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Mailbag: Purple Reignstorm Edition

Answering your questions about the Cal game and the dreaded upcoming trip to the desert

NCAA Football: California at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Boy our reserves are not good huh? Cal almost covered. Any way to coach those guys up? -Dawgfan12

I got into this in my Three Things We Learned piece this week as well but it’s not really fair to just say the reserves aren’t any good. However, since this is a day later I’ve gotten the chance to go a little bit more in-depth into the defensive performance in the 4th quarter.

I went through and took note of who was on the field for each of the 25 snaps that Cal was on the field in the last period when they gained a total of 220 yards and scored 14 points (plus could’ve kicked a meaningless field goal as a last play if they’d wanted to make it 17). I put a number to each player based on the following criteria: 1- starter, 2- regular rotation player, 3- scholarship bench player, 4- walk-on. Then I averaged them across each of the snaps. Although the 1 was meaningless because no starters played.

Cal’s first touchdown drive of that quarter to make it 52-25 had an average of 2.28 across the drive. Most of the players in the game were regular rotation players with only a few scholarship bench players sprinkled in. True freshman Leroy Bryant played all the snaps at one corner spot while Lance Holtzclaw was on the edge.

There were two big plays on that drive. On 3rd and 6, the Huskies decided to go with an all-out blitz. They rushed 7 defenders and the two edges came unblocked around each side but Sam Jackson did a great job for Cal taking 2 steps in the pocket to avoid them and dumped it off to his tight end. True freshman Leroy Bryant was responsible but had his eyes sucked in expecting a QB scramble and allowed the tight end to get a few yards past him and open. Vincent Nunley missed a tackle and it allowed for a 26-yard gain.

The second big play had redshirt freshman Tristan Dunn lined up in the slot against Cal receiver Trond Grizzell who is a walk-on but had a heck of a game. Dunn was beat by a step but recovered to get a hand directly in between Grizzell’s arms. The receiver though made a great grab and held onto it on a perfectly thrown ball to the edge of the end zone. It’s hard to think Meesh Powell would’ve played it better.

NCAA Football: California at Washington
I mean, how did he catch that?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The next drive had an average of 2.98. There were a few regular rotation players, mainly on the defensive line, but otherwise it was almost entirely scholarship bench players and walk-ons. Cal only had one play of more than 13 yards on the drive when Washington again blitzed and left single coverage on the outside. Jackson put up a go ball for Grizzell working against true freshman Leroy Bryant and he again came down with it for a gain of 33.

On the final drive of the game we saw even more walk-ons as the average increased to 3.20. Once again, Cal only had a single play that gained more than 13 yards. Walk-on corner Anay Nagarajan missed a tackle on what otherwise would’ve been a short gain and then true freshman edge Jacob Lane came in late with bad form and committed targeting.

I would’ve preferred to not have given up those late yards and touchdowns but I’m not worried about the long-term future of the team based on that quarter after looking at it more closely.

Why not challenge the spot of the ball if it appears to be blatantly wrong? -Gou Wei

I’m sure this question is in regard to Michael Penix Jr. being ruled short on 4th and 2 during his final drive of the game, leading to a turnover on downs. Watching the replay you’ll notice that Penix went into a kind of baby slide as he went for the marker. The rule for quarterbacks is that the split second you begin your slide, that’s where the ball is spotted. My assumption is that the refs ruled that Penix began his slide before he actually touched the ground which is why the spot appeared to be so far off from where the ball was when his knee actually hit.

I would have preferred if Grubb hadn’t called an option run while up 30+ points in the second half. But if Penix had dived forward headfirst then he probably gets it there. But I’m glad he didn’t, it wasn’t worth it.

Is the curse real? Are there logical, more rational reasons for our desert struggles? -Witch

If you’re actually a witch then shouldn’t you be able to tell me if a curse is real?

While the struggles in the desert definitely seem to be legitimate, it’s also true that they’ve mainly been in Tempe rather than in Tucson. Here’s the home/road breakdown since the year 2000 against each of the Arizona schools.


Home: 9-2 Record, average score of 36.6 to 27.7 (+8.9)

Road: 5-5 Record, average score of 25.9 to 29.3 (-3.4)

Arizona State

Home: 2-5 Record, average score of 23.8 to 26.6 (-2.7)

Road: 2-8 Record, average score of 21.3 to 32.3 (-11.0)

Washington has scraped out a .500 record in Tucson over the last several decades compared to .200 in Tempe. The Dawgs though have also struggled mightily against ASU in Seattle but have almost always handled the Wildcats when they travel to the Pacific Northwest. That results in a much larger gap in average scoring margin in the home/road splits versus Arizona rather than ASU. It’s a kind of ridiculous 12.3 point flip against UA and 8.3 points against ASU.

