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Three Things We Learned: Texas

An off night with the deep ball, improved tackling, and a loaded 2023 roster

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Deep (Little) Impact

Washington came into their bowl game having one of the most explosive passing attacks in the country. Michael Penix Jr. entered having completed 38% of his throws at least 20 yards downfield for 14.7 yards attempt with 14 TDs and 1 interception. It looked at first like he might be on track to do similar to Texas. On the first play of the game Washington ran a flea flicker and Penix found Ja’Lynn Polk in between a pair of defenders for a 35-yard gain.

That was it though. Penix didn’t complete another pass all game that went at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. He certainly kept trying though which put his final numbers at 1/10 for 35 yards; substantially below his overall season totals. It shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise though. There is one other game in which Washington really struggled to get anything done deep downfield. It was against Cal and Justin Wilcox who obviously is very familiar with Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski as both at one time were the DC at UW.

In the game against Cal, Penix was 0/7 on throws at least 20+ yards downfield so basically the same outside of the one flea flicker completion against Texas. However against Cal Penix lit up the Bears in the intermediate range going 8/9 for 146 yards and 2 TDs on throws that were 11-20 yards downfield. Cal effectively shut down the home run passes but they gave up the midrange and that’s where Penix was extremely effective.

Against Texas, Washington couldn’t even get the intermediate game working. Penix finished 4/11 for 50 yards on throws between 11-20 yards downfield in the Alamo Bowl. Put it together with the above and that’s 5/21 for 85 yards on throws at least 11 yards downfield. It was by far Washington’s worst showing of the year in that regard.

This offseason Grubb and DeBoer will need to figure out whether Cal and Texas solved something in the offense that is going to require a counter in their play calling or if they feel that Penix just had off days missing open receivers. It’s an encouraging sign though for Washington that the Huskies won both games even though the passing game struggled in each.

2. You Won’t Be Missed

The overwhelming issue for the Husky defense this season was that they couldn’t tackle. Washington fans got spoiled by years of solid tackling under Petersen/Kwiatkowski/Lake especially in the back 7. It was a hallmark of the Death Row defenses that a short throw underneath wasn’t picking up any extra yards because the Husky corners would be able to wrap up and prevent any yards after the catch. Per Pro Football Focus the Huskies missed 13.6% of tackles back in 2016 compared to 16.5% this season.

It seems like perhaps that was a point of emphasis in the lead-up to the bowl game because the Huskies had their best tackling game of the season taking opponent into consideration. Once again this is using PFF data but the Dawgs’ defense only had 4 total missed tackles. And 3 of those were by safety Alex Cook who was playing in his final game for Washington. The only returner who missed a tackle was Voi Tunuufi who also came away with the game clinching sack in the final seconds.

It’s unreasonable to think that the Huskies are going to have an 8% missed tackle rate next season like they did against Texas. But getting it down to that 2016 number means preventing about 2 extra missed tackles per game. Sometimes a missed tackle gives the offense an extra 4 yards and sometimes an extra 40. On average though improving the tackling by that amount likely would save the defense about 15 yards and a couple first downs per game. Shaving off 15 yards would bring the Huskies from 74th to 54th nationally in opponent yards per game. Pair that with overall improved coverage from a revamped secondary and maybe that gets down to a top-40 unit. Given Washington’s offensive prowess that suddenly becomes a team capable of playing with anyone in the country.

3. Is It September 2nd, 2023 Yet?

This isn’t exactly something we learned but looking at the box score for the Huskies it’s impossible not to get overly excited about the prospects for next year. Obviously it starts at the quarterback position and while Michael Penix Jr. played one of his worst games of the year, he still had a phenomenal season and will be the anchor for next year’s team again. The running game is the one place where the most attrition will happen as Wayne Taulapapa completed his one and done season at Washington with one of his best games piling up 125 total yards and a TD on 17 touches.

There’s still a question about whether Rome Odunze decides to return or head to the NFL but if he does come back then everyone who caught a pass except Taulapapa will be on the roster next season. On defense the Huskies got 3 sacks from Bralen Trice and Voi Tunuufi who will be back. Officially there were 61 total tackles. Over 2/3rds are currently slotted to return next year with the only exceptions as Perryman (5), Moll (5), Cook (5), Martin (2), and Bright (2). Of that group only Moll had a PFF grade that was in the top-9 for UW on defense during the game (Martin had one of his worst games but was very good the rest of the year).

I’m going to assume that Rome is coming back until he says otherwise given the way those announcements have gone so far. There are also going to have to be between 7-10 more entrants to the transfer portal but it would be a surprise if many of them were at or near the top of the depth chart at this point. That means essentially just 4 rotation players on offense and 5 on defense are leaving. It’s easy to argue that from the transfer portal/injury return that 4 of those 9 spots have at least an experienced player ready to step in who could exceed or equal their performance. The rest except maybe at right guard have an existing player on the roster who has gotten a good amount of past playing time.

It’s going to be a very competitive Pac-12 next season with a host of returning high level quarterbacks. There’s absolutely no guarantee that Washington is going to make the Pac-12 title game let alone win it and go to the College Football Playoff. But it’s hard to argue that isn’t the ceiling for next year’s team especially after watching fellow purple team TCU make it to the title game next week.