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Three Things We Learned: Arizona

The short yardage struggles are opponent agnostic, Penix looks just fine, and a big day from Jeremiah Martin

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

1. Running Into A Wall

Coming into this game it looked like Washington would have a chance to cure what ailed them in the rushing department. Arizona had been an absolute sieve on the ground, giving up 300+ yards to each of Cal and Oregon in recent losses. Opponents were averaging better than 6 yards per carry playing the Wildcats. Even with the injury last week to Richard Newton it really seemed like this would be a game where Washington should be able to assert its dominance in the running game.

We saw what happened instead. Facing a 4th and 2 at the edge of the red zone Washington chose a pitch play to Wayne Taulapapa. Arizona wasn’t fooled in the slightest by the misdirection and brought him down for a loss. Then on a 4th and 1 in a similar spot on the field the Huskies went for an inside zone run from the shotgun and a run blitzing unblocked corner met him at the line to stop Cam Davis short. Finally, on 3rd and 1 in their own territory UW went with another pitch, this time to Sam Adams II, and he stumbled a little trying to catch it and fell down untouched at the line of scrimmage.

It hasn’t exactly been new that Washington has struggled in these situations at they’ve primarily run the ball. However let’s update the tally. Washington has 38 occurrences of 3rd or 4th down and 2 or fewer yards to go. They have thrown the ball in those situations just 2 total times (both complete with 1 TD). On the runs the Huskies have converted 64% of them into either first downs or touchdowns. That is a much higher number than it feels but still is far from great given both the situations and Washington’s typical quality of opponent.

The overall percentages for Taulapapa and Davis who have combined for 20 of those 36 rush attempts are both better than the overall totals. It still anecdotally feels like Washington doesn’t have the ability to run from under center in short yardage. That’s a major hole when things come down to a single possession as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Also, maybe trust Michael Penix on play action one of these times?

2. Passing The Exam

Washington’s offense put up 32 and 35 points respectively the past two weeks but it felt to many fans like Michael Penix Jr. was struggling. That was partly because he played at a Heisman caliber level through the first 3 weeks and merely above average appeared to be a huge letdown. Still, it’s not unfair to note that Penix has a lengthy injury history and many speculated that he might be nursing an injury. That wasn’t helped after he took a huge shot on the final drive against Arizona State and had to leave for one play after spending minutes with the training staff on the grass.

Well I think we can pretty conclusively say that Penix looks fully healthy. Granted, he played against one of the worst defenses in the country per the advanced stats but it was on the short list of greatest QB performances in Husky history. Penix set the all-time single game passing yards record with 516 yards on 11.7 yards per attempt plus 4 passing TDs and one on the ground for good measure. Perhaps my favorite moment of the game was when a dime to Giles Jackson for a long TD got called back for offensive holding and on the very next play he threw another deep TD, this time to Rome Odunze.

By finishing this game Michael Penix has now completed 7 games in a season for the first time in his career. While at Indiana, Penix got sacked on 2.4% of total dropbacks. This year it’s exactly 1.0%. Penix averaged 2.7 seconds before throwing on Saturday which was his longest of the season. The offensive line was fantastic in pass protection and he had all day to survey and pick out receivers. That goes a long way towards Penix’s health. Still, it’s nice to know Penix isn’t cursed to never be able to play more than 6 games.

3. Who’s Your Daddy?

It’s hard to have a much better week than the one experienced by Husky edge rusher Jeremiah Martin. First, he got to celebrate the birth of his second child and then he had what I would consider to be his best game as a Husky. Martin has been the forgotten man in Washington’s edge rotation this season. When Zion Tupuola-Fetui was playing with the 2nd string in spring practices it was natural to assume he would eventually leapfrog Martin. Even when ZTF has gotten more playing time so far this year it has seemingly come more at the expense of Bralen Trice than Martin.

It must be noted that none of the Husky edge players did a good job containing Jayden de Laura from getting outside the pocket on scrambles. College’s very dumb accounting system of putting sacks as negative rushing yards makes it look like de Laura only averaged 3.2 yards per carry when he carved up Washington when calling his own number.

Still, Martin had the best night of any of the edge players. Per Pro Football Focus he finished with 4 pressured including his 2 sacks and also led the front seven with 5 solo tackles. Perhaps his most impressive play came downfield when Arizona on 3rd and long threw a quick screen to Jacob Cowing. The Wildcats had blockers in front for one of the more dangerous receivers in the country but Martin recognized it was a screen, peeled off his pass rush, and caught Cowing from behind. It resulted in a very modest gain and forced an Arizona punt.

The format of this article makes it tough to talk about the defensive struggles. It’s clear that Washington’s defense is very bad, in particular against the pass. It has been clear for several weeks. We didn’t exactly learn anything new in that regard as the mash unit got back Asa Turner but lost Dominique Hampton. If Washington is able to find a pass rush though next week against Cal it will prove they can do it on the road and we will have learned something. Otherwise, I’m using this space to give credit to Martin for largely having the season many would have predicted for ZTF to this point (5 sacks and a 15% pressure rate).