I wanted to look to see how that compares to another team in the conference that hasn’t been a consistent power so I checked Washington’s record against California with those same splits. The Huskies have a winning record at both home and road with a scoring margin of +5.5 in Seattle and -1.3 in Berkeley for a difference of 6.8 points.

The conventional wisdom in Vegas is that playing at home gives a 3 point boost versus a neutral site. You have to give that same 3 point edge going the other direction for a road game which means we’d expect to find roughly a 6 point gap with a large enough sample size.

That’s pretty much what we find for Cal. The difference against Arizona State is bigger but still close enough that we could probably chalk it up to normal variation and a blowout or two in either direction.

The total for Arizona though is more than double what Vegas might expect. I’m choosing not to go through and look at the point spreads for each of those games to find out whether it’s more of a problem for UW when they travel to Arizona or for UA when they travel to Washington. Suffice to say though that there is something real going on between those home/road splits for Arizona.

Remember that the 2016 team that only lost one game in the regular season went to Tucson and required overtime to beat a Wildcat team that finished 1-8 in Pac-12 play. Washington better not look past Arizona to focus on their bye and then the Oregon game in 2 weeks. This is the trap game to end all trap games.

I asked about the status of Buelow last week but didn’t get a response. Any word? Heard he was in a boot Saturday night. That can’t be good -Snohomis1n

I don’t normally address questions about injuries and such in the mailbag because I only have as much information as the coaching staff gives us and so you can usually find that information elsewhere. I did get this question and several others about general status issues so I’ll spend a little time on them.

  • We don’t know how soon Buelow will be back but my guess is that it won’t be until the Oregon game at the soonest since the Huskies have a bye week after this. As noted in the above question, things could go wrong against Arizona but theoretically you would hope that Washington has what it takes to beat the Wildcats without him. The same goes for Asa Turner and Jalen McMillan although it sounds based on coach’s responses like McMillan is the closest to fully healthy of that group.
  • Zach Durfee had his waiver request denied by the NCAA. This isn’t exactly a surprise given how the organization has been dealing with those this year. For those unaware, Durfee originally attended North Dakota State but was not there on an athletic scholarship and was not on the football team. He then transferred to Sioux Falls and joined the football program. The NCAA is saying that that counts as his one free transfer while an undergraduate even though he didn’t transfer while a member of a college football team. It’s extremely dumb and hurts UW’s edge depth this season but I don’t expect Washington to have any chance of winning their appeal since they’ve held strong this fall even in cases of public outrage (which is normally the best chance of winning these).
  • There is a chance that Cam Davis and Matteo Mele are able to get an extra year of eligibility based on their season-ending injuries. The chances are probably better for Davis since he didn’t get to play any snaps whereas Mele got in almost 2 games first. I’m sure they’ll petition the NCAA as well for the additional eligibility but it’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll handle those requests right now.

Which position groups and or players need to rise up if the dawgs are to stay undefeated in second half of the season? -Oregondawg

Technically the game against Oregon is the last in the first half of the season but I’m going to consider your question to refer to the final 7 games. That stretch includes 5 games against currently ranked teams (Oregon, at USC, Utah, at Oregon State, and Washington State).

If there’s one thing those teams all have in common it’s that they have mobile quarterbacks who are also capable passers (assuming Cam Rising does indeed come back for Utah). That means my number one position group that will need to step up are the edge rushers. Bralen Trice is yet to accumulate a sack and the team as a whole has just 5 of them through 4 games.

Against Boise State it seemed like the edge rushers were intentionally backing off a little bit in order to hold contain against the scramble. That’s all well and good but if UW is going to beat all of those elite QBs then Trice and ZTF will have to find a way to both keep contain and put on pressure. That’s a very tough ask but a reasonable one if they want to get drafted where they hope to get drafted after this season.

I think it also comes down to the pass rush on the offense’s side as well but in this case, stopping it. Washington has been superb so far in pass protection but they haven’t played a defense with the talent of Oregon or Utah up front. As long as Michael Penix Jr. has plenty of time to throw then I don’t think anyone has a secondary that can contain the Huskies’ receivers. Keep him clean, boys.