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Mailbag: “52 Point Pick-Me-Up” Edition

Where I’m finally asked “what the hell just happened?” in a good way

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

Was the offense schematically much different against Arkansas State than in the previous games? Or was the execution just that much better (and against a poor defense)? - UWDadVanc

Why not all 3?

I covered some of this in my Three Things We Learned article yesterday but yes, the offense was schematically quite different than it had been in the last 2 weeks. Dylan Morris ran play action on 43% of his dropbacks compared to 19% over the first 2 games. He also ran 11 RPOs after the Huskies had only 6 of them combined in the other 6 games when John Donovan has been the Washington offensive coordinator.

Play action naturally helps the quarterback by freezing the linebackers into thinking a run play is coming which leaves them caught in between where they aren’t in coverage or rushing the passer. The trade-off is that in traditional under center play action the quarterback has to turn their back to the defense while faking the handoff. I’ve always gotten the impression that Morris doesn’t feel very comfortable leaving his back turned for very long. Morris’ play action fakes aren’t all that convincing and he seemingly sticks his arm out for the minimum amount of time necessary to have it register as play action. The ball never gets remotely close to the running back’s hands.

When running an RPO or just play action out of the shotgun it simplifies things for the quarterback. Morris gets to keep his eyes facing forward the entire time and is able to make a single read to decide whether or not to hand the ball off. If the defender bites on the run then he can immediately throw to his first look, usually either a slant or an quick out. If they are playing the pass then he can hand the ball off with either a numbers advantage or a linebacker playing on their heels.

Washington also decided to go with traditional passing formations more often. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise given the injuries at the receiver position and the roster tendencies that the team played 2 tight ends for large portions of their first 2 games. In the first half against Arkansas State they went almost exclusively with 11 personnel and the combo of Otton, Bynum, McMillan, and Taj Davis plus one of the running backs. The Dawgs had that grouping out on 86% of their 1st half snaps before the game started to hit garbage time. On all other snaps this year Washington had 11 personnel just 39% of the time (those numbers both from Sports Info Solutions data).

In addition to the schematic changes there clearly was better execution. Given the level of competition the offensive line probably played about equal to where they have been. Morris was still pressured on 28.6% of his dropbacks which was almost identical to the season total from the Montana/Michigan games combined. The difference was that Morris had 2 occasions when he was seemingly dead to rights where he made a guy miss and then scrambled for a 1st down. That was the kind of play that was missing in previous weeks and helped to bail out the offensive line’s pass protection woes.

The receivers definitely saw more production particularly with the insertion of Jalen McMillan. However the receivers dropped more balls than they made difficult catches. Washington’s 5 drops were the equal of the Montana/Michigan games combined and with a little better hands Morris easily would’ve gone over 400 yards on the day. Still, the game was played during heavy rain so I won’t go too hard on them for that.

Despite all of that Morris was 5/8 for 180 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT on throws at least 20 yards downfield. In the first 2 games he had only 4 total attempts and went 3/4. And in all 4 games last season Morris completed only 4 total deep balls. We’ll see if the offensive line can continue to protect Morris long enough for him to unleash it but his deep ball accuracy has been vastly improved this year outside of the one pick on Saturday.

Finally, Arkansas State’s defense is bad. No way around it. They played their safeties right on the edge of the box all game and left their corners largely on islands. It turns out that Jalen McMillan is going to consistently win a 1v1 with Arkansas State’s corners. So is Terrell Bynum and most of the time so is Taj Davis. On a 2 play stretch in the second quarter the ASU corner played so far off Jalen McMillan that he ran a 15 yard curl route and the ball got to him without his defender in the frame. It was John Ross-esque levels of fear. Then on the next play the corner played tight to not allow that to happen again and McMillan ran by him for a touchdown on the right sideline.

If I’m apportioning credit for the improvement I’d put it at 40% scheme, 25% execution, 35% quality of the opponent.

P.S: There were 5 questions very similarly worded but I went with this one because UWDadVanc tipped better. Maybe stop being such a cheapskate next time.

How were you feeling after that first 3 and out? - God

I’ll admit, not great. I’ll also admit that I may have taken your name in vain once or twice. Sorry about that. On that 3rd down play all 4 receivers in routes were within about a 10x10 yard box in the middle of the field at the time the ball was thrown. And on top of all of that Bynum dropped it and the throw was well short of the line to gain. Put that together with the inaccurate throw on 2nd down and I did not exactly see the offensive transformation coming.

