1. The Coaching Staff Has Figured Out Who They Trust on Defense
The Huskies have rotated a fair amount throughout their first three games. We’ve usually seen at least one if not a couple of drives featuring the twos and threes on the depth chart. That didn’t really happen against Arizona State. Most noticeable was the change at ILB. Both Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett played every defensive snap against the Sun Devils. BBK had a good week, but playing every snap against an offense that ran more than half the time is a recipe for tackles. There was talk pre-game that Brandon Wellington might play but he didn’t come in even to give one of them a brief respite. We’ll see what happens when D.J. Beavers comes back but the coaching staff didn’t feel the need to play Kyler Manu and Jake Wambaugh, who both saw decent action in every game before this.
The rotational patterns in the secondary might have been altered once Austin Joyner left early in the game after appearing to sustain a concussion on special teams. He has generally played at least one drive on each side to give Miller and Murphy a breather as well as come in for dime packages. With him out we saw Molden get a few snaps in dime looks but otherwise the core of Miller, Murphy, Bryant, Rapp, and McIntosh all played at least 68 of the 70 snaps.
The most rotating happened along the D-line and with the OLBs but it was still less than in past weeks. The core four linemen of Gaines, Johnson, S. Bowman, and Onwuzurike were the only ones to see any play. We at least saw John Clark for a few snaps at Utah but he didn’t get in the game against ASU. Instead, Greg Gaines played 96% of the snaps against an ASU team that ran the ball over and over while Jaylen Johnson played 80% of the snaps. You have to think the coaching staff would prefer those numbers to go down if they felt confident in the rest of the rotation.
At the OLB position Potoa’e played 70% of the snaps, Ngata 37%, R. Bowman 24%, Williams 19%, and Tryon 9%. Molden, Williams, and Tryon were the only defensive players who played less than 20% of the defensive snaps but still got in the game. Given Pete’s confidence in the rest of the regulars it was a little surprising to see both Williams and Tryon in there almost the whole drive on ASU’s last touchdown. But that was the only drive where UW was up by two touchdowns.
2. Jimmy Lake Doesn’t Negotiate with Terrorists
Herm Edwards and Jimmy Lake had a battle of wills on Saturday. The Husky defense with its base nickel package and two high safeties gives its opponent a bigger advantage in the box running it than they do on the outside passing it. They believe that an opponent isn’t going to be disciplined enough to grind things out five yards at a time like Joey Knish without getting greedy and eventually throwing into the teeth of the UW secondary like Mike McD. Herm Edwards took that bet and was content to run it time after time in an attempt to wear down the defense and shorten the game.
But did Jimmy Lake change the approach and bring a safety or two into the box? No. No, he did not. The Huskies decided N’Keal Harry going off was the only way that ASU was going to win this game and so simply said “do what you gotta do” when the Sun Devils demanded their ransom money.
The average running play is worse for the offense than the average passing play. Running the ball for 5.0 yards per carry is good while passing for 5.0 yards per attempt is terrible. The Huskies know this and so they essentially jedi mind trick coaches like Herm Edwards into thinking he’s doing well by getting 4.2 yards per carry and 3.9 yards per pass attempt. That 4.1 defensive yards per play would be 6th in the country right now if extrapolated over the whole season (UW is 11th overall at 4.3 yards per play).
3. Jake Browning is Still Good When Given a Clean Pocket (and he can get one at home)
Browning had 23 dropbacks in which I determined that he wasn’t under pressure. (That includes at least a few in which he would’ve been pressured had he not stepped up in the pocket, which he wasn’t doing in past weeks.) He finished those plays 15/21 plus 2 rushes for 216 total yards with 11 first downs and 3 TDs. That includes a drop by Quentin Pounds on what should’ve been a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Obviously a big part of the success that Browning had was that there were only two dropbacks under pressure; he threw one away and took a sack for just a 2-yard loss on the other. Those are negative plays this offense can live with, unlike the 15-yard intentional grounding penalties or the perplexing interceptions. The offensive line did an infinitely better job at picking up blitzes. ASU rushed 5 or more on 9 plays and Browning was 6/9 for 110 yards and a TD plus a drop by Chico McClatcher on what might’ve been a 15-yard bubble screen TD (he had blockers in front if he could turn upfield fast enough).
If the offensive line is able to give him that amount of time this upcoming Saturday against a so-so BYU defense then you can expect another sterling stat line from Mr. Browning.