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Film Study: It’s time to build a dome in Pullman

Sometimes, home field advantage and crazy weather can be the deciding factor when two evenly matched teams meet for a division title.

Other times, the visiting team plays (and is) just better, and they win regardless.

Let’s see what happened in the 2018 Apple Cup…

2nd and 10:

Jake Browning’s first career interception in the red zone. Immortalized in the UW film study.

First thing here is the formation. The Huskies are in 11 personal (1 tight end, 1 running back), but Aaron Fuller has come in motion and lined up as an H-back on the offense’s right, sort of hidden behind the line.

At the snap, the slot receiver #5 Andre Baccellia and tight end #1 Hunter Bryant cross on a mesh concept. Fuller runs a quick out. Myles Gaskin stays in to block, but since WSU only rushes four, he leaks out to his left. The outside receiver Ty Jones #20 is running a slant.

As mentioned, WSU is playing safe coverage here, dropping seven. Browning should see the Cuogs are in a two high safety look. We’re left to guess a little, but it’s entirely possible that Browning lost track of the safety on his left, as he disappears behind the umpire. More importantly, Jones runs a poor route. He needs to read the safeties, and be cutting his route flat in front of them; instead he lets himself continue to drift back into their coverage. Browning throws the ball a little short, at the depth Jones should be, but it’s not really possible to tell if the pass would’ve been broken up or intercepted anyway. Browning probably should’ve known the safety was there even if he was hidden, but the route here is at least as big an issue.

1st and 10:

This is the first snap from scrimmage of the 2018 Apple Cup. While there are certain people that might try to convince you that the snow was the biggest reason the Air Raid was grounded, this play gives a much more accurate picture of the “conditions” that actually prevented the Cuogs from getting untracked.

WSU comes out in a 3 x 1 set, with trips right. Washington is in a dime defense (six defensive backs), which was the most common personnel package on the night. WSU runs “mesh” in the middle (note the two crossing receivers), with a quick out and a dig on the right. The defense drops back into a Cover 3, but since they’re in a dime, they still have five men across the field taking away the underneath routes. As the gif shifts to the reverse angle behind the offense, it looks like there are at least 13 Huskies in coverage….

It looks like Gardner Minshew just waits too long to make this throw, but if it’s any earlier, it’s intercepted (or at least knocked down) by Myles Bryant, who’s in the flat coverage furthest to the outside. As Minshew waits for the receiver to clear, his throw brings the ball right into Taylor Rapp’s zone. Rapp had two options here: deliver a tone-setting shot to the receiver’s rib cage as he attempted to make a catch, or deliver a tone-setting interception. He chose neither. Probably cuz ‘a the snow and all.

2nd and 4:

A play like this shows how much pressure the Air Raid can actually put on a defense each play, and hopefully gives earns some appreciation for how incredibly consistent the UW defense had been the last few years in making tackles.

Just like the play above, the Huskies are in a dime, and the Cuogs are 3 x 1 with trips right. This time, Minshew decides early in the play to dump it off to his running back James Williams on a swing route. This is a common route in the Air Raid, as WSU’s running backs have caught more than 25% of Minshew’s completions in 2018 (and had more than half in the game on Friday).

The Huskies diagnose the play right away, and Myles Bryant (DB #5) is up in a flash to make the tackle. But he comes up a bit out of control even in perfect conditions, and can’t break down to make the tackle. Taylor Rapp is next, but doesn’t exactly seem like he’s completely ready for Williams’s speed. JoJo McIntosh and Byron Murphy then combine to push Williams out of bounds, but not until he’s picked up 18 yards.

Bryant has played a lot of really good football for Washington, and he was justthisclose to turning this in to a tackle-for-loss, or holding on until teammates could come and keep this to a short gain. That’s what happened time and again on Friday. Williams had seven catches for 30 yards, meaning his other six averaged two yards apiece. His counterpart Max Borghi also had seven catches, but for 49 yards and a long of 22. The rest of the time, the defense simply dominated the fundamental stuff like making sound tackles.

4th and 1:

This play ends up being a soap-dish fumble, but it’s worth looking at anyway simply for the dominance of the UW defensive line here. After the snap on this 4th and 1 play, they end up penetrating and resetting the line of scrimmage about two yards behind the original one. And you can make a very strong case that the fumble merely prevented the Cuogs from getting stuffed (and turning the ball over regardless) on this zone read that’s coming to the defense’s left. Jaylen Johnson, Benning Potoa’e, Joe Tryon, and Greg Gaines…just awesome stuff. Sure looks to us like that one wasn’t going to make it. Ben Burr-Kirven had a good chance to make a tackle two yards behind the LOS with help from Gaines and possibly Tryon as well.

3rd and 2:

So, here’s a new twist…Jimmy Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski throw a nice little bit of bait out there to see if they can get the Cuogs to bite.