Loved seeing Sean McGrew get some playing time. I thought he provided some spark too. Do you think his number being called had more to do with pressure from the fans and writers or simply a coaching decision? - Otis

I don’t think pressure from the fans and writers played into the decision to get McGrew into the game. It’s obvious the coaching staff had a plan at the beginning of the year to try to let the 2 younger backs take control of the position and gave them every chance to prove that they have earned the starting role. Washington’s running back room is crowded and it’s really hard to keep 4 guys happy. If the talent is equal then I have no problem with giving the reps to the younger guys that you hope will be the faces at the position for several years to come.

Unfortunately the Husky offensive line completely shat the bed in the first 2 games and gave the running backs no chance to succeed. The bigger pressure that the coaching staff cares about is the one coming from inside the locker room. McGrew and Pleasant came back for an extra year when they didn’t have to. Those guys aren’t going to be starters in the NFL. But they wanted to help the team win and I’m sure there are plenty of folks in the locker room who really want to see them succeed and know that they can help the team achieve its goals.

After 2 weeks of no success and knowing there are 2 well liked options available at the end of the bench waiting for their turn I don’t think Jimmy Lake could afford to have the team struggle running it without either of them for a 3rd straight week. He had to at least give McGrew a shot to see how he would do.

A 4-headed monster is really tough to manage which is likely why things were condensed to start the year. We’ll see how things shake out as we move into conference play.

can I get un banned now? I promise not to taunt or Troll. - ShouldabeenaDuck

What do you think, folks? I did say I would unban them in a few weeks if they asked nicely. I’m going to give it 2 weeks before that promise gets broken.

Concerned about the two picks Dmo threw or not? I believe that makes 5 total vs FCS competition. On pace for about 20 and the schedule only gets harder. -Rotn

I put the strike through because Arkansas State isn’t an FCS team. They’re in the Sun Belt which is FBS. They’re almost certainly a worse team than Montana despite being a division above them so the point still stands though. I’m less concerned about Morris than I am the offensive line. I think over the course of the season that if he’s able to get average protection then the turnovers are going to get better.

The pick up the seam on Saturday felt like the result of overconfidence after several long throws had worked. The other was on an RPO where I think he made the right read keeping it because both linebackers charged the line of scrimmage hard but he needed to do a better job seeing that the defensive end hung around waiting for the quick out. I would be very surprised if Morris finishes the year with more than 15 interceptions even with the poor start (also if he would go over that it probably means a change is in order).

Do the Huskies have a chance at really turning their season around now, after what we saw against Arkansas State? - UW2016

Bill Connelly wrote an article on Monday that looks at unlikely outcomes that aren’t as unlikely as the average person might think. One of the items? Washington winning the Pac-12. His system currently projects Oregon with 6.52 conference wins and 6.49 for the Huskies. Would you consider 8-4 (7-2) with an upset win over Oregon to secure a tiebreaker in the North as turning the season around? I certainly would. That’s an ambitious ask but the computer metrics have a more favorable outlook than the average Husky fan.

The remaining teams on Washington’s schedule have the following ranks in SP+: Cal (66), @OSU (60), UCLA (20), @Arizona (104), @Stanford (70), ASU (23), Oregon (15), @Colorado (84), Wazzu (73). If the Huskies merely beat every team on the schedule ranked 60th or worse that would put them at 7-5 (6-3). You’re asking the Dawgs then to accomplish that plus pull off an upset against Oregon in order to reach a true season turnaround.

If you are content with 2nd place in the North instead of specifically beating Oregon then the Huskies just to need to pull off an upset in one of the 3 home games against a top-25ish team on the schedule. It should help Washington’s chances that if Zion Tupuola-Fetui returns from his injury that it may happen right around the 3-game stretch where they have @Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State in a row.

It would also help if the Huskies get Rome Odunze back sooner than later and they continue to work primarily out of 11 personnel with Taj Davis occasionally spelling either McMillan or Odunze with Bynum in the slot. That 4 person grouping should be able to regularly win outside matchups if the coaching staff has legitimately learned their lesson and are willing to continue to pass to set up the run.

