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Grading the Game: Washington State

The Huskies capped their perfect season with an imperfect performance.

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Passing Offense - C-

QB Michael Penix Jr’s 6.2 yards per attempt was his second lowest average of the season (5.8 verse Oregon State was his lowest), while completing only 54% of his passes. PFF also gives him two turnover worthy plays, while everyone other game this season he had zero or one. While WSU generated some pass rush, he faced more pressures against Michigan State, Oregon, Arizona State, and Utah. We don’t know if this was part of the game plan, or just what he was seeing out there, but he was clearly avoiding the middle of the field. Max broke it down nicely in his Three Things We Learned article yesterday - of his 16 passes that traveled 10+ yards downfield, only 3 were between the numbers.

He seemed to lock-on to WR Rome Odunze (granted there are not many pass catchers better than him in college football right now) and ignore some wide open receivers. Even his completions seemed off target. TE Jack Westover was productive but had to really stretch out to make one of his catches. Something also seems off with WR Ja’Lynn Polk - he went from one of the most sure handed receivers the Huskies have had in years, routinely making spectacular catches, to not catching any balls thrown his way. His four targets against WSU were his second fewest of the season. Not hitting the panic button because he’s been so good and consistent for the better part of three seasons, but something was certainly off these past two games.

Perhaps this explains some of the issues the offense was having for this specific game:

Rushing Offense - C

RB Dillon Johnson is clearly hobbled, but churned out 82 yards on 21 carries, a hair under 4 yards per run. His long run was just 9 yards, his second lowest of the season. PFF gives him 6 forced missed tackles, his second highest total of the season, but he just wasn’t able to break off any big runs like had been doing the second half of the season. RB Tybo Rodgers got loose for an 11 yard run, but no other running backs had much success.

While it didn’t come from a running back, the play of the game was technically a rush, when on 4th and 1 with the game on the line, Penix pulled the ball from Johnson and tossed it to Rome Odunze who turned the corner for a 23 yard carry. But, since running all over USC and Utah, the run game has taken a step back.

Passing Defense - B-

WSU QB Cam Ward finished the game 32/48 passing for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 6.6 yards per attempt was a full yard less than his season average, as the Huskies didn’t do a great job of jamming receivers and preventing the quick pass. He obviously had the two interceptions which were huge, and his receivers dropped at least four catchable passes. While the secondary didn’t have the best day, they were helped immensely by the pass rush which registered five sacks and forced five additional holding calls. Without the pass rush, the Cougars probably score a lot more than 21 points.

But, WSU had some success going deep when the pass rush wasn’t there. In particular on WR Kyle Williams’ 37 yard touchdown, where there wasn’t a safety in sight, though both the pass and catch were pretty spectacular. That it came on a 3rd-and-19 with 8 seconds left in the half was even more frustrating.

Rushing Defense - B-

WSU running backs totaled 14 carries for 78 yards, which amounts to over 5.5 yards per carry. They didn’t stick to it much, but it worked relatively well for them. PFF gives DT Ulumoo Ale 3 “stops”, which accounted for all three of his tackles. He only had 6 run defense snaps and he made the most of them. LB Carson Bruener was seemingly everywhere again, with 14 total tackles, including 6 stops, matching his season high.

Special Teams - B-

K Grady Gross gets a personal “A+” for a game winning 42 yard kick and earning a scholarship. But, the leaping penalty on a WSU field goal kept a Cougar drive alive where they ended up tying the game at 21, after a 13 play march down the field. KR Daniyel Ngata continues to be solid in his returns and had a 34 yarder. P Jack McCallister saw more of the field than usual and was okay - he doesn’t get a ton of hang time on his punts but the coverage has been solid.

Coaching - B-

Undefeated is undefeated - you can’t argue that. On the one hand, this team just can’t put anyone away once they have a lead. On the other, the defense continues to play better in second halves (particularly 4th quarters) at least in terms of points scored, holding WSU to just 7. But, coaching could have lost this game with the play calls on the final drive (the end around to Odunze not withstanding). There were some risky passes that nearly were intercepted, not to mention the sack which cost 9 yards. Those are the types of plays and play calls that can put a team out of position for the game winning field goal, and they nearly did.

But, it’s a testament to the culture and players Kalen DeBoer has brought in that this team doesn’t flinch when faced with tough situations. They could have easily gotten down on themselves and gotten frustrated not being able to put WSU away, which may have led to a worse outcome.

Now Washington faces Oregon in quite possibly the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Will they do it again?