1. Old School vs. New School
When Oregon played UCLA earlier this season it was clear that Dan Lanning and Chip Kelly were coaching different games. Oregon went for a surprise onside kick and converted multiple 4th and shorts from well inside their own territory. Lanning knew that Oregon’s defense wasn’t good and that UCLA’s offense was and so the game would likely come down to who had the most possessions rather than field position. It paid off and the Ducks won.
On Saturday night Lanning coached in the same aggressive, bordering on reckless, style. On a 4th and 2 before the half he called a QB sneak that paid off in a field goal attempt (it was ultimately no good) when the risk was almost a free 3 points for Washington. He again tried a surprise onside kick that didn’t pay off and gave UW a short field on a field goal drive. Finally, in the closing minutes he went for it on 4th and 1 well inside his own territory and was stopped which allowed Washington to kick the game-winning field goal
By contrast, Kalen DeBoer didn’t look like his aggressive self in this game and instead played it much more conservatively. Washington passed up on 4th and 1 and 4th and 4 tries in the red zone to kick short field goals and get out to small early leads. He also declined to go for it on 4th and 1 well inside UW’s own territory. It was very clear that DeBoer was much more willing to take guaranteed points and in the end it worked out with a victory.
That doesn’t mean that “analytics” are dumb. If Washington had gone for it on 4th down in the first half both times and come away with a touchdown one time it’s a net 7 points versus 6. It should also be noted that it looked like there was a chance UW was going with a fake on the first attempt before the Peyton Henry false start since Dylan Morris was in as a holder. That would also explain why there was seemingly confusion once the offsides on Oregon moved it back to a potential 4th and 1. A fake field goal won’t work when you take a field goal off the board in order to re-run it.
Let’s say though that Oregon doesn’t fumble it on the doorstep and ends up with a touchdown instead and the Huskies lose by 4 or fewer points. I’m certain that I would be blaming DeBoer’s conservative coaching as a major reason for the loss. Oregon played like the team on the road trying to spring an upset while DeBoer was playing like he had a team he knew was superior. On Saturday night, DeBoer’s approach worked and we’ll see how it affects his decision making in the future.
2. Dem’s The Breaks
When Washington lost in Tempe earlier this season it seemed like everything went against them on the road. Michael Penix Jr. had a ball go off the back of an offensive lineman’s helmet, straight up into the air, and fell in the arms of an ASU defender for a pick-six. On a potential game-tying drive a shotgun snap went over Penix’s head for a loss of 30 yards. If the Huskies were going to beat Oregon then they’d have to catch a few breaks that road teams don’t normally get.
Sure enough, the breaks came.
- On 3rd and 1 inside the 5-yard line Oregon ran a swinging gate formation, came back together, and rushed the snap. The fumble was recovered by the Huskies at their own 1-yard line to stop a certain scoring drive.
- Washington handled a surprise onside kick attempt where only one UW player had a shot at the ball, and they corralled it with no problem.
- Just before the half Michael Penix Jr. rifled a pass to Jalen McMillan that was kinda sorta intercepted by Christian Gonzalez before McMillan ripped it out of his arms on the ground. Washington hurried up and ran a play before replay could stop and review after it was ruled a catch on the field. I have no idea what replay would’ve done with it but that easily could’ve been ruled a pick by the ref in the moment on an eventual field goal drive.
- Oregon missed a 54-yard field goal at the half. Definitely a long attempt for a college kicker but it seems like opponents always make their long tries against the Dawgs.
- On the final drive Jaivion Green had a hit out of bounds at midfield that wasn’t called with 14 seconds left that would’ve moved Oregon to the 35.
- Finally, Troy Franklin went out of bounds by a single toe before catching the ball on the 2nd to last play of the game. The refs ruled he wasn’t pushed out despite some contact and that he did step out of bounds. Neither of those were guaranteed calls from the ref. It looked like Franklin had both knees land in bounds so there wasn’t time for Oregon to get their field goal unit on the field and at best they would’ve run one more play from the 23 but I certainly prefer the result that happened.
That isn’t to say that the Huskies didn’t have their share of things go against them. Cam Davis slipped on a kickoff making UW start at their own 1. Penix threw an interception on 1st and goal at the 1. There were other moments as well. In the end though I think the bounces ended up being a net positive and that was the difference in an incredibly close game. Washington hasn’t won a game like this in a long time but the stars aligned on Saturday night.
3. Tackling Dummies
Obviously the Huskies are happy with the win but it has to be acknowledged that the defense got worked for the vast majority of this game. Oregon ended up with nearly 600 total yards of offense including an embarrassing for UW 312 on the ground. The Ducks’ running back duo of Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington combined for 251 yards on 39 carries (6.4 YPC). It was Irving in particular though that destroyed the Dawgs’ defense.
Irving finished the game with an astounding 12 missed tackles forced on just 19 carries. Washington’s running backs for perspective forced just 3 missed tackles on 20 carries. Time and again the first guy would try to square up Irving and come away with a miss and usually without even slowing him down. In the end, Husky defenders missed a total of 19 tackles per Pro Football Focus’ charting. It will surprise no one that that was a season high for the Washington defense. Although it might surprise you that the previous high of 18 came against...Kent State in the season opener.
The worst of it came from two players: S Asa Turner and LB Kris Moll. Each missed 4 tackles apiece and Moll in particular struggled with his misses coming on just 36 total snaps. The other safety Alex Cook as well as corner Mishael Powell also had multiple missed tackles and Irving seemingly never went down on the first try if he got the ball on the perimeter with any wiggle room at all.
We’re at a point in the season where this isn’t going to magically improve. However it seems that the two key items on the offseason defensive checklist will be improving the tackling, particularly at safety, and building up the depth at corner. Jordan Perryman injured his shoulder on Oregon’s first drive and Davon Banks was out with an injury (in addition to Julius Irvin who is already out for the season). That represents essentially UW’s 1st, 3rd, and 4th string corners all unavailable for the majority of this game. In the end it somewhat worked out to UW’s advantage that Oregon found so much success on the ground because it shortened the game while mainly keeping the Ducks from picking on a very depleted secondary. There's another version of this game where instead of a 20 play, 18 run drive, Oregon instead just completes 40+ yard passes all day and the score is in the high 40's or 50's.