Two third-down conversion on Auburn's game-winning touchdown drive loomed large in the Huskies' loss.
Three days after the Huskies’ loss to Auburn, Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake wasn’t interested in entertaining any ideas about what was different about this most recent showdown against a top-10 team.
For him, the bottom-line similarities are all that matters.
“We’re still all pissed off,” he said after practice Tuesday at Husky Stadium. “A loss is a loss. We’re all mad. I think the guys competed in all those games you just mentioned (Alabama and Penn State). We competed and we were battling and trying to win the football game, just like we were on Saturday. But a loss is a loss and we’re still upset about it, which a competitor should be.”
Players felt the same.
“It still stings. That one sucked,” senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “It’s definitely one that’s going to give you a chip on your shoulder the whole year