Immediately after Washington’s 52-3 victory over Arkansas State on Sept. 18, inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio tweeted: “Back to work.”
Immediately after Washington’s 31-24 overtime victory over California on Saturday, Ulofoshio tweeted: “Back to work.”
There is work to be done, and it isn’t only obvious to Ulofoshio.
A day later, let’s sort through the wreckage of Washington’s second consecutive win.
(Unsurprising) pass defense problems
Without standout cornerback Trent McDuffie, Kyler Gordon played the game of his life — producing a team-high 10 tackles, the first two interceptions of his college career and a stoning of 220-pound running back Damien Moore for a fourth-down stop.
Even so, a UW defense that entered the game ranked fourth nationally in pass defense (123 yards per game), second in opponent pass efficiency rating (80.45), second in yards per pass attempt (4.2) and third in opponent completion percentage (47.1%) surrendered 319 passing yards and 73.2% completions.
Which might not have been the worst thing in the world, considering Cal averaged 6.1 yards per carry in its first three games. In the aftermath, Huskies coach Jimmy Lake said the emphasis was on scoring points early and forcing the Golden Bears to abandon their running game.
The problem, of course, is that McDuffie’s absence left a tantalizing target on one side of the field. In his first career start, redshirt freshman corner Mishael Powell played as well as anyone could have expected — contributing six tackles and a forced fumble. But he also allowed tight end Jake Tonges to slip behind coverage on play-action for Cal’s opening score of the game.
And, with standout nickelback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles leaving the game with an apparent injury in the second half, UW’s secondary depth will be something to monitor in the coming days and weeks.
The offense soars, then struggles
UW has failed to score a touchdown in an entire half in six of eight games with John Donovan as offensive coordinator.
On Saturday, the Huskies scored 24 points on four consecutive drives — stretching from the first to third quarters — only to disintegrate when tasked with landing a knockout blow.
UW’s final five drives of regulation ended with a three-and-out, a Kamari Pleasant fumble, a missed Peyton Henry field goal, and two more three-and-outs — yielding a grand total of 62 yards.
Before assessing the tape, Lake could only say that “we knew they would make adjustments, and I’m sure as I look on film they made a few adjustments to probably stop what we were doing. But I also knew there were a few plays if we execute better, we could have kept some drives going as well.”
UW didn’t change much when it came to its play-calling mix. In the first half, the Huskies attempted 14 passes (completing 11 for 141 yards and two touchdowns) with 12 runs (and 3.9 yards per carry). In the second half, they attempted 18 passes (completing eight for 93 yards) with 18 runs (and just 2.5 yards per carry).
In all, Washington won despite being outgained 457-326.
Considering the 0-2 start against Montana and Michigan, this offense has improved.
But it’s far from fixed.
Washington finds a wildcat
Sean McGrew scored two touchdowns Saturday.
Both were out of the wildcat formation.
In fact, UW had enough confidence in that particular look to use it on back-to-back plays as McGrew bowled into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in overtime. After the game, Lake admitted the wildcat “scheme gives a lot of defenses problems.”
And, of UW’s seven scholarship running backs, McGrew — with his vision, patience and ability to read blocks and fall forward — seems best suited to succeed in that scheme.
When asked about his level of confidence in the wildcat, McGrew said: “I’m actually so comfortable that I wish we could call some pass plays so I could throw the ball to somebody else.”
With a laugh, he added: “I’ve got a cannon right here,” pointing to his pigskin-toting right arm.
After failing to see the field in UW’s first two games, it seems McGrew has been anointed as the Huskies’ (momentary) starter. He carried 16 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, while adding one catch for 5 yards as well. Cameron Davis added five carries for 15 yards, while Pleasant contributed four carries for 17 yards and a 15-yard reception (and lost a critical fumble).
As for sophomore Richard Newton, he dressed for Saturday’s game but did not play.
It appears Newton, once again, is the odd man out.
About that timeout …
With 20 seconds left and Cal attempting to mount a winning drive from its own 23-yard line, Lake took a seemingly inexplicable timeout on third-and-seven. After the game — while choosing his words carefully to avoid potential trouble with the Pac-12 Conference — Lake said more time should have been put on the clock after a Cal facemask penalty on second down.
“I’ll say this: we had them backed up and there should have been a lot more time left on the clock than 20 seconds,” Lake said. “If we have them backed up and it’s third down and we get a stop and they punt, we could get in field-goal range with 40-45 seconds left to win the game before we go to overtime.”
Instead, Chase Garbers promptly completed a 22-yard pass to Kekoa Crawford and Cal nearly won the game with a 55-yard field goal. And had more time been put on the clock, as Lake said, the Bears would have been afforded more opportunities to gain yards and set up a closer field goal — which would have shifted deserved criticism onto Lake’s decision.
“I will say this: It was not my mistake,” Lake said of the clock error. “It was someone else’s mistake, and they apologized.”
Even so, UW was ultimately better off with that supposed mistake.
Pass rush problems
Lake said UW’s defensive line and outside linebackers “played phenomenal” in limiting Cal to 138 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry.
And while that’s likely true, it’s also true UW’s outside linebackers have managed two sacks in their first four games.
(Zion Tupuola-Fetui, for comparison’s sake, scored two sacks and two forced fumbles by himself in his first game last season.)
UW did manage three sacks Saturday — one by outside linebacker Ryan Bowman on Cal’s first offensive play, and one apiece by Radley-Hiles and defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele (who have both recorded sacks in back-to-back weeks).
But the Huskies need more pass rush from the likes of Cooper McDonald, Sav’ell Smalls, Bralen Trice, Jeremiah Martin and Jordan Lolohea — especially against a dual-threat dynamo like Garbers.
“(UW walk-on QB) Camden Sirmon did a great job of being him in practice. But it just goes to show you, man, Chase Garbers … he’s a heck of a quarterback,” Lake said. “He’s a really good thrower of the football, but he does a great job on third down of escaping pressure and scrambling for first downs. We worked on it all week long, and we definitely didn’t stop him enough throughout the game. But we stopped him when we needed to.”