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Three Things We Learned: Oregon

Giles Jackson’s incredibly timely return, Lanning being Lanning, and a balanced UW offense until it wasn’t

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

1. Action Jackson

It lasted about 4 plays. That's how long UW had a completely healthy receiving corps. Coming off a bye it was expected that Jalen McMillan would come back from injury. There had been some concern about Rome Odunze after he was popped in the ribs at the end of the Arizona game but he looked 100% healthy. The true surprise though was the return of Giles Jackson.

There were reports in the preseason that Jackson was considering a redshirt season after injuring his hand. That suggested he might not be healthy until the last month of the year when he could appear in 4 games and still be eligible next year once UW’s top receivers left for the draft and opened up playing time.

It turned out that Jackson's return was especially fortuitous once McMillan seemingly re-aggravated his injury and only played a few snaps to start the contest. Then to add injury to injury, Germie Bernard appeared to suffer a lower leg issue on a nice kick return late in the game.

Having Jackson available came in handy almost from the jump. On Washington’s second possession Giles got loose behind the defense and scored UW's first points of the game. He also came through with a very tough catch on a late Husky 4th down conversion (that will get lost to time because UW then failed on the goal line). In all, Jackson finished with 6 catches for 58 yards plus the TD.

Washington has two (relatively) easier games up next before their 4-game gauntlet to close the regular season. You can be sure that the coaching staff will play it safe with McMillan/Bernard if either is close to playing against ASU or Stanford. It seems likely that Jackson will be needed as the 3rd receiver in the meantime and UW likely doesn't beat Oregon without Jackson.

2. Danny KGB

One thing is certain about Dan Lanning. He’ll splash the pot whenever he feels like it (if you don’t get these references, stop whatever you’re doing and go watch Rounders).

In the words of our friend Teddy KGB but without the inexplicably bad Russian accent: “very aggressive”.

That describes Dan Lanning’s philosophy on football. I wrote in my preview that I was picking Oregon to narrowly win because it felt like Washington got a little too lucky on 4th downs in last year’s game. The Ducks dominated the Huskies on the ground throughout the contest including in several instances where UW knew it was coming. Picking it up in short yardage was almost automatic until the end of that game. It turned out though that Oregon without Bo Nix in the game couldn’t convert on a game-deciding 4th and 2 last year.

This year, I didn’t have a lot of faith that Washington would be in much better shape to slow down Oregon’s rushing attack and that mostly played out as true. Oregon’s 55% success rate was in the 96th percentile and their EPA per Rushing Play was in the 88th percentile. The Huskies got a few stuffs but for the most part they got bulldozed again by Oregon’s rushing attack. That combined with Lanning’s aggression made it seem nearly impossible for Washington to get stops at times.

We saw Oregon’s aggression really kick into gear starting from their second drive when Lanning went for a surprise two-point conversion and got it. That forced Washington to match them with a two-point try of their own a few scores later and the Huskies appeared very fortunate to get it. Going 2/2 on those tries put Oregon in position to be a field goal away from a tie at the end of the game.

Of course, they ultimately would’ve been a field goal away from the win if they had just kicked one from inside the red zone earlier in the game instead of getting stopped twice. Lanning is very much a process over results coach. Usually that’s a good thing. Especially when you have one of the best running backs and best offensive lines in the country.

But there’s hypothetical percentages and then there’s reality. The reality is that all 3 times they put the ball in Bo Nix’s hands and all 3 times he failed to make a play. Maybe he could’ve been helped out by better play calls. Maybe the receivers failed him. Lanning though pinned the game on the idea that Bo Nix as a supposed Heisman candidate could reliably pick up 3 yards when called upon. That helped the Huskies prevail.

3. Balance Beam

There was talk all week leading up to the game about how the Ducks were the more well-balanced team and that would be why they had the advantage. That was code for having a worse offense and a better defense than Washington but it also spoke to their rushing game. Oregon was much closer to 50/50 in terms of passing/rushing offense than Washington and that balance was supposed to help them in a game like this. It definitely held true as at halftime the Ducks had almost identical passing and rushing yardage.

