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Three Things We Learned: Kent State

The passing game? It’s good now. For real.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Earning A Passing Grade

The heaviest point of intrigue for Washington was whether or not the passing game would take off under Kalen DeBoer. All indications given DeBoer’s history was that it should but there were still question marks. Would the offensive line be able to give Penix time especially with Kirkland ineligible this game? Would Penix look more like the player he was in 2019/20 than the version at Indiana last year?

Essentially everything worked. Penix was not only never sacked but also never hit per Pro Football Focus. The Golden Flashes finished with just 6 total pressures including the sack on Morris once the 2nd team took over late in the game. And with a totally clean pocket Penix was able to repeatedly dissect the Kent State defense spreading the ball all over the field. 8 different Huskies had at least 2 catches for 13+ yards.

It has to be noted that last year this was an abysmal Kent State defense. They finished towards the bottom of FBS along with Arkansas State. You may remember that the one time Washington looked remotely competent on offense was against the Red Wolves when Morris threw for 367 yards on 9.4 yards per attempt (although he did have 2 interceptions that game). While we can’t expect 4 TDs and 0 INTs every game from Penix things just looked so much easier than last year. A lot of the yards in that Ark St game were 50/50 balls on the perimeter where Jalen McMillan out-athleted the defender. This looked very much like a scheme upgrade.

Until we play Michigan State we won’t know whether the Huskies have a real chance for a top of the conference passing game. But after Saturday it’s clear that at the very least the passing game took a giant leap forward and should at worst be average in the Pac-12.

Telling the Truth

When Zion Tupuola-Fetui played with the 2nd team defense through most of spring ball, coach DeBoer said it was based on performance in winter workouts. Okay, but once we get to the fall he’s going to be starting right? Then we get to August and ZTF started out again working with the 2nd team. Okay, but that will change soon right? Then the depth chart came out and it was listed as Bralen Trice OR ZTF. Okay, but really?

Yes, really. Bralen Trice and Jeremiah Martin started on the edge for the Huskies as primarily ZTF and Sav’ell Smalls rotated in as the backups at that spot or in some pass rush situations. From a snap count perspective it ended up being essentially four starters all splitting time evenly. Trice, Martin, and ZTF all played exactly 35 defensive snaps while Smalls played 33. However ZTF and Smalls were in the game late when it was mostly the 2nd team defense and the starters had been pulled. They also may have rotated more than normal because of the pace at which Kent State plays.

That rotation didn’t seem to cause too many issues. Those four players combined for 13 pressures per Pro Football Focus and both Husky sacks. Clearly Washington had problems getting a hold of and bringing down Kent State QB Collin Schlee. There were also several plays where the edge guys lost contain and allowed Schlee to escape the pocket and pick up 1st downs with his legs. But against quarterbacks without nearly the same size/mobility combination of Schlee this has the looks of a very good pass rush. Despite ZTF not being out there on the first snap.

Secondary Mission

Coming into the season there were concerns about Washington’s depth particularly at corner after losing Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon as early picks in the NFL draft. The Huskies brought in Jordan Perryman who looked like a stud in preseason camp and only had former walk-on Mishael Powell as an alternative option with real game experience.

Those concerns were only exacerbated after a lackluster effort on Saturday night plus an injury to Perryman. We don’t know how long Perryman will be out yet but it didn’t look good as a non-contact injury where he had trouble putting a lot of weight on it after. We’ll await more information from DeBoer later today but it’s probably reasonable to expect it to be a while before he’s back (and if it’s not nearly as bad as it looked then obviously that would be preferred).

It should be noted that Perryman struggled with Kent State star receiver Dante Cephas even before the injury with a few missed tackles. Cephas is a very good player who put up great stats last year and will again this year. But missed tackles were a constant problem for the team at large particularly on the back end. Per Pro Football Focus, UW’s secondary missed 8 tackles (3 by Turner, 2 by Williams and Perryman, and 1 by Cook). That was certainly part of the reason for Kent State to do exceptionally well on 3rd down even though they were often in bad situations. KSU converted on 3rd and 5 or more 7 times and that’s something the Huskies will have to clean up.

If Perryman is out for an extended stretch it looks like Julius Irvin may get the first chance to replace him. Coach DeBoer said Irvin has gotten more time in practice at corner to build depth and those reps may pay off. Irvin played the 11th most snaps on defense yesterday and was rotating in frequently even before the Perryman injury. Redshirt freshman Davon Banks was listed as next on the depth chart and will likely need to play as well after he led the team in interceptions during preseason camp.