1. The Winds of Change
Coming into this game there was reason to think that Michael Penix Jr. might struggle throwing the ball. The forecasted rain from earlier in the week didn’t materialize but the wind was a significant factor with seemingly a consistent 10+ mph breeze and gusts up to 30 or so. Also, Oregon State has one of the better secondaries in the Pac-12 and earlier in the year held Caleb Williams to 180 passing yards when USC scored just 17 points.
It turns out that it was in fact one of Penix’s worst games of the year. For the first time this season he failed to eclipse 300 passing yards despite throwing more than 50 passes leading to just 5.7 yards per attempt. He also threw a terrible pick-six just before halftime that almost cost the Huskies the game. Time and time again he sat there with all the time in the world and a clean pocket looking for a receiver deep and it resulted in an incomplete pass as he rarely looked for check downs.
And yet. When the Huskies needed Penix to step up the most he almost always delivered. 3rd and 16 backed up on your own goal line? First down. 3rd and 10 near midfield? First down. 4th and 10 on the edge of the red zone? First down. That’s how Washington got their tying score when for a while it looked like the Dawgs would fall down by multiple scores. Several drives later, 3rd and goal from the 24? Touchdown.
Then we had the drive of the season so far with Washington backed up at their own 3-yard line and just over 4 minutes left in a tie game. Penix started out 9/11 for 66 yards on the drive to slowly move the Huskies all the way up the field and put them in position to either score a go-ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds left or as it turned out kick the go-ahead field goal with less than 10 seconds left.
Even on a day where the elements were against him and the receivers had plenty of drops Penix still found ways to deliver. Give Penix and Washington 10 possessions against just about any defense and he’ll find a way to lead a sustained drive on at least 3 of them.
2. Bent But Not Broken
Let’s say that someone were to hypothetically look at the messages sent from my phone about midway through Oregon State’s second drive on Friday night. That person might, hypothetically of course, find some evidence that I really thought Washington was about to get blown out in an ugly 42-14 type of fashion. After Damien Martinez bounced it outside for 26 yards, Oregon State had run the ball 11 times at an 8.2 YPC clip with none of them going for fewer than 2 yards. This looked like last year’s Husky run defense that showed up dead on arrival.
And then the Huskies caught a break. On a 3rd and 1 Oregon State’s fullback slipped and allowed ZTF to come off the edge unblocked to get UW’s first stuff. Washington also made a play on 4th and short and then did it again on the next possession and suddenly the Husky defense ensured that the offense would have all the time it needed to eventually figure some things out. Starting with that 3rd and 1, Oregon State ran the ball 24 times at 3.8 YPC the rest of the way.
On the first drive when Oregon State cut through the Husky defense like butter we saw the Dawgs running a 2-high shell. The defensive line was manhandled and the first player to get to the ball carrier from the back 7 reliably missed a tackle. As the game went on we saw Washington adjusting their personnel as Dominique Hampton would get subbed out on clear running downs for an extra defensive tackle. Later in the game Tuli Letuligasenoa started playing like a potential all-conference DL and had several plays blowing up the line of scrimmage.
In Washington’s only 2 losses this season they’ve allowed the opposing starting running back to go for 22+ carries and 110+ yards on the ground. Damien Martinez almost put up those numbers for the Beavers. But in the final 3 quarters Washington’s run defense did just enough to pull out the win. Of course it helped that OSU’s quarterback wasn’t a threat in the run game. That won’t be the case next week.
3. Winning Isn’t Secondary
Last season the Huskies lost a game to Oregon State on a last second field goal after the Beavers threw for just 48 yards. This time around it was the Huskies kicking a last second field goal while Oregon State once again were stuck with double digit passing yards at 87 total. It would of course be awesome if we could attribute that entirely to having the secondary just about completely healthy finally. Unfortunately, we here at the UW Dawg Pound and likely you at home are aware that context is in fact a real thing.
The Beavers are a run first team and even when they’ve won in recent weeks with backup Ben Gulbranson playing QB it hasn’t been because of a dominant aerial attack. During their 3-game winning streak Gulbranson threw for 250, 141, and 202 yards. Also, as we talked about in item #1 there was the little matter of the windstorm. Late in the 4th quarter Oregon State had a man wide open deep behind the entire defense and the pass was overthrown by a couple yards likely because of the wind.
At this point though I’ll take it. Washington’s secondary hadn’t really come close to completely shutting down a power conference passing attack yet this year. Only ASU’s Trenton Bourget threw for fewer than 200 yards but he came in as an injury substitution and averaged 9+ yards per attempt with 3 TDs. Holding OSU to fewer than 100 yards and fewer than 5 yards per attempt with no deep completions is an improvement even if wind-aided.
Perryman still struggled and didn’t look as if the bye week had returned him to full health. Once the Huskies started committing more men to the box it looked like they played their corners to give even more cushion and prevent getting beat over the top. An understandable strategy but also I would’ve preferred to make Oregon State prove they were capable of completing a deep throw. As we saw towards the end the game may have come down to Oregon State not being able to hit that one deep shot when the opportunity was there.
Next week playing at Oregon will be an entirely different story and Washington has to hope that the improvements we saw weren’t entirely wind/opponent-related and represented true progress. I’m not convinced.