So why Washington has struggled so mightily in the first two weeks of the Coach Pete era is a real head scratcher to me. There is depth on both lines, experience on both lines, talent across the board, and the attitude out of fall camp was all positives.
The offense got untracked this weekend just as I thought it would, with Cyler Miles under center, and more importantly, in the huddle. Miles exudes that thing you have to exude, and that is equal parts field general, bad ass, and confidence. It’s pretty clear that the offense all rallied and responded to #10 taking the snaps and calling the shots. It doesn’t really matter that he’s not that accurate, and it’s not that important that his arm is weaker than either Jeff Lindquist’s or Troy Williams’s. What matters is what the guys in the huddle and on the sidelines think, and it was obvious on Saturday against Eastern Washington that the entire offense was ready for whatever Miles was going to throw at them.
The line was more cohesive, the backs more explosive, and the sideline more engaged and exuberant. The body language difference from last weekend to this one was palpable to be sure.
What is also becoming more and more apparent is that Lavon Coleman is surging to the top of the depth chart at tailback. The stable there is strong and deep, but Coleman looks to be the best north-south runner of the bunch. He is a one-cut and go type of guy, and that is what is serving him well. The line seems to have his timing down a little better, which is why he looks a little smoother than Dwayne Washington, Jesse Callier, or Deontae Cooper so far. Coleman is good at giving a look and then changing it rapidly as he hits the hole. His decision process looks very advanced for a freshman. Washington looks more dangerous but he also doesn’t look as sure when he comes up to get the ball. Coleman is starting to distance himself and his number of carries will soon reflect that.
It was nice to see Ben Riva back out there with the ones. He provides a bit more leadership as well as a good huddle presence. His return helped get the running game going. He looked a bit rusty but having a game like this one to dust off the cobwebs will pay large dividends by the time Stanford comes to town.
So now let’s talk about the defense.
How frustrating was it to see the Huskies sit in a soft pocket while rushing just three people so much? Danny Shelton had another big game and Hauoli Kikaha is proving to be just as difficult to block when he’s one-on-one as everyone says he is. Those two are really generating good numbers, but on Saturday the scheme really hampered the ability to rush the passer.
When the Huskies would bring four or five, Vernon Adams, Jr. looked a bit more human. However it didn’t happen often enough. Nowhere close. This is probably due in large part to the fact that the Huskies’ secondary is young and getting torched for huge gains. Because Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski doesn’t trust his young pups in the back 40, he is reluctant to leave them alone and abandon the zone drops.
So what happens? Adams either buys time with his mobility and lack of defenders near him, or is given all day to throw by his line who only need block three defenders, and the result is disastrous. Adams was more than accurate enough to throttle the Huskies over and over.... a school-record SEVEN times the Eastern receivers scored touchdowns.
Put more simply, the soft defense didn’t work. Not at all. If it weren’t for a special teams play by Sidney Jones on Washington’s first kickoff of the day, this game would likely have gone to the loss column for the Huskies. Nothing they showed on defense worked. The players in that defensive front seven should’ve dominated. Instead, a very conservative scheme shackled them and allowed an FCS opponent to throw all over them and exposed a very young and suspect secondary to a shellacking.
Marcus Peters’ suspension this week for his childish tantrum after being benched last weekend will allow even more secondary education for the Husky backfield. He is the only defensive back so far that has looked anything close to comfortable. Budda Baker is outmatched so far, but that’s to be expected for a first year player learning a new defense. Jermaine Kelly on the opposite corner of Peters has had a brutal first two games. The other safety spot has been manned by Kevin King and while he is a good looking athlete, he’s pretty green and it’s showing up.
How long will it take this crew to learn what Jimmy Lake is teaching? And how long will it take Coach K to get everyone in the same library, let alone on the same page? Saturday was an unmitigated disaster on defense, there’s no other way to really describe it.
But the Huskies won. They got taken to the woodshed and still came out on top. It’s always a good deal when you can learn a lesson and have it come in a win….but only if you learn the lesson.
How much of the defensive breakdowns were scheme related? Every defense has at least one weakness/hole that they cannot cover – it’s almost by design. All defensive coordinators pretty much know this, and it’s how well you disguise or influence the offense to run or throw away from that and into your strength is what dictates your success. You can disguise a lot with your scheme, but the only real way to prevent an offense from shredding your weakness is to take the game to them. Be aggressive and impose your strength on the offense. Then they have to successfully defend your strength in order to exploit your weakness.
Sitting in a three-man soft pocket defense doesn’t take anything to the offense other than an open invite to shred your young secondary. It negates the great athletes the Huskies have at linebacker to have them backpedal or shuffle. Those athletes need to be in motion forcing the action away from them. Danny Shelton gets gaudy stats out of this vanilla look so far, but the results don’t seem worth it.
How much of this is related to Coach K not wanting to reveal too much too early? How much is related to players not sure of how to execute a brand new scheme that is VERY different than what former DC Justin Wilcox installed? It’s hard to say at this point. We may find out more this Saturday, as Illinois QB Wes Lunt just threw for 456 yards and three touchdowns last week. I seriously doubt Kwiatkowski wants to show any more than he has to against Illinois, but he may be forced to. What was supposed to be cupcakes in the first two games wound up being hard-fought wins. Illinois is 2-0 and Lunt has thrown for nearly 800 yards already.
Washington has given up 997 total yards and is currently ranked 114th in the country in defense. They have given up 13 plays of 20 or more yards. All of those numbers should come down as players learn the schemes, but Kwiatkowski may need to turn up the gain. He may need to show a lot more on Saturday.
So to this point, all you can really say is that Washington is 2-0. The offense woke up with the installation of their leader, and the defense took a huge step back while not showing anything scheme-wise.
The big improvement from week one to week two that many hoped for didn’t materialize, but then again that’s more of an overused motto that really isn’t applicable when you compare Hawaii’s offense with Eastern’s. However, you can certainly say that Washington’s defense didn’t make any huge moves in a positive direction.
It isn’t time to panic though. Washington is 2-0 and under the radar because of the quality (or lack thereof) of wins. In retrospect, it’s not glamorous but it’s not a bad place to be. I’d rather have the Huskies peaking in November rather than right out of the gate. If the defense shows the breakdowns in week three that we saw last week, perhaps then a warning flag will run up the flagpole. But I have confidence that Coach Petersen and Coach Kwiatkowski can get it fixed.
Monday Night Musings
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