After a huge win last week, the Huskies have to refocus ahead of this week’s game against the Colorado Buffaloes. While I wouldn’t call this a trap game, its definitely the type of situation that invites a “hangover” game. Colorado is 1-9 with 4 straight losses by multiple scores, and their defense has held an opponent under 40 points only twice this year. It’s easy to see why they made a midseason coaching change at both HC and DC, but the Dawgs still don’t want to come out flat and let the Buffs hang around any longer than they should.
The Scheme & Personnel
As mentioned, Colorado parted ways with DC Chris Wilson and promoted DL coach Gerald Chatman after 5 straight ugly losses to start the season. The change in leadership culminated in a strong defensive performance against Cal, but they’ve really struggled to follow up on that performance. Having given up an average of 47 points per game since the Cal win, there is a prime opportunity for UW to rack up the points against the Buffs.
As far as scheme goes, Chatman’s focused on simplifying the defense since he’s taken over play calling. He’s stated that this is to let his players play faster and more aggressively. In theory, this is a smart move, but it does open the defense up to craftier offensive schemes and more talented teams that can simply out athlete the simplistic defense. Schematically, he’s leaned more heavily on zone-based coverages and pressure packages to prevent obvious athletic mismatches and to keep as many eyes on the ball as possible. Basically, he wants his guys to be heat seeking missiles to the ball. The problem is that these spot drop zone coverages take time and repetition to get dialed in, and there are a lot of busted coverages and gaps in the coverage that the more advanced passing offenses have taken advantage of. Colorado’s been able to cause us fits over the last few years with their zone blitz schemes, but their execution of such schemes, and our OL’s vast improvement in pass protection, should make it a much smaller thorn in our side.
From a personnel stand point, Colorado is simply trying to get by with the guys they have on hand. Last offseason was rough on the roster with key players like Christian Gonzales and Mekhi Blackmon both transferring and becoming key contributors for other Pac-12 programs, so many of their current starters are either transfers themselves and new to the system, or inexperienced players who have gotten their trial by fire throughout this season. We’ve seen what this type of roster churn can do to certain positions on our own defense, but Colorado’s situation is on a different level given the extent of their turnover and the talent that was left on their roster. Starting LB Josh Chandler-Semedo (WV transfer) and FS Tyrin Taylor (Sophomore) have been asked to step into new roles this season, but neither have proven to be capable of becoming impact players as PFF has graded them among the worst defensive starters in the Pac-12. In fact, when I was examining PFF’s grades for this breakdown, I was actually surprised how poorly most of the Buffs’ defensive starters have been graded. Usually even on bad defenses you can see a couple of above average players or a handful of players who have excelled in some area like coverage or pass rushing. However, even fundamentals like tackling have been bad. Colorado is averaging ~14 missed tackles per game. To put that into context, UW’s tackling was the worst we’ve seen all year by a large margin against Oregon, and we had 19 missed tackles. Colorado has been AVERAGING a similar missed tackle rate all year.
Keys to the Game
I’ll keep this brief because I fully believe that our offense is going to torch this defense.
- Block upfront in whatever ways are necessary to deal with the zone blitzes
- Pick on their weak coverage unit, especially in space
- Read for when Colorado starts to overcompensate with either extra aggressive pressure looks or extra conservative coverages
- Lean into their adjustments and deliver the coup de grace
Honestly, between Penix & Grubb’s masterful orchestration of the quick passing game all year, I don’t see the Buffalo defense getting much of a shot at pressuring Penix. Whether its the quick screen game, option routes from McMillan or Odunze, or a few RPOs, it doesn’t matter. We will emphasize getting the ball out quickly if Colorado tries to bring pressure. Those quick throws will set up the double move shot plays that Grubb loves to run. If they pivot away from the pressure and try to keep up in coverage, we have the WR talent to put pressure on their shakey secondary and a QB that can deliver the ball deep when given a reasonable amount of time in the pocket.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m really just curious how many yards Penix can put up against this defense.