Washington though showed a surprising propensity for running the ball with Dillon Johnson showing out in the first half. He finished with 20 carries for a career high 100 rushing yards on the day. We saw it from the first play of the game when Johnson got outside for a gain of 13. For much of the day Ryan Grubb showed a remarkable tendency to give Johnson the ball compared to prior contests. Usually we see an early dose of running game and then have it disappear by the 2nd quarter while UW marches up and down the field relying on Penix’s arm.

This game Grubb was incredibly predictable in his commitment to running the ball. Here were UW’s 1st down plays throughout the game with the yardage gained and result of the drive.

1st Drive: Run (13), Pass (2); Punt

2nd Drive: Run (7), Pass (26); Touchdown

3rd Drive: Run (1), Pass (0), Pass (26); Touchdown

4th Drive: Run (2), Run (2), Pass (7), Pass (14), Run (6), Pass (5); Touchdown

5th Drive: Pass (0), Pass (-5); Interception

6th Drive: Run (6), Pass (15), Pass (10), Run (3); Touchdown

7th Drive: Pass (0); Punt

8th Drive: Pass (5); Punt

9th Drive: Run (-2), Run (2), Pass (15), Run (4), Run (7); Turnover on Downs

10th Drive: Pass (35), Pass (18); Touchdown

Through the first 4 drives of the game we saw Washington run the ball on 6 of 13 first down attempts. It felt even more run-heavy in the moment. We then got the drive near the end of the half where the Huskies passed it in more of a 2-minute drill situation before the pick. Coming out of halftime they again had a 50/50 run, pass balance on first down.

Which brings us to the most critical section of the game. Oregon started to get some success going again running the ball and the defense needed a break. Instead Washington had a pair of pass, pass, pass three and outs which took almost no time off the clock before giving it back to Oregon.

This was a criticism late in the Arizona game when the Huskies could’ve taken time off the clock but instead had multiple incompletions in a three and out that let the Wildcats cut the lead down to a single score. I noted that the bigger issue was execution on 2nd and 3rd down more so than just passing the ball.

On both of these drives the issue became that Washington seemed fixated on attacking a suddenly injury-depleted Oregon secondary. On both drives Penix went deep to Odunze and both times the ball was 5+ yards deeper than he could’ve caught. I mentioned Giles Jackson in item #1 and here’s a screenshot of him on the 2nd and 5 during UW’s second 3 and out. Penix threw a contested 1v1 ball to Odunze and never looked off that option when Jackson had an easy first down having made his defender slip with a great cut.

Giles Jackson on 2nd and 5 deep in UW territory

In the moment when Penix turns down a guaranteed first down to go for the contested deep shot it makes you want to pull your hair out. Then of course he throws to Polk in double coverage and puts up a back shoulder toss to Odunze in consecutive throws to win the game. You just have to take the good with the bad with this offense.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not as if the run game was flawless this game. Washington had a chance to take the lead at an earlier point but starting with 2nd and goal from 6 inches out the Dawgs were stopped for a turnover on downs. There are certainly points of criticism for that play calling stretch.

You might wonder why Washington didn’t just go QB Sneak under center but Michael Penix Jr. was at the very least dealing with severe cramps at that point so I get not wanting to risk him getting hit unnecessarily (but given DeBoer’s recent history of talking about injuries it’s also possible Penix had 6 broken ribs and a ruptured spleen on top of the cramps).

I’ll let film study break down the play on 4th and goal from the 1 but giving true freshman Tybo Rogers his first carry of the day in that situation seems bizarre. As many have noted, if you’re going to bring someone off the bench for an emergency carry there, why not Richard Newton who is much more of a power back? The play call itself also seemed bizarre. Rogers didn’t follow his pulling linemen leaving 3 options. 1. Rogers went into the wrong gap. 2. The linemen screwed up. 3. With the season potentially on the line, Grubb ran a play entirely dependent on hoping the defenders watch the blockers and not the ball carrier so that he has no one actually blocking for him along his path.

But a win is a win is a win. We’ve got a very fun 6 weeks ahead of us and hopefully an extra month beyond that if this team does what it’s capable of doing. Go Dawgs!