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Three Things We Learned: Stanford

Penix is human (sorta), the pass rush is great against a statue/turnstile, and the huge late leads are necessary

Stanford v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

1. Only Human

On each of Washington’s first 2 drives Michael Penix Jr. took a deep shot to an open receiver. Both times the ball sailed a few yards over the receiver’s outstretched hands. It was a sign of things to come for Penix who wasn’t nearly as effective on his deep balls against Stanford compared to the first three games of the season.

On throws that went at least 20 yards downfield Penix was 3/8 for 114 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT. Based on yards per attempt that figure is pretty good but it’s a step down from previous games. Before Saturday Penix was 11/20 for 423 yards with 4 TD and 0 INT. The yards per attempt went down by about 7 and the completion percentage dropped 18% (which explains the drop in YPA since the yards per completion was higher against Stanford).

On intermediate throws there was also a drop in performance. Penix was just 3/7 for 41 yards in the 11-20 yard range against the Cardinal. Coming into the game he had been completing 63% of those throws for 10.2 YPA. He just wasn’t as sharp trying to hit targets in tight coverage.

And you know what? It happens. Every quarterback has off nights. But you know what else? Husky fans would’ve killed for Dylan Morris to have an off night like this last season. The only time Morris came close to putting up Penix’s stat line from Saturday (8.4 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT) against a P5 opponent was at Arizona (10.3 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT) who also happened to be one of the worst teams in the country in a game UW barely won.

The odds are this wasn’t the worst game that Penix is going to have this season. There will come a day when someone is able to actually sack Penix or put him under heavy duress and force a ghastly interception. It happens to everyone. But the knowledge that even when Penix struggles a little Washington can still score 40 points and feel disappointed about it is scary. He may only be human but what a human.

2. Ears Pinned Back

One of the things I talked about in this article in previous weeks was how the Husky pass rush had issues with mobile quarterbacks. Michigan State’s Payton Thorne was closer to Jake Browning on the mobility scale rather than a true dual threat but he still picked up multiple big 1st downs with his legs.

On Saturday we finally got to see what it looked like when Washington squared off against a quarterback who they knew would stay in the pocket. And boy were the results fun. The Huskies ended up with 8 sacks and an additional 3 QB hits on only 37 Stanford dropbacks. That means they hit Tanner McKee about 30% of the time that he didn’t hand the ball off. Unsurprisingly that’s an absurd number and everyone got in on the fun.

ZTF looked like his old self again with 6 pressures, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. It’s worth noting that he got the start over Bralen Trice presumably due to whatever caused Trice to have a cast on his hand. Despite the clubbed hand Trice was still effective with 2 sacks of his own. Jeremiah Martin added a strip sack and Alfonso Tuputala was effective blitzing from the LB spot with 2 more sacks.

It has to be noted that part of Washington’s success is due to one of the worst performances from an offensive tackle I’ve ever seen. Stanford’s starting RT missed the game and he was replaced by backup Connor McLaughlin. He only made it 26 snaps before being benched and Stanford shifting their LT to RT and bringing in a backup at LT. McLaughlin’s pass blocking grade per PFF was just 2.1. For some context, the worst Husky OL on Saturday had a pass blocking grade of 56.4. Almost every Husky pressure early on was coming from the right side because the Cardinal had no one on that side that could handle the Husky edge rushers.

While ending up with 8 sacks is certainly fun, this may have been a special confluence of events to have this result. Expect a much stiffer challenge against UCLA on Friday with more competent offensive tackles and an infinitely more mobile QB in Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

3. Finish Him!

Washington’s fast starts have caused all of their games to enter garbage time by some point in the second half. Here’s the amount of time by game that the Huskies have failed to hold at least a 10 point lead:

Kent State- 13 minutes, 5 seconds

Portland State- 12 minutes, 6 seconds

Michigan State- 16 minutes, 11 seconds

Stanford- 16 minutes, 24 seconds

Put it all together and Washington has had at least a 10-point lead for 76% of the game clock during their first four games. The only time the lead was cut below double digits after the Huskies got it there was when Kent State scored on one play to make it 14-7. UW scored touchdowns on their next 2 drives to make it 28-7 and it never got closer than 15 points the rest of the way.

Still, I’m sure there were Husky fans out there who got nervous when Stanford scored a TD and tacked on a 2-pt conversion to make it 30-15 near the start of the 4th quarter. That coming on the heels of Michigan State ending last week’s game on a 14-0 run in almost nothing flat to make that game just the tiniest bit in doubt.

Unfortunately for the Huskies their seemingly two biggest weaknesses come together when trying to hold on to a late lead. It’s hard to know whether this would be the case if they were healthy but Washington’s secondary has struggled in situations where the opponent has to pass. As Bill Connelly noted “Washington ranks 91st in success rate allowed on third-and-long and 79th on third-and-medium”. That’s not including Michigan State going 4/6 on 4th down conversions. Of the 9 touchdowns the Husky defense have given up so far this year, 4 of them included a 4th down conversion at some point in the drive. You have to give credit to UW for bringing up 4th down but it would be nice to see them get off the field in those spots more often.

At the same time Washington has struggled to run the ball in situations where the opponent knows they are going to run it. Both on the goal line and late in games the offense has definitely stagnated. That has resulted either in field goals that help keep the game a little closer than it should be or more time on the clock for a comeback attempt against UW’s banged up secondary.

It’s hard to fault the run game/secondary too much for Stanford’s last TD. UW picked up one first down on the ground before a false start/delay of game combo put them way behind schedule and forced a punt. Then Washington had in their 3rd or 4th string secondary when Stanford WR Michael Wilson took an intermediate throw to the house based on a coverage breakdown. But one of these days the Huskies are only going to be up 10 points instead of 21 in the 4th quarter. On that day it’s going to be extremely nerve-wracking when UW absolutely has to get a stop against an offense that have abandoned the run. Please get healthy Perryman, Powell, Irvin, and Turner.