Let’s begin this with something to make you feel better: Bucky Irving makes Utah look stupid, too.
Isn’t that nice?
(Also on a sidenote, while going through some very-much-not-all-22 tape on Utah, I noticed Oregon State is absolutely going to score on Washington using the jet sweep misdirect running back wrinkle they ran against them. But that’s for another week.)
Anyways, we’re not here to talk about that, we’re here for two foundational thoughts on Utah, how they’re gonna annoy the crap out of us, and how Washington can in turn annoy the crap out of them.
Let’s start with the bad news:
The Utes are going to create some mind-numbing running lanes. Ja’Quinden Jackson is going to hit them hard. Accept that now.
Just, for your sanity’s sake. I’m begging you.
Seriously, the Utes’ combo of scheme and execution thereof doesn’t result in running lanes so much as running corridors.
This is exacerbated by the fact that they tend to manifest themselves through the line and into the second level as oddly awkward-to-read angles, particularly with how suddenly these openings develop.
The end result is, naturally, that said difficult angles created by the Utah offensive line and running backs lead to subsequent poor angles by opposing linebackers and even safeties.
So yeah, the eye test backs up why Ja’Quinden Jackson is averaging over five yards per carry.
Even with JJ being a bit hobbled after their 55-3 demolition of Arizona State, I feel comfortable saying that we’ll see some of that Saturday. (This is especially true given that Washington’s interior defensive line has struggled this season, although thank the gods Tuli’s back.) Luckily, if you’re able to emotionally detach yourself from how unfun it is, popping in to the gamethread to read people’s reactions will be hilarious. In a sort of “social experiment, humans in their natural habitat presented by David Attenborough” kind of way.
While the Dawgs got gashed on the ground by Bucky Irving’s ability to be immune to gravity and manpower, they’ll almost certainly get at least a bit gashed by Ja’Quinden Jackson and the Utah O line’s – side note, band name? – ability to clear the Red Sea into the trickiest angles known to man.
Which brings us to the more ideal news:
If Mike Penix and Co can strike fast and keep steady from there, Utah finds themselves in a much trickier situation.
For as annoyingly great as their ground game is, the air is… not so much.
It’s not even like their passing game is bad, it’s just like, the C+ version of Utah’s usual passing game. Here, missing out on Cameron Rising and Brant Kuithe really sucks if you’re a Utah fan. Not because Rising is an elite quarterback, but because both of these two do what Utah philosophically wants prrrrrrrrreeeeeetty much as well as possible.
And that’s pretty much the definition of mediocre – even if it’s the kind of mediocrity that will get down the field in the most frustratingly slogging ways possible if you’re the opposing defense. (In that way, actually, it’s ironically particularly dangerous simply because every time Utah scores it will almost certainly take a fat chunk off the clock with it, save a Ja’Quinden Jackson breakaway.)
Simply put, Bryson Barnes doesn’t have the touch or strength to make precision throws unless his feet are perfectly set – and in those cases his good throws are almost exclusively for go routes or others that give him a forgiving angle to work with. Pretty much, even in perfect circumstances, you’re probably not gonna see him throw many good out routes unless the corner completely blows their leverage.
That being said, the Utes do use him as a runner to some effect, but to be honest he doesn’t really have the vision or patience to run like he and the Utah scheme want him to, at least on designed ones.
In these cases they typically want him to read between the tackles generally just to keep the chains short or convert on third and short-to-medium, but Barnes can get really hasty here, like he’s too antsy to give it that half-second for holes to form. In fairness, I don’t really blame him; quarterbacks don’t train to hold-and-burst like elite running backs can nor would it be good marginal value to do so, given there are limited hours in a practice.
To his credit, Barnes does have pretty good mobility outside of the pocket, but it’s more the classic Utah-y, Cam Rising-style bulldozer mobility than freak coordination like Caleb Williams.
The fine-not-great vision as a runner is reflected in similar fine-not-great vision as a passer, too; I’ll say here given Meesh Powell’s skillset on display during the interceptions he’s snagged this season, Bryson Barnes is his dream quarterback opponent. I’m not a gambler, but if I were and someone told me I had to put money on one thing for this game, it would be a Mishael Powell pick.
What can I say? The man knows how to read quarterbacks on short-mid routes and has the patience and discipline to bait the throw and only jump at just the right moment.
All this to say that if Washington can score on their first couple drives — not a given, given Utah’s defense that could be pretty successful dropping guys to clog passing lanes against UW — it will make things really difficult for the Utes.
On the other hand if the Dawgs don’t do that, we could be in for another Stanford-y game where Utah’s able to play their preferred approach offensively, slowing down the game and marching down the field methodically, and keeping things uncomfortably tight until the end.
*To the tone of Sam Campbell’s “Hope you like anthrax!* Cross your fingers!
So uh, yeah. There’s some wee thoughts on Utah. Do with them what you will.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.