THAT WAS AN OFFENSIVE LINE
When asked about the biggest strength of the team last week Jimmy Lake said it was the offensive line. On paper that made sense. The Huskies returned every single player at the position from the previous year and have recruited extremely well there for the past several years. There was every reason to think this was going to be the season they would put it all together. And maybe it will gel at some point this year. But it sure as heck was light years away from that on Saturday.
It didn’t really matter what the offensive line was doing, they weren’t able to create holes for the running backs. The following play type data is from Sports Info Solutions. Power? 6 carries for 21 yards. Inside zone? 8 carries for 25 yards. Washington never gave a carry to a running back on a play that went outside the tackles. Despite the fact that their interior struggled again and again.
Pro Football Focus gave the 2 highest grades on the line to tackles Jaxson Kirkland and Victor Curne although neither did particularly well either. Henry Bainivalu was PFF’s lowest graded player on the team and it appears the coaching staff agreed since he was benched in favor of Nate Kalepo. LG Julius Buelow won the starting job over Ulumoo Ale after Ale struggled mightily in pass protection despite being a mauler in the run game. Well Buelow allowed 3 pressures on Saturday night and he would’ve had the lowest graded game for a Husky OL in the Jimmy Lake era if not for Bainivalu.
At this point it really comes down to Scott Huff. The Huskies have raw talent and continuity. There’s no excuse for having poor offensive line play this season. Coach Huff has to fix this immediately or there’s no hope for improvement on offense the rest of the year. Otherwise, no big deal.
SHOOK, RATTLED, AND ROLLED
On a very much related note to the above offensive line discussion we have the performance of QB Dylan Morris. Last season we saw Morris mount a successful 2nd half comeback against Utah and a valiant 2nd half effort against Stanford that came up short largely because of the defensive performance. One of the key stats thrown around all offseason was that Morris never was truly sacked in 2020. He had one time that he ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage in order to avoid getting hit but not once did a defender get to Morris and bring him down for a loss of yards.
That happened 3 times on Saturday as the Huskies were consistently unable to pick up blockers properly. In addition to the official hit/hurry numbers Morris also was hit late by the same Montana defender twice. Both instances were called as roughing the passer but it adds to the numbers that you see in the box score.
The end result of all of that pressure was that Morris for the first time in his UW career looked well and truly rattled and it greatly affected his accuracy. After starting out the game 6/6 he finished 21/40 the rest of the way with those 3 interceptions. Per Sports Info Solutions Montana rushed 5+ on 16 UW drop backs and Morris went 5 of 13 for 42 yards while getting sacked 3 times. Morris had 8 of 9 on target balls in the 1st quarter (88.9%) and just 22 of 37 the rest of the way (59%).
As you would expect for a QB that didn’t want to get hit, Morris got rid of the ball faster and didn’t throw as far downfield as he did last year. Per PFF those totals were down from 3.0 last year to 2.6 seconds on Saturday and from 10.2 yards downfield to 7.2. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario to try to apportion blame. It didn’t appear that the offensive line was giving Morris much time to wait for receivers to get open on deep shots. It also didn’t appear that the receivers were getting very open when he did have time and dropped the ball just as much as they did last year. And to top it all off Morris had a pair of throws when his feet were set that were behind his target that got picked off.
It’s entirely possible that even when you don’t adjust for opponent that this is by far the worst game Dylan Morris will play as a Husky. But the quarterback we saw last year who kept coming back and generally stepped up his game when the going got tough was definitely nowhere to be found against Montana.
ZION TUPOULA-FETUI’S DON’T GROW ON TREES
Last season we all expected Laiatu Latu to be the starting outside linebacker opposite Ryan Bowman. Then on opening night that instead it would be Zion Tupuola-Fetui manning that role given an injury to Latu we would later find out was career ending. Not only was it not a downgrade but ZTF had what was possibly the most dominant 3 game stretch we’ve seen from a UW pass rusher since the early 90’s.
Before ZTF we had Joe Tryon who never had the sustained dominance that Zion showed last year but went from being a middling 3-star recruit to a physical marvel pretty darn quickly. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the presumptive next men up take a similar leap in the first game of the season against what should have been a struggling offensive line.
Cooper McDonald got the start and he did end up with UW’s only sack but it was on a play where the QB was out of the pocket and tried to make something happen with his legs rather than throw it away. The other 3 co-2nd teamers at the OLB spot (Bralen Trice, Sav’ell Smalls, and Jeremiah Martin) combined for 1 pressure in 17 pass rush opportunities (5.9%) per PFF. For context, Joe Tryon and ZTF both have career pressure rates over 12%. If the Huskies want to have any hope of carrying this offense to success and turning things around then they need to create turnovers and getting consistent pressure on the QB is the easiest way to go about it.
If you want a tiny bit of optimism at the end here it’s that the 3rd string freshmen Voi Tunuufi, Kuao Peihopa, and Jordan Lolohea finished with a combined 4 pressures on 13 pass rush attempts (31%). Maybe we’ll find out that Tunuufi who had 2 of those hurries is supposed to be the guy to play more as a true freshman and rockets up the depth chart. At the very least he has earned a closer look to see if it’s reasonable for him to consider shedding his redshirt.