1. An Absolute Masterpiece
During our 30-day countdown series, I wrote the Best Defense We Will Face column. One of the entrants on that list was Washington State although they received just 6% of the vote which was the lowest of any of the nominees. As it turned out, the Cougars coming into Saturday did indeed have the best defense of any the Huskies had faced this year. They made it all the way up to 12th in defensive SP+ which is one of the better predictive advanced stats out there.
They are no longer 12th. What the Huskies did to that Cougars defense is absolutely criminal. The per play totals were mind boggling. 99th percentile in EPA/play, 99th percentile in yards/play, and 98th percentile in success rate. There were a few misthrows early from Penix and the 2 turnovers. Otherwise, almost everything that Ryan Grubb called and that Penix and the rest of the offense executed was perfection. If Washington had merely scored a TD from inside the 5-yard line twice instead of the interception and field goal then the Huskies would’ve put up 60 points to go along with their 700+ yards of offense.
It’s one thing to do this against Portland State. To do it on the road in Pullman against a very good defense with a potential NY6 berth on the line is insane. Whatever happens in UW’s bowl game, we will always remember this performance from Penix and the offense. It may not quite reach 70 points against Oregon territory in Husky lore but it will be right up there.
To make sure we’re giving flowers to everyone:
-Michael Penix Jr. had 500+ total yards and 5 total TDs in what is likely to be his last regular season game in a Husky uniform. He showed off his wheels with a 30-yard TD run on a double pass. He threw bombs all night and made just one mistake. I’m going to miss watching him so much.
-The dynamic duo of Odunze and McMillan each caught long scores, each finished with 150+ receiving yards, and each surpassed 1,000 receiving yards on the season. They became the first every Husky duo to each hit that benchmark in the same year. The odds are that at least Odunze heads to the NFL but man would I selfishly love to see McMillan come back as the featured guy for one year.
-Wayne Taulapapa had a career high 126 yards on just 13 carries and iced it with a 40-yard TD in the closing minutes. It has been an incredibly emotional last few weeks for him and so happy that Wayne got to have that moment in this game.
-The offensive line was phenomenal and it’s hard to pick one player as a standout. Pro Football Focus credits the O-line with giving up 3 total pressures and 1 QB hit despite Penix taking all day to throw on every down with deep shots downfield. That wouldn’t have been possible without Wazzu’s complete inability to get pressure.
-Finally, credit to Ryan Grubb for calling a masterful game. I’ll wait for the film study crew to help me understand the nuances but when you score basically one point per minute for the final 50 minutes of the game, it means your OC probably deserves some of the credit.
2. A Conference Divided
When the Pac-12 announced this offseason that they were switching from divisions to “best 2 teams” it was a move that wasn’t given too much of a thought. Prior to this season there hadn’t been much of a debate about who was the 2nd best team in the conference. Usually there was either a tie for 1st or a clear separation between the top-2 and everyone else. In fact, you had to go back to 2009 to find the last time there was a strong debate about who should be 2nd. That year Arizona, Oregon State, and Stanford all finished 6-3 behind Oregon’s 8-1 conference record. But in those days it was still a round robin and Arizona went 2-0 against the others and so were still clearly #2 despite a 3-way tie.
But of course this year played out the way it played out. Oregon, Utah, and Washington all finished 7-2 in the conference standings as we saw maybe the biggest gap in Pac history between the haves and the have nots. In past years it would’ve been a 2-way tie between Washington and Oregon in the North division and so the Huskies would’ve won by virtue of their victory in Eugene. Instead, Utah advances by virtue of having not played UW and having played against a more competitive conference schedule.
Obviously, all of us would prefer to have the opportunity to play USC next Friday night for the right to be Pac-12 champions. It was a fantastic season regardless though and the Huskies still have a shot to make the Rose Bowl with a USC win over Utah. Even if the reverse happens there’s still an outside NY6 chance and otherwise a likely Alamo Bowl berth. Not many Husky fans would’ve turned that down if given the choice before the season started.
It just sucks that this switch happened in one of the few years where it can reasonably be argued it hurt the more deserving team rather than helped them and that that team just happened to be the Washington Huskies.
3. Defensive Depth
Now that we’re at the end of the season it allows the coaching staff to have a good sense for who is able to play and still not surpass their 4-game limit to maintain a redshirt. Between that and a Washington State offense that often worked at warp speed we saw a lot of rotating guys and fresh faces on that side of the ball.
Along the defensive front it appears that MJ Ale missed yesterday’s game with an injury and Tuli Letuligasenoa got shaken up in the 2nd half although came back in. With those changes we saw Voi Tunuufi get the most snaps at the DT snap but coming in right behind him was true freshman Jayvon Parker. Late in the 4th quarter, Parker was part of a group that collapsed the pocket on QB Cam Ward and was able to get him down to move WSU out of potential field goal range and force a punt. His only other major action was against Arizona State but it would be nice if he can become a solid rotation player after being added late in the recruiting cycle along with his twin brother who missed this year due to injury.
Among other players who saw at least 10 defensive snaps were: Kris Moll, Sav’ell Smalls, Carson Bruener, and Makell Esteen. It’s notable that Edefuan Ulofoshio only played 8 snaps per PFF and while he returned from his injury this season it’s hard to say he looked exactly like himself. Hopefully he can spend the offseason getting 100% healthy and can come back as a force at the middle linebacker spot next year to pair with Alfonzo Tuputala and Carson Bruener.