The Huskies don’t have much size on the field with Greg Gaines out and Levi Onwuzurike and Jaylen Johnson manning the tackle spots, but they have a deceptive amount of speed. If they make it look like they’re giving up the middle of the field, can they trick the Cuogs into trying to run the ball?

Turns out, yes, they can. Look at this alignment. Johnson and Onwuzurike are lined up as 5-tech ends, outside of the offensive tackles. Johnson is even in a two-point stance. OLB #17 Tevis Bartlett and OLB #8 Benning Potoa’e are even wider, as 7-tech ends. Minshew sees this formation and all of the space it gives, and audibles.

At the snap, one of the first things to note is the incredible quickness WSU’s right tackle displays in getting out of Johnson’s way and giving him a free path to the ball carrier. The other three defenders have to fight off a block or run a little further, but not Johnson.

This play also shows the limitations of the run game out of the shotgun; with this long snap, the back can’t start moving to the hole until the QB catches the ball, which makes this a slow-developing play. From under center, this play looks a lot different (and probably isn’t called in the first place).

3rd and 1:

The WSU defense has turned a 2nd and 1 into a 3rd and slightly less than 1, with the Huskies deep in their own end. The score is closer than it should be, thanks to a short-field TD the Cuogs managed after a Jake Browning fumble.

On 3rd and 1 from their own 20, Washington telegraphs the run with 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends, none of which is Hunter Bryant). This isn’t going to be a throw.

Drew Sample (#88) is in line on the left side, and Cade Otton (#87) is the H-back behind him. Jacob Kizer (#86) is playing fullback in the I formation. Jake Browning brings Kizer in motion to the right, suggesting a lead play that direction. At the snap, Myles Gaskin takes two steps in that direction before he and Kizer head back to the left—this is a counter play.

WSU’s defensive line is strong to their left; they’re selling out hard on the run in the middle. There are 10 Cuogs in the box. Kizer’s foot-chopping motion does the job, as every Cuog attacks to his left or straight up the field. Sample and Otton bury the right side of the Cougar line, and once Gaskin gets the ball moving left without falling, the first down is a given, and it’s only a matter of how much more he’s going to get. Turns out, he gets 79 yards, then coasts the last one on top of a Cuog defender that hustled down to make sure Gaskin has someplace to land if he falls.

3rd and 4:

By the start of the fourth quarter, Gardner Minshew was a broken quarterback. While no Husky would argue that the weather “helped” him, this play shows that he just didn’t have any idea what he wanted to do with the ball against Washington’s coverage.

WSU starts out 2 x 2 and motions to trips right. Washington is in a 3-man front, but also brings linebacker #15 D.J. Beavers for a (relatively) rare four-man rush. Minshew has small gains to take in the mesh in the middle of the field, but he completely lacks the confidence to try to fit the ball in against Washington’s coverage. He goes as far as the all-out pump fake, but feels the rush coming and tries to move. He has time to reset his feet, but ends up trying to throw off his back foot while falling away from the receiver. It’s a pass that has zero chance, even in perfect conditions, and it was very nearly his third interception of the day. And should’ve been his fourth or fifth.

3rd and 7:

Not all game-winning drives end in touchdowns. Some of the best of them take 8 minutes and 47 seconds off the clock and end with your quarterback in victory formation, taking a knee at your opponent’s five as the clock hits triple 0. And one can make a strong case there’s no better way to rub it into little brother than to take a knee on his five-yard line after covering 76 yards in 14 plays over 8 minutes and 47 seconds, all on the ground, when he knows he needs a stop, and that all you’re going to do is run the ball right at him.

Good game. Pat, pat.

One of those 14 plays covering those 76 yards was this one, where Salvon Ahmed shows off the magic cleats that the he and the rest of the Huskies used to avoid slipping and falling in the snow on Friday.

This play is actually an inside zone, but at this point in the game, both Ahmed and Gaskin pretty much had the freedom to go find open holes. And the offensive line, well, they just let the Cuogs stem and slant and pick the direction they wanted to be moved out of the way.

Ahmed hits the line hard with his eyes up, which brings every WSU defender to him. The only one left was the safety missed by Andre Baccellia, who secretly traded in his magic cleats for a pair of ice skates on this play. But in case anyone didn’t know, Ahmed is really fast, and he simply runs around the defender and turns 3rd and 7 into 1st down. He goes out of bounds, but that’s okay because the clock restarts right away once the ball is set when there are over four minutes remaining. We’re impressed if Ahmed was that aware.

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There’s no way to know how the 2018 Apple Cup would’ve played out without the snow falling on the Palouse. Unless you’re a Husky fan. Then, it’s pretty clear that the final score was heading to be forty-something to something-teen. Until 2019, just remember that you can’t spell “Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies absolutely own this rivalry right now, and until proven otherwise, might possibly win every single matchup between now and the end of time” without the letters W-S-U.

Go Dawgs.

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