Well, it wasn’t pretty, but the Pac-12 Championship Game was a meaningful football game. At the end of 60 minutes, No. 11 Washington survived, brutally, 10-3 over No. 17 Utah to send the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. It was a game that featured only one touchdown and it was of the defensive variety. Washington had the more “explosive” offense at 4.2 yards per play while Utah needed a final drive against some prevent defense to muster 3.6 yards per play. The two teams combined to go 12-of-30 on third downs, and like their initial meeting in September, there were four combined turnovers.
And, yes, the Pac-12 title even made some history for its offensive woes. And not in a good way.
This was not an aesthetically pleasing game, unless you like defense. In that case, it was a great game with no hint of irony meant. Washington and Utah are two extremely well-coached, fast and physical defenses. There were plenty of great individual efforts on that side of the ball. Here are the other takeaways from Friday night’s defensive struggle.
Utah was behind the 8-ball to start: Coach Kyle Whittingham will be disappointed by the loss (and steaming mad over the final play of the game that he felt should have been a penalty on Washington), but he should feel good about how this team finished the season. Utah won seven of its final eight regular-season games, including its last three without starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.
Freshman Jason Shelley has done a nice job starting in place of Huntley, who is out with a collarbone injury, but this was a tall task. Washington entered Friday with a top-10 scoring and pass defense. The Huskies’ defensive front is a problem. To ask a first-year player to go to a neutral site against that defense and perform favorably is tough. Shelley looked like a frosh, too, going 17-of-27 passing with three picks. He didn’t get much help from the ground game, either (2 yards per carry), so it’s not like he could lean on that to take some pressure off. From the start, Utah was at a severe disadvantage and it showed.
Washington’s defensive backs are ridiculous: Speaking of Shelley’s interceptions, did you see the first one that was run back 66 yards for a score by Byron Murphy? If you haven’t, here it is, again, below:
That’s not a great defensive play, per se, as much as it is a freak moment. In any case, that play doesn’t happen unless Murphy is in the right position, and he was all night long. Murphy had two of the Huskies’ three interceptions with Jordan Miller snagging the other one on a deep route. Washington plays physical at every level of its defense; the back four aren’t afraid to get physical in run support, in the backfield or out on an island in coverage. They’re extremely well-coached and Murphy is a star in the making. Against an offense struggling to throw the ball, this was a mismatch the whole way.
Utah’s defense is lights-out, too: That side of the ball played more than well enough to win. All night, they made terrific open-field tackles and played fast sideline to sideline. Linebacker Chase Hansen is as good as advertised. While Washington was able to march the ball down the field on sustained drives, the Utes did a great job of getting the Huskies off the field when it counted. Granted, Washington quarterback Jake Browning was not at his best, making poor throws all evening. Still, Washington was 8-of-18 on third downs and attempted four fourth-downs to compensate for their poor kicking game. Speaking of which …
The Huskies are brutally bad on special teams: Of course, if you’re a fan of the guys in purple, you know this already. Washington has kicking concerns, which were apparently bad enough that coach Chris Petersen opted to keep his offense out on the field multiple times when it was in no-man’s land. Four drives stalled between the Utah 21-yard line and 36-yard line. On that note, Washington had four drives of at least 12 plays with the results being only three points to show for it. In all, those drives finished with two turnovers on downs, one field goal blocked and one made. That’s a lot of offensive snaps without much to show for it. The efficiency ratings from this game are going to be NSFW.
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