1. Runnin’ (Over) Utes
For years and years the Utes have been the gold standard in physicality in the run game in the Pac-12 conference. They were coming off a game where they had over 300 yards on the ground against Arizona State. Washington also just had their best rushing effort of the season with Dillon Johnson putting up 256 yards on USC but has not exactly been a powerhouse running the ball. I’m guessing most sportsbooks would’ve offered healthy odds that the Utes would outgain the Huskies on the ground.
It turns out they would have been wrong. The final margin looks pretty close with a 125-115 edge for the Huskies. Those numbers get a lot more slanted towards the Huskies when you just focus on the relative performance of the running backs. Dillon Johnson, Tybo Rogers, and Will Nixon combined for 26 carries and 141 yards (5.4 YPC) plus 2 touchdowns. That’s against a Utah defense that entered the game 15th in the country in opponent EPA on rushes and that led the Pac-12 in rushing yards against per game.
Washington and Dillon Johnson never broke out those 50+ yard runs like they did against USC. But they consistently got positive yardage and only once was Johnson hit in the backfield for a loss.
On the other side, Utah has had problems at the running back position. Starter Ja’Quinden Jackson entered questionable and the Utes have lost multiple backups to the point they moved safety Sione Vaki over to play offense as well. Still, the offensive line for Utah is mostly intact and they’re capable of creating massive holes. That didn’t really happen as Utah’s backs combined to gain 62 yards on 19 carries (3.3 YPC).
Utah did find other ways to be successful on the ground. A reverse to their slot receiver gained 15 yards and quarterback Bryson Barnes scrambled his way to 39 yards on 6 carries. But in the traditional run game the Husky defensive line played one of their best games of the season. It may not be a coincidence that Washington got back Tuli Letuligasenoa back to play close to his normal workload this week. The Huskies absolutely need a healthy Tuli next week when taking on Oregon State’s dominant offensive line and two-headed monster of Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick.
2. Can You Win The Game In The First Quarter?
Last week we saw Washington’s defense do almost nothing to stop Caleb Williams and USC’s offense for the better part of three quarters. Our game thread was almost entirely filled with posters calling for the entire defensive coaching staff to be fired. Then the Huskies stiffened up in the 4th quarter and came away with a 10-0 run to pull away for the 52-42 win.
On Saturday the Huskies played undoubtedly their worst defensive half of the season in giving up 28 points and over 300 yards to Utah’s offense. Our game thread was almost entirely filled with posters calling for the entire defensive coaching staff to be fired. Then the Huskies shut out Utah and gave up fewer than 70 total yards in the 2nd half to win 35-28. The defense should’ve outscored Utah in the 2nd half 7-0 but it ended up 2-0 (more on that in the next item).
Is the lesson that you should wait until the game is over to call for someone to be fired? It wouldn’t hurt if that was the takeaway. It has been pretty clear though that Washington has saved their best defensive efforts for the 4th quarter when the game is still in question. The Huskies have now won 6 consecutive games by 10 or fewer points. They haven’t given up more than 7 points in the 4th quarter in any of them. If Washington has the lead going into the 4th quarter then they’re probably going to pull it out.
It’s totally fair to say that the defense suddenly improving at the end of the game isn’t exactly a sustainable approach. Especially when they allow opponents to put up video game numbers before that point. But it has happened 2 weeks in a row now so it seems reasonable to go ahead and wait until we get to the end of the Oregon State game before judging the defensive performance.
3. Hit The Easy Button
The Washington Huskies are 10-0. That is good. They are 2nd to last in the country in penalty yards per game. That is bad.
The Washington Huskies are 10-0. That is good. They threw away at least 10 points in this game with dumb mistakes. That is bad.
Can’t this team ever just choose to make it easy on themselves?
The stakes and the opponent were clearly different but this game against Utah was way too reminiscent of the Tulsa contest when the Huskies missed a field goal, dropped a touchdown, and fumbled it just before halftime. This time around Washington kind of did both at the same time after Alphonzo Tuputala let go of the ball at the 1-yard line while going into the end zone for what should’ve been a pick-six. They also slipped on what would’ve been an easy 2-point conversion, got called for a penalty on a 4th down before the half that would’ve moved them into FG range (even though the penalty was bogus), and had a FG blocked in the final minutes.
Washington just always finds a way to make up for those mistakes. The defense came up huge after Tuputala’s egregious miscue by penetrating through the line for a safety on the next play. They bailed out the offense/special teams after the blocked field goal by not allowing a first down. (Normally I’d get mad at Dom Hampton for holding onto the interception on 4th down and costing UW 25 yards in field position but since we were just going to kneel down anyways, I’d rather he gets the stats).
Just once though I would love to see he Huskies just play a totally clean game. Obviously it’s impossible to have 0 penalties but a game where we can’t look back and count numerous self-inflicted issues that directly affected the final score would be nice. Washington badly needs that kind of game this weekend when they head to Corvallis to take on a really good Oregon State team.