Illinois Game - Position Grades

In their third game, Washington finally seems to be settling in and appeared much more comfortable with the play-calling and what was being asked of them. They didn't play a perfect game, but they definitely played their most complete game of the season. Here's a look at how each position group and phase of the football team played as well as some areas to improve upon heading into next week...

Quarterbacks – After watching what was likely a limited playbook during the Eastern Washington game, the Huskies appeared to open things up a bit more and allowed Cyler Miles to throw the ball down the field much more. Miles hit John Ross right in stride for a picture-perfect 75-yard touchdown connection and he made good decisions the rest of the day. Now, that being said, Washington still only threw the ball 22 times on the day for 219 yards, so there is still a lot of growth that can be had in that phase of the game. Miles also showed his mobility with nine scrambles for 55 yards, but more importantly he made good decisions on when to take off and when to keep his eyes down field so as to allow his receivers to come open. Grade: A-.

Running Backs - This was definitely the first time we’ve seen the true “running back by committee” that position coach Keith Bhonapha has been referring to. In the two previous games, the Huskies wound up relying on Lavon Coleman for most of their yardage, however, versus Illinois, things changed a bit as three tailbacks got double-digit reps and sophomore Dwayne Washington was the top rusher with just 58 yards and a score. The Dawgs still managed to run for 245 yards -- Dwayne Washington led the way with 58 yards and a score -- and seemed on the cusp of breaking some long gainers, but they just weren’t able to break free and that is something that should happen as the season moves along. Grade: B.

Wide Receivers - As we noted earlier, the Huskies only threw the ball 22 times and two of those throws were made by receivers, so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for the wideouts to make plays. On the first play of Washington’s second possession, Ross broke free against man-to-man coverage and hauled in a 75-yard touchdown which loosened things up underneath and Jaydon Mickens had his best game of the season so far, hauling in five receptions for 75 yards and he also had nine yards on a carry as well. Of the 16 receptions recorded on Saturday, only nine went to receivers – Mickens (5), Ross (2), DiAndre Campbell (1) and Kendyl Taylor (1) – and Kasen Williams was targeted just twice, so there is still a lot of room for growth. Grade: B -.

Tight Ends - Darrell Daniels had the only tight end targets of the day and he finished with three receptions for 39 yards, but the Huskies did use two and three tight end sets throughout the game with Michael Hartvigson and David Ajamu contributing as blockers. Washington hasn’t asked their tight ends to do much so far, but that should increase over the next few weeks as we get closer to the start of league play. Grade: B.

Offensive Line - For the second time in three weeks, the Huskies lost one of their leaders along the offensive line as Ben Riva didn’t even suit up for the game. Chris Petersen intimated that both the team and Riva aren’t sure what is going on with his knee injury, but it was bad enough that he couldn’t go on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Coleman Shelton filled in admirably and held his own, but you can definitely see the difference out there without Riva. The offensive line struggled some with the inside rushes of the Illini and they were flagged for three critical holding penalties that killed two drives. The run blocking was adequate, but they still only managed 4.2 yards per carry and, while Miles was only sacked once, he avoided at least four or five other sack opportunities with his legs, so those are definitely two areas for improvement. Grade: C+.

Defensive Line - Unlike the first two games, Danny Shelton didn’t put up big numbers, but what he did do was draw a lot of attention from the Illinois offensive line and that allowed players like Andrew Hudson and Hauoli Kikaha to run free and make plays. Kikaha finished with three sacks and a fumble recovery while Hudson managed to get a sack and a key forced fumble that resulted in points midway through the second quarter. The Huskies managed to hold Illinois to just 72 yards on the ground and they got pressure on Wes Lunt most of the day. The backups – mainly Will Dissly, Elijah Qualls, Taniela Tupou and Jarett Finau – also had solid days when called upon with Finau getting a sack as well. Grade: B+.

Linebackers - Shaq Thompson played what many might consider to be his best game as a Husky on Saturday. He was all over the place and finished with a rather modest four tackles, but he also hauled in an interception he returned for a score and he “scooped and scored” a fumble forced by Andre Hudson in the second quarter. John Timu saw his time limited as Scott Lawyer got a lot of reps inside while Travis Feeney was used in multiple roles – sometimes at safety, sometimes as the nickel linebacker. Overall, from a performance standpoint, this was probably the best game as a group from the linebackers so far this season as there weren’t very many missed tackles and, at least to the naked eye, no missed assignments. Grade: A -.

Defensive Backs - Unlike the linebackers where there didn’t appear to be any busted assignments, there were two big breakdowns in the secondary, both by CB Travell Dixon, with both resulting in long touchdowns for the Illini. Overall though, the youngsters in the secondary acquitted themselves well. Sidney Jones, who made his first start, looked solid in coverage for the most part and he came up and forced a fumble that was recovered by Kikaha. The safeties, Kevin King and Budda Baker, both were solid in coverage although they were playing much softer coverage than normal so they just kept everything in front of them. Considering how bad this unit looked against Eastern Washington, it’s tempting to give them an A just because they looked much better, but when you look at things without that context, you can see where there still is a ways to go. They are improving as a group and the youngsters are gaining valuable experience, but they definitely still have a ways to go. Grade: C+.

Punting/Kicking - Korey Durkee’s average wasn’t eye-popping, managing a meager 32.3 per attempt, however, he dropped two of hit three punts inside the 20, giving Illinois a long field on offense. His biggest error came early in the second quarter when he was backed up against the end line and he dropped a snap giving Illinois two points on a safety. Cameron Van Winkle had three field goals, two from practically extra point distance (20, 25 yards) but one came from 51 yards out and showed everyone that his back is fine and he’s got things dialed in as far as the place kicking duties are concerned. Grade: A-.

Coverage/Return Teams - This was a big game for Dante Pettis and John Ross. The return teams were outstanding and, if they were being judged on their own, they would get an “A” grade. However, the coverage units still continue to struggle on kickoffs and that will bring the overall grade down. The Huskies have plenty of speed and talent, but they just can’t seem to stay in their lanes and that allowed Illinois to start with good field position four times after Husky kickoffs. Grade: B-.

Offensive Coaching - Offensively, the Huskies decided to grind things out on the ground, running the ball 58 times (if you include the nine scrambles by Miles). Illinois couldn’t handle the speed of the Huskies and they used that to their advantage. The two biggest complaints would be the lack of touches by Ross who is clearly Washington’s most explosive player as well as the lack of targets for Williams. For the most part, the game plan was well thought out and executed and will likely wind up being something we see a lot as the season goes along. The holding penalties definitely need to be addressed as they killed a couple of drives. Grade: B+.

Defensive Coaching - The complaint last week was how little the Washington defensive staff used Kikaha as a pass-rusher. That definitely won’t be a focus this week as they sent the talented pass-rusher on the rush quite a bit. They also did a pretty good job of protecting their young secondary with the pass rush as well as playing a lot of quarters coverage over the top. They were still burned over the top a couple of times, but maybe that gets fixed when/if Marcus Peters returns from his suspension. Grade: B.

Overall Grade - For the first time this season, Washington seemed to show confidence. Confidence not only in themselves, but also in their game plan and their ability to handle an opponent. From the opening kickoff things went well for the Dawgs and they never seemed flustered or like they didn’t know what to do. They forced a trio of turnovers and they got two touchdowns on defense and that ultimately allowed them to play must looser than they might have considering the concerns from last week. The Huskies were faster and more physical than Illinois and it showed almost from the opening kickoff and it appears that the coaches are starting to get through to the players more consistently. Grade: B+.


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