The Washington Huskies are 5-3.
They’re unranked, and unofficially out of contention for another Pac-12 title. They’re 2-3 in conference play, and they’ve lost two games in Husky Stadium in the same season for the first time since 2015.
Oh, and there’s this: Washington fell to 5-3 in the worst possible way, by dropping a heartbreaker to its chief rival for the second consecutive season. The Huskies led 28-14 and 31-21 in the third quarter Saturday, then surrendered 14 consecutive points and went scoreless in the final 15 minutes.
So, in summary: all is not well on Montlake. But there are also positives to pull from the wreckage.
Here are three things we learned from UW’s 35-31 loss to Oregon.
Jacob Eason can excel against elite competition.
The junior quarterback’s first seven games left ample opportunities to discount his more impressive performances.
Yeah, but it was just Eastern Washington.
Yeah, but it was just Hawaii.
Yeah, but it was just BYU.
Yeah, but it was just Arizona.
Against more legitimate Pac-12 defenses — Cal, USC and Stanford — Eason completed just 54.3% of his passes for an average of 182.7 yards with one total touchdown and two interceptions. And, sure, Eason was not the only reason. His skill players were a factor. His offensive line was a factor. Bush Hamdan’s game plan was a factor.
Still, it was fair to wonder if an Eason-led offense could expose an elite Oregon secondary that ranked second nationally in opponent pass efficiency rating (85.39), second in interceptions (12), second in opponent yards per attempt (4.8), eighth in passing defense (160.2 yards per game), 12th in opponent completion percentage (52.2) and 12th in sacks per game (3.5).
No need to wonder anymore.
Without leading receiver Aaron Fuller or junior running back Sean McGrew, Eason completed 76.7% of his passes, throwing for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He was accurate and poised. He was every bit as good as Oregon senior Justin Herbert, who just so happened to earn the win.
And, make no mistake: Washington lost the game, but Eason was not the reason. Neither was his experienced offensive line, which allowed for an effective running game and surrendered just one sack. Same with receivers Puka Nacua, Terrell Bynum, Hunter Bryant, Jordan Chin and Marquis Spiker, who emerged in key moments.
Through eight games, Eason has completed 67.4% of his passes, throwing for 1,981 yards with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. With a Pac-12 title out the window, some UW football fans may lose interest in the 2019 Huskies. But No. 10 alone is worth watching. Enjoy him while you can, Husky fans.
Salvon Ahmed can carry the load.
During offseason practices in April and August, junior running back Salvon Ahmed was asked the same question a dozen different ways.
Without Myles Gaskin, can you be an every-down back?
Throughout the first half of UW’s season, Ahmed rarely needed to be. Redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton was a tantalizingly effective red-zone weapon, and McGrew was a surprisingly physical and shifty change of pace. UW’s running back committee was a vicious three-headed Husky.
But with both Newton and McGrew missing time with injuries, Ahmed has made the most of increased opportunities. The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder has carried 47 times (!) in his past two games, churning out 235 rushing yards with 5 yards per carry and four touchdowns. He received a career-high 23 carries against Arizona, only to top that number with 24 more carries against Oregon.
And he’s been getting it done in every conceivable way — between the tackles, around the edge, falling forward in short-yardage situations.
With two-thirds of the regular season behind him, Ahmed has already achieved a career-best 662 rushing yards and tied a career best with seven touchdowns. He’ll never be Myles Gaskin.
But the Huskies are still lucky to have Salvon Ahmed.
UW’s defense has a long way to go.
In its five wins this season, Washington has forced 13 turnovers.
In its three losses, UW has forced zero.
What does that tell us? Jimmy Lake’s defense — which, believe it or not, is replacing nine starters this season — needs to take the ball away to consistently get off the field. Because, if we’re being honest, the UW defense doesn’t do a whole lot else consistently well.
Consider the statistics. Through eight games, Washington ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in both rushing defense (147.63 yards per game) and opponent yards per carry (4.19). The Huskies’ 11 rushing touchdowns allowed is seventh. They’re fourth in the Pac-12 in passing defense (224.8 yards allowed), opponent pass efficiency rating (119.86), yards per attempt allowed (6.5) and interceptions (8).
They’re also seventh in sacks per game (2.0) and 10th in tackles for loss per game (4.88). They’re fifth in opponent red-zone touchdown percentage (57.69%).
See what we’re getting at? UW is either league average, or close to it, in just about every conceivable defensive category. So what’s the identity of this UW defense? Where do these young Huskies excel?
They don’t tackle particularly well, and Oregon had success both on the ground and through the air. Herbert threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns, and the Ducks running backs amassed 180 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry.
There is so much room for improvement — and, after eight games, that’s a concern.
Because when the turnovers don’t come, Washington’s defense is — by almost any measurement — mediocre.