on half of his rushing attempts and stuffed in the backfield on 1/3rd of them. Sure there are running backs out there like Marshawn Lynch who could’ve maybe still turned those into gains of 3 with extra broken tackles but you can’t just slam your head against the wall so frequently that you hope the wall breaks.

Take both games together and we’re now at 66% of total RB rushing yards have come after contact and the backs have been hit at the line on 48% of carries. This is more than just running into stacked boxes. It’s a lack of creativity in trying to confuse the defense and a lack of execution on the field. And there’s no sign it’s going to get better any time soon.

2. Safety Dance

Coming out of preseason camp the safety competition was one of the most intriguing elements that I wanted to look out for. Results were inconsistent against Montana but there didn’t appear to be all that many glaring mistakes as Julius Irvin, Kam Fabiculanan, and Cam Williams all played extensively with Dom Hampton out. Unfortunately on Saturday night it looked like everyone but Williams was trying to see as little of the field as possible.

Perhaps the most glaring error the entire night was Fabiculanan on Michigan’s first TD. UW went with a one high safety look and after Blake Corum followed excellent blocking to get into the secondary untouched, KamFab was the last line of defense. Unfortunately he took a terrible angle and allowed Corum to get by him again untouched for the long TD run.

Julius Irvin also struggled in run support even if his errors weren’t quite as egregious. However, per Pro Football Focus, Irvin had 0 tackles, 0 assists, and 3 missed tackles. That means for his entire career they have him down as 2 tackles and 6 missed tackles. Obviously that’s still a pretty small sample size but I think qualifies as being able to officially label Irvin as a liability in run support. Given how teams have attacked the Huskies so far this year it doesn’t seem likely that UW can afford to keep Irvin on the field on early downs even if they feel he’s a plus in coverage.

Dominique Hampton got to play his first 2 defensive snaps of the season and they were also filled with a high profile mistake. Hampton at least made a tackle on a 3rd down but then earned a deserved penalty for taunting which extended the drive and resulted in an extra Michigan touchdown.

On the updated Husky depth chart for this week Cam Williams and Alex Cook are now listed as the starters. PFF isn’t the be all end all decider of quality of play but it does have Williams and Cook as the 2 highest performers among the safety options so far this season and it certainly seems like the coaching staff agrees if they are indeed on the field to start the game against Arkansas State

3. The Decoy and The Stud

There were rumors before the game that Terrell Bynum might be healthy enough to return and then Jalen McMillan made the trip and was warming up pre-game as well. That gave some hope that the Huskies might be able to have a much improved passing game with extra weapons on the outside. That turned out to be only partially right.

It turns out that Jalen McMillan may be getting better but it doesn’t appear that his injured hand is completely healed. The 2nd year player only made it onto the field for 4 snaps and only ran 2 routes. By my eye the only time he was in the game was to fake run the fly sweep but he never actually was given the ball. My hope is that the coaching staff decided that even though they didn’t feel comfortable with him getting tackled quite yet that it was worth it to try to have him as a decoy for a few plays. The alternative is that McMillan is fully healthy but still only able to get on the field for 4 snaps despite Rome Odunze and JaLynn Polk’s absence.

The most positive part of the night for Washington, which is what I’ll leave you with, was the play of Terrell Bynum. There was buzz during what seemed like an outstanding fall camp for Bynum that he had a chance to be an all-conference type performer as a senior. He certainly looked the part on Saturday leading the team with 5 catches for 115 yards and their only receiving TD on the year so far.

The advanced stats also back it up. Even though Bynum didn’t see much of the field for the first few drives (which had me worried he was a decoy too at first) he still dominated when out there. Unsurprisingly his 80.7 offensive grade from PFF was more than 10 points higher than any other Husky offensive player. Last season Bynum had 15 more receiving yards than he does right now on 250% as many targets and while running nearly twice as many routes. Bynum’s 3.19 yards per route run right now would’ve been 3rd in the conference last year behind OSU’s TreShaun Harrison and Utah’s Britain Covey.

It certainly looks like Dylan Morris has confidence throwing the ball downfield to Bynum in contested situations the way he doesn’t for Taj Davis or Giles Jackson (probably for good reason). Given how hard it is for the offense to do nearly anything else at the moment we can only hope that Bynum making several tough catches will convince the offensive decision makers that taking those shots off of play action might be more worthwhile than running into stacked boxes for 1 yard on 1st down.