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The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown: Arizona State Edition

Just a quick note to start this off: our boy Lucas is wicked smart and started his first day of graduate school on Monday. You know what they say about grad students:

So congrats to Lucas! In the meantime, I’ll be stepping in to cover The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown.

Jake Browning had his best game of the season. Browning went 15 for 22, good for a 68% completion rate. He threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Not that there wasn’t a pick thrown by the Huskies in this game (we’ll get to that later), but it is notable that this was his first turnover-free game of the season. Not only did Jake play the clean and efficient game we’ve all been waiting for, but he also took a sack like a 4-year starter should. In the third quarter on second and 10 at Washington’s own 40-yard line, ASU’s Merlin Robertson broke through for ASU’s only sack of the night. This sack is noteworthy because Jake did not try to pull a Russell Wilson, but instead went down quickly for a minor loss. This was the smart thing to do. Hopefully he’s coming around to the idea that he doesn’t need to play the superhero role at QB. Oh, by the way, he also surpassed 10,000 career passing yards in this game. No big deal.

There’s Ahmed! After some early season questions about Ahmed’s playing time, he ended up getting more of the reps we’ve all been expecting to see in this game. He had 10 carries for 71 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry with a long of 14 yards. As always, he looked electric with the ball in his hands. As we saw last season, he’s a great change of pace back when paired with veteran Myles Gaskin. I also don’t think I’m crazy in saying that Ahmed has a brighter NFL future than Gaskin, but that’s getting too far ahead. For now, it’s just great to see an offensive weapon as dynamic as Ahmed get a chance to perform and deliver.

The offensive line played very well. As previously mentioned, ASU only sacked Browning once during the game. That’s great on any night, but even more so when you realize that ASU was leading the Pac-12 in sacks with 12 heading into this game. The one sack came on an assignment lapse when redshirt freshman right guard Jaxson Kirkland failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker. Aside from that one mistake, the O-line collectively had a very clean and dominant performance over the course of the game. Jared Hilbers is not all-American left tackle Trey Adams, but he’s still been playing pretty dang well. I’m impressed so far. Right tackle Kaleb McGary has been doing Kaleb McGary stuff to defensive linemen, and no offensive lineman in college football has more swag than center Nick Harris:

Ben Burr-Kirven played out of his mind. He had twenty tackles during this game. Twenty! That’s insane. It’s the most by any Husky in 22 years. When asked about the feat after the game, Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake said, “Unbelievable…twenty tackles? That is unreal. That’s awesome.” He then speculated that Burr-Kirven must have the most in the country. Well, it turns out not quite, but nearly. Burr-Kirven is tied for fifth nationally with 53 tackles. Pretty legit. So legit in fact, that this week’s performance earned him Pac-12 defensive player of the week honors. For those keeping track, that’s back-to-back weeks of earning that award. BBK is a beast and it’s awesome to watch.

The Husky secondary shut down ASU’s passing attack. Well, kind of. It’s true that they did, but I don’t think anyone outside of the ASU coaches’ room expected them to run the ball as much as they did. That said, keeping future top-10 pick N’Keal Harry to to five catches for 20 yards is one hell of a feat. Tack on the fact that fifth-year senior QB Manny Wilkins threw for only 104 yards (17-27), the fewest passing yards in a complete game in his career. Hell yeah.

Peyton Henry was 2-2 on field goals. Not a ton needs to be said here other than a quick nod and pat on the back to Henry, who was 2 for 2 on the night and is now 6/7 on field goals and 13/13 on extra point kicks. I know a lot of Husky fans were very nervous about our kicking game heading into this season, and I wouldn’t say Henry has completely eased those concerns, but as of now he is doing well. If you’re curious, his longest field goal was 31 yards and his one miss came on a 40-yard attempt during the Auburn game. It’s a small sample size, but he’s made all of the “easy” kicks so far.

Punt/kickoff coverage has been poor. N’Keal Harry’s fourth quarter 42-yard punt return highlights what has been an issue all season long. Against Auburn, Washington gave up returns of 18, 22, and 32 yards. North Dakota had a 36-yard return on the Huskies, and Utah had a 28-yard return. Coach Pete cares a lot about the hidden yards in a game, and the coaching staff knows that they need to clean up this bad trend.

The red zone offense is worrisome. We won the game, sure. But Washington’s offense continues to sputter and get unreliable in the red zone. We’re tied for 92nd in the nation in terms of red zone offensive efficiency. We’ve scored a TD 10/20 on red zone possessions. We’ve also made six field goals and walked away with no points four times. If it’s not clear, that’s not very good.

The failed trick play to start the game. This one is very nitpicky of me, because trick plays are usually high risk/high reward. I’m including it though because they shouldn’t have run the play. More than likely, they planned days in advance to run that trick play at the start of the game. But, either Browning or the coaching staff should have audibled out of it at the line. The Arizona State coverage (cover 2) was such that the play had an even lower chance of success than it already would have. In that coverage, the defense has two safeties deep and drops seven players into coverage, generally forcing short passes to the flat, or check down passes. Double coverage on Sample was almost guaranteed. The play never really had a chance.

Beyond that, it was very poorly executed. At the start of the play Andre Baccellia retreated from the line of scrimmage and dropped too deep, giving away any chance of surprise for the double pass. Arizona State clearly didn’t fall for it. Drew Sample was well covered by the defender downfield and Baccellia should have thrown the ball away. I would imagine that the coaches had told him to do so if Sample wasn’t open, but he didn’t and then we all saw what happened. Arizona State intercepted the pass and scored six plays later, taking a 7-0 lead.

To Baccellia’s credit, he did have his insanely clutch catch that sealed the win late in the 4th.

The running back rotation has been crowded. It’s good to have depth and there’s nothing wrong with a change of pace or giving the opponent a new look. But the North Dakota and Utah games saw five different Huskies run the ball, while four got carries against ASU. Those numbers don’t include Jake Browning. While Gaskin and Ahmed have been getting the vast majority of carries, it’ll be interesting to see if Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew, as well as others like Chico McClatcher, continue to be mixed into the run game at this rate.

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