Monday Night Musings

Saturday evening’s game at Autzen Stadium was a good measuring stick of where Washington's football program is currently. It gave Chris Petersen a very honest shot at assessing how much work is left to do in order to match the top program in the Pac-12.

The offense looked good on their first two drives, in all honesty. Both resulted in field goals, which isn’t bad on the road. Getting the first points of the football game set a good tone for the road Dawgs, and it let Oregon know that the Huskies were there for a fight.

Oregon answered quickly, going 81 yards in seven plays. That is textbook Oregon, though.

Washington didn’t blink, however. On their second drive, the Huskies narrowly missed on scoring a touchdown. Cyler Miles launched the ball toward Jaydon Mickens, who was running a crossing route at the goal line. Mickens went airborne to try to snare the Miles areal, but he wasn’t able to secure it. It was inches from being a perfect pass that would’ve made it a 10-7 Husky lead.

Still, getting another three points off of their second drive of the game is not too shabby.

Oregon again answered again, going 81 yards on 17 plays on a drive that extended into the second quarter. The 14-6 game still didn’t feel out of reach, but the talent gap was beginning to show up. In the second quarter the game was decided, as Oregon’s defense began to clamp down on the Husky running game and their superior secondary blanketed the Husky receivers. The Husky offense had four possessions in that fateful second quarter and they managed to punt three times sandwiched around Cyler Miles’ first interception of the year.

On the other side of the field, Oregon’s offense had four possessions as well. The difference was the Ducks found the end zone three times and missed a field goal on their fourth, pretty much cementing the outcome before halftime.

Oregon has incredibly good depth across the board. They have recruited extremely well, and their team speed is simply too much for Washington at this time. The Duck offensive line is deep enough to withstand injuries to starters and not suffer too much drop off. At times Oregon used a true freshman up front with some success.

Washington has a veteran offensive line but it’s not a productive one at all. The Huskies run the ball more than most in the conference, yet their per-yard average languishes in the bottom third. That is partly on the offensive line’s inability to get consistent push, but only part.

Most of the time, the offensive line isn’t going to dominate. They’ll have good spurts and bad ones, and it’s when the holes aren’t obvious is when you need your tailback to pick up yards with his own creativity and skill.

That is the single most thing this Husky team lacks right now. Dwayne Washington has breakaway speed but he doesn’t have that natural instinct to “feel” daylight or sense cracks to cut back through. Lavon Coleman is good to the hole, but lacks explosiveness once he’s to the line. Linebackers don’t have to take great angles to bring him down because he is usually right where you think he’s going to be. Deontae Cooper is a guy that has suffered through ACL tears, so his confidence is about where you’d expect it to be. He is serviceable, but with so little use, he doesn’t have a good feel for the game. That’s understandable.

This team misses Bishop Sankey something awful. He made the offensive line look incredible by finding yards that weren’t obvious. Sankey had the ability to turn a pedestrian looking play into a seven-yard gain, and the wherewithal to turn a good hole into a 35-yard rumble. He took advantage of the good times but also made the plays that should’ve been blown up into positive yardage. Those are the kind of plays that not only keep drives alive, but break the will of a defense.

Washington doesn’t have that this year. Perhaps either Coleman or Washington will blossom into that type of back, or maybe Jomon Dotson will be the guy, but it’s clear this year that no one in the current stable of backs can do anything close to what Sankey could.

That is an area Oregon has excelled. Their stable of backs includes Royce Freeman, a tank with speed, Byron Marshall, a tailback with receiver hands, and Thomas Tyner, a former sprint champion who is lethal in the open field. That is serious depth and the Ducks use them all to pound defenses behind a deep offensive line. They do it at breakneck speed so it looks flashy, but it actually isn’t flashy at all. Its in-your-face pound it down your throat football. They just do it faster than anyone else.

And they have a quarterback that is the fastest guy on the field, and a lot more accurate throwing the ball than anyone on Washington’s roster.

Getting back to Washington, they trail behind Oregon in virtually every offensive category in terms of skill. The Duck offensive line is impressive and goes eight players deep. Washington’s line has experience but it lacks consistency. After this year it will be suddenly quite young with a lot of unknown commodities. Expect Petersen to mitigate that through recruiting, but it won’t be solved in a year. The tailback situation has been covered, but the receiving corps is an enigma to me.

Washington receivers have trouble getting open. Kasen Williams has been a non factor. Someone with as much athleticism as number 2 needs to be present and impact the game. Kasen is certainly not. Jaydon Mickens shows flashes but hasn’t been a game breaker. He averages under 50 yards per game in receiving yards, and he only averages nine yards per catch, so he is not explosive to this point. John Ross is the one guy that looks like a difference maker, but he has only 16 catches thus far. He needs to be involved a lot more. The guys behind those three have yet to produce much. Clearly Petersen needs to bring in more production here. Is that on the quarterback or the receivers? Or the fact that the quarterback has to run for his life?

You decide. I kind of think it’s all three.

Washington’s quarterbacks would struggle starting at any other Pac-12 school. All three came with high recruiting fanfare and their share of offers, but the drop from Keith Price to Cyler Miles is glaring. Miles is getting better but he needs help. Jeff Lindquist has arm strength but lacks the ability to command the offense. Troy Williams may be intriguing, I need to see more of him.

The Husky defense has four future NFL players on it. They have had definite moments where they’ve excelled, but Oregon pounded them down pretty well. The Ducks rang up 554 yards against a good defense, and you have to take your hat off to Oregon’s offense – they’re that good. Washington’s youthful secondary is playing above its years and Hauoli Kikaha and Danny Shelton are playing out of their minds, as is Shaq Thompson. This Husky defense really is good. The offense needs to now catch up with them.

All that said, UW still lost by 25 points for the eleventh straight time to the Ducks. In many ways, the loss was completely by the book. The 10 previous losses were by an average of - you guessed it - 25 points. So it at least one way the game was status quo.

But the weekend was also telling in another way; Petersen now knows how far he still has to go to catch up to Oregon.


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