Washington lost to Montana. Clearly at their worst they are capable of losing to any team on their schedule. If they lose to Cal on Saturday then we can throw out allof this. However if they play anything close to their potential from here on out then they still have a good shot at a top-2 finish in the North.

Now that the Pac-12 will likely finish with a below .500 nonconference record, is this season still considered a success with respect to TV contracts given UCLA beating LSU and Oregon beating tOSU? Also, is there a path to Washington finishing the season ranked that doesn’t involve going undefeated through conference play? - CT3

I don’t think the Pac-12 can consider the non-conference slate a success despite winning 2 of the 3 highest profile games. The conference suffered losses to Northern Arizona, Montana, BYU (x3), San Diego State (x2), Nevada, and Fresno State. If both Arizona State and UCLA had won on Saturday then I think the conference would’ve taken it as a whole. It would’ve given them 3 teams that started off 3-0 with a win over a ranked team and 2 of them happening on the road. Despite the bad losses that at least would’ve given a legitimate chance for the conference to end up with a pair of top-10 teams facing off in the Pac-12 championship game at the end of the season.

Instead, we now have only 1 undefeated team in the conference and a legitimate chance that Fresno State, San Diego State, and BYU would all finish in the top-5 of the conference standings if they were in the Pac. If those programs end up looking like they’d 5, 6, and 7 in the Pac when they have good years? Sure. That’s fine. Having them potentially look like 3, 4, and 5 means the conference doesn’t even have parity this year. There’s no top end or middle end. It’s just all bottom end.

I went into more detail above but yes, I think it’s (hypothetically) possible for the team to end the season ranked without going undefeated from here on out. At the end of the 2019 regular season there were 5 teams ranked with 9 wins and 1 ranked with 8 wins. Let’s say Washington goes 8-1 in conference with a loss to Oregon. That puts them at 9-3 with potentially 2 of their losses to top-10 teams and wins over UCLA and Arizona State. I could see them getting up to something like 22nd assuming the wins aren’t all by single scores and the loss a blowout.

The Huskies have scored an average of 23 points a game while giving up 16+ points a game.

Maintaining these or better offensive and defensive scores for the remainder of the regular season (9 games) do the Huskies go undefeated the rest of the way? Or do they win just 3 more games, thus missing out on a Bowl game and solidifying the departure of multiple assistant coaches?- OsidePup

This will be our final round of hypothesizing and blindly gazing into the future. First of all if the final average numbers the rest of the year are 23 points scored per game and 16 points surrendered per game then this team is not going undefeated the rest of the way. Let’s look at Washington’s recent conference results to get an idea of what that 7 point average margin the rest of the way might get us.

2016: 43.2 ppg, 20.4 oppg (+22.8 margin). 8-1 record.

2017: 33.6 ppg, 15.2 oppg (+18.3 margin). 7-2 record.

2018: 26.7 ppg, 18.6 oppg (+8.1 margin). 7-2 record.

2019: 26.0 ppg, 21.3 oppg (+4.7 margin). 4-5 record.

2020: 30.3 ppg, 25.0 oppg (+5.3 margin). 3-1 record.

In the 2 seasons combined where the Huskies have outscored opponents on average by less than 7 points they’ve been a combined 7-6. We’ll average that out to 5-4. In the year when it was slightly above 7 points they finished 7-2. Put it all together and I’d estimate that they finish 6-3 if the offense and defense put up those points per game totals the rest of the way.

It is interesting to note that while the offense scoring 23 would obviously be the worst since Chris Petersen really started to get things going, the defense has only given up fewer than 16 points per game in conference play one time in that span. I would definitely take the 2017 defense over this current incarnation unless we had ZTF for the entire year looking like he did in 2020. That makes me feel like the 16 point per game for the defense is a bit of an optimistic number.

I think scoring an average of 23 points per game would still get them at least 4 more wins. Since this is an average it means they would probably score above 23 points in at least 4 of those games. And something like 27 points should be good enough with this defense to beat Cal, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington State. It could also be enough to beat Oregon State or Stanford. However, if the season ends and this team winds up 6-6 and scoring fewer than 25 points per game then I think everyone gets their wish and Lake moves on from Donovan and depending on how things look we could see other assistants get the axe as well.