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Mailbag: “This is Sparta?” Edition

Answering your questions after a dominant showing over Michigan State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Washington at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the starting offense is no doubt elite, why did our second unit struggle so much in the second half? Or rather, WHERE did they struggle? What does that mean when Penix and our elite receivers head to the NFL? -2016Husky

Where did they struggle? Here’s the run/pass sequence starting with the drive that Penix exited the game.

Run, run, run, pass, run, run, run, run, pass. Run, pass, pass. Run, run, run, run, penalty, run, run, run, run, run, kneeldown.

Notice anything in that pattern? Washington ran the ball 17 times versus 4 passes. One of those passes went for 57 yards on what looked like a clear RPO where Morris pulled it. Another of those passes a true freshman on his first career target dropped a clear touchdown that hit him in the hands and it deflected to a defender for a pick.

Despite the fact that the Huskies were so clearly in run out the clock mode they still picked up at least 38 yards on each of their drives and were a drop away from one touchdown and kneeled while in the red zone rather than try to score again. It’s extremely un-generous to say that they struggled given all of that context.

It’s a legitimate question to be concerned what this offense will look like next year. It’s not out of the question that they lose the OC, starting QB, top-3 WR, top-2 TE, and both OT. But it seems hard to imagine that Washington will struggle in the portal after players see what this offense can do when run correctly as long as DeBoer is still the head coach.

I did not subscribe to Peacock but some of my friends said the broadcast was so amateurish that it made them cringe- was it that poor? -GU1966

I don’t know if I’d quite say that. The broadcasters themselves definitely didn’t heap themselves in glory. There were numerous mispronunciations or just plain getting names wrong (Phillip Morris?!). When it came to the cameras and replays and the more technical aspects of the broadcast I didn’t find it that much worse than any other channel. I also muted it every time they went to commercial so didn’t experience the jingle they played every time before they came back with a “here’s what to stream when the game is done” message. If they get better announcers then I can live with a Peacock broadcast just based on the quality.

Who on the defense has impressed you the most? -Hazel

I’ll go with Jabbar Muhammad here. He played well for Oklahoma State last year so there was clear evidence he should be able to step in as a major performer right away. He has met and surpassed those expectations so far.

Pro Football Focus’ charting says that Muhammad has been targeted 15 times this season but only allowed 4 completions for a total of 30 yards. That completion percentage is 2nd among Pac-12 cornerbacks with at least 50 coverage snaps (behind only UW’s Thad Dixon). Elijah Jackson has had issues on the other side but the upgrade from an injured Jordan Perryman to Muhammad has been one of the big reasons for the defensive turnaround so far.

Should I buy tickets to the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl? -If A Rhaego falls in the woods...


Is it time to start asking if Ja’Lynn Polk the most underrated WR in the country? -Asking For a Friend

You can start asking but almost by definition as soon as you start asking whether someone is underrated it probably sparks enough discussion that they quickly become properly rated. I made my quarter-season all-conference picks this week and put Polk on my 2nd team over McMillan in what became close to a coin flip. He’s 6th in the Pac-12 in receiving yards, 5th in yards per reception, and 5th in yards per route run. Despite being viewed as the 3rd best receiver on his own team.

I’m sure that Ohio State will ultimately have a receiver on their roster other than Harrison Jr/Egbuka that gets drafted higher than Polk because everyone in their WR room is a former 5-star. But when you talk about right this second, there’s no way that any other program has a receiver troika like Washington which makes the 3rd guy extremely underrated. This isn’t quite 2020 Alabama with Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle but it’s as close as you’ll see outside of Bama/Georgia.

Why didn’t running backs Adams and Ngata see more playing time versus MSU? -SuperFinn

I understand that it was arguably garbage time; however, Tybo Rogers looked really good. Do you see a chance that he starts playing early in games and ultimately burns his red shirt? -Otis

The running back snap count breakdown ended up looking like this from Saturday: Dillon Johnson- 21, Tybo Rogers- 20, Will Nixon- 12, Sam Adams- 11, Richard Newton- 5.

I was a little surprised we didn’t see any of Daniyel Ngata after he seemed to clearly have the 4th RB role last week ahead of both Rogers and Newton. If you want to look at the playing time split though when the coaching staff still had Penix in the game then you can take out the 25 snaps from Rogers and Newton. That means Johnson got 47% of the snaps, Nixon 27%, and Adams 25%.

It felt though like Nixon/Adams hardly played because Washington just never needed to run the ball by the time that they felt the need to sub Johnson out. Nixon should’ve had a receiving touchdown but it got called back on that very dubious flag against Jalen McMillan.

The coaching staff has said that they would ideally like to have 2 backs when the game is on the line by the end of the season. That probably means we’ll end up seeing the breakdown be closer to 23 Johnson and 13 Nixon until the score gets out of hand as long as both are healthy. Hopefully though, UW continues to play in a lot of games where the score is not in doubt in the 4th quarter which gives opportunities for the other backs on the roster.

Now, let’s get to Rogers. I agree that he looked good to my eye. He had a burst that we haven’t really seen from the other backs on the roster. Reports were that he had a serious chance to push for playing time after the spring but then was suspended for most of the fall due to a team rules violation which obviously set him back.

That Rogers and Newton only got in the game when the Huskies were trying to run out the clock and there was no pass blocking required is fairly telling. For this particular offense that is almost as important as actual running ability given the run/pas splits and that will continue to be the separator for whether someone sees the field.

Ultimately, I don’t think we see Rogers take on a major role by season’s end but there’s reason for optimism moving forward.

Injuries seem to be piling up again. Am I seeing a concern (panic from last years DB room) or is this just modern football? Should we as fans begin to question the strength and conditioning program? -Rejected

Injuries pile up for every team every year. There was another question asking for a comparison to other teams in the top-10 but I don’t have the time this week to deep dive and figure out exactly how Washington’s injury situation compares. But here’s an article where Kirby Smart says the number of injuries that 2-time defending champ Georgia has sustained so far this year has been unprecedented. Utah’s offense has been decimated by injuries so far as their starting QB and star TE have yet to play plus have had multiple starting receivers miss a game and their starting RB go out partway through the last game.

As far as should we question the strength and conditioning program. Does it look to you like any of the players on the team have lost athleticism or are out of shape? Every indication is that the conditioning has drastically improved from the 2021 era before McKeefery took over and that UW’s players continue to get faster. Football is a violent sport and the best your training staff can do is get the players in the best shape possible and hope for the best. If the coach’s reports on injury from Monday are true then UW will have had 5 major contributors get hurt, miss only one game, then come back. That seems like a win even if a few have been season-ending.

Did the screwy 3 way tiebreaker logic that the P12 used last year for the championship ever come up at media day or anywhere else? Is it identical this year? -2003HuskyGrad

I didn’t copy down the entire tiebreaker from last season but did look at it quite a bit and at first glance it appears to be the same. The big problem with the tiebreaker last year was that so many of the teams at the top didn’t actually play each other which made the head-to-head results worthless. USC didn’t play UW or Oregon, UW didn’t play Utah or USC, etc.

Let’s assume that the teams that have a realistic chance worth considering for a chance to end up as part of a 3-way tie for 1st or 2nd place are the current ranked teams minus Colorado (sorry Deion, I don’t believe especially without Travis Hunter for a few weeks). That means the following combos would be an issue like last year if they ended up as part of a 3-way tie:

Washington-UCLA, Oregon-UCLA, Oregon State-USC, Washington State-USC, Washington State-Utah

USC, UCLA, and Washington State all miss multiple of the other teams that seem plausible to wind up in the title game and all of the scenarios involve one of those teams. So any combination of UW/Oregon/OSU/Utah goes to head-to-head first. If the Cougs or an L.A team is involved then there’s the chance we go down the same road as last year.

It’s early and won’t happen but always fun, Florida State, Texas, Georgia, Washington and Michigan finish undefeated, who misses the playoffs? -KPreston

Let’s go ahead and end with a hypothetical. Here are the best potential wins on the schedule for each of those teams with their current AP Poll ranking and home/away:

Texas- #3 Alabama (A), #16 Oklahoma (N) (A)...Kansas (H)...

Florida State- #5 LSU (N), Clemson (A), #18 Duke (H), #20 Miami (H), #25 Florida (A)

Michigan- #7 Penn State (A), #6 Ohio State (H) (A)...Maryland (A)...

Washington- #10 Oregon (H), #5 USC (A), #14 Oregon St (A), #11 Utah (H), #21 Washington St (A)

Georgia- #25 Florida (H), #15 Ole Miss (H), #23 Tennessee (A)

There’s also the fact that each of those teams would presumably have a win over another top opponent in their conference championship game in this scenario. That is good news for Washington and Georgia, and probably bad news for Michigan, Florida State and Texas. Georgia would get to play either Alabama or LSU while UW would play any of those listed teams or maybe UCLA.

The Big Ten still has divisions for this year so Michigan doesn’t get an Ohio State or Penn State rematch and instead gets maybe Iowa or Minnesota. Florida State gets one of probably 4 teams that will be in the 15-25 range in the polls at that point. Texas seems likely to get an Oklahoma rematch would might be good or might not.

The Pac-12 is used to getting screwed in this type of hypothetical but they finally had an awesome non-conference performance in their final season and so an undefeated Pac-12 champ is 100% in no matter what. You could make a good argument for a 1-loss Pac-12 champ in this circumstance as well depending on how the margins of victory look for each team.

I think Georgia gets in based on benefit of the doubt and starting on top. Their opponent in the SEC title game would help. Similarly, the brand of Michigan plus what would likely be the best pair of victories I think will overpower how soft the rest of their schedule is.

That leaves a toss-up between Texas and Florida State. Both teams beat an SEC West challenger by a convincing margin. This one might come down to which of Bama or LSU ends up better. Unless Oklahoma winds up 11-2 with just two losses to Texas, I think Florida State’s schedule is a little harder overall so I’m giving the Seminoles the edge.

1- Georgia, 2- Washington, 3- Michigan, 4- Florida State