Coming off of a much needed bye, our Huskies host the Oregon State Beavers this week in a key #Pac12AfterDark match up that will set the tone as we head into the toughest stretch of our schedule. In most years, Dawg fans would be cautiously optimistic heading into OSU week, but this year’s match up is a little more even than we are used to. While the talent on paper is again in our favor, Jonathan Smith’s program continues its steady progression back towards relevancy, and the Beavers will be a tough win to secure.
The Scheme & Personnel
By all accounts, OSU DC Trent Bray has done a bang up job in building a scrappy defense that out plays its talent in a similar way as the OSU offense. Like the offense, Bray has built a defense that leans on scheme up front and comparatively better talent/playmaking in the secondary. Knowing that he can’t just let offenses bully his defense into submission up front, he’s made it his defense’ identity to play aggressively in the hunt for the big momentum shifting plays.
It all starts with eliminating the run game for this defense. Up front, OSU runs a hybrid 4-man front with 3-4 personnel. Its different from the 4-man fronts that we’re accustomed to seeing because it often plays 3 big bodies up front that are true run stuffers (one of whom lines up at DE). This is is in contrast to UW’s style of 4-man fronts with hybrid EDGE plays or even conventional 4-3 defenses with true DEs. Even with all that size, OSU doesn’t just leave it to them to control the run game. The Beavers also make it a point to maintain a +1 advantage in the box at all times. They will keep both ILBs in the box or as an overhang defender, and they will regularly call plays with post-snap movement of the DBs to scheme up free hitters. This aggressive style of run defense can be susceptible to teams with home run hitters at RB that can make them pay on mistimed or poorly executed run blitzes (RBs like Travis Dye or Jordan Mims had big plays against OSU), but it can be an equalizer against bigger or more physical teams that don’t have that RB available (like in their game against Utah).
If the Beavers can get an offense to play one-dimensionally through the air, that’s where they really start to make their presence felt. With talented DBs like Rejzohn Wright, Alex Austin, Jaydon Grant, and Kitan Oladapo, passing situations are where the defense can get creative and hunt for the big play. Between exotic fronts and pressure packages that bring pressure from all three levels and every angle, their defense is trying to force a mistake for their secondary to take advantage of. This is only possible because not one of the top 4 DBs in their rotation can be considered a weak link. At midseason, the OSU DBs were in the top ten nationally in passes defended, and they currently have 4 different DBs with multiple interceptions. This ball hawking style of play has won them 14 turnovers through 8 games, which might not sound like a ton, but its ahead of notable defenses like Iowa and LSU. That being said, Bray isn’t asking his DBs to play recklessly in coverage. He balances the aggressive style of play with conservative alignments that often keep to a 2-high safety shell and some catch coverage techniques for the CBs.
The Keys to the Game
To beat the OSU defense, it’ll all come down to our pass protection and auxiliary pass catchers. Michael Penix has proven that he can be a careful protector of the ball and an accurate passer when given time in the pocket. If we can avoid getting too aggressive on early downs, keep the offense ahead of the sticks, and protect Penix, the Beavers won’t be able to deploy their full blitz package in pure passing situations. Even with torrential rain and high winds in the forecast, I seriously doubt that Grubb will suddenly throw out our pass-heavy offensive identity to run a ground-n-pound game plan to stay ahead of the sticks. However, Utah and USC have proven that attacking the LBs and the flats in the passing game can be an effective strategy to supplement the run game and to maintain overall offensive efficiency. If Grubb takes advantage of this soft spot of their defense, we could see the TEs and RBs get a lot of targets over the middle and in the flats.
It should be an exciting game for those that brave the inclement weather this Friday, and despite a tricky strength versus strength match up, the breadth of UW’s offensive fire power should allow us to keep up our offensive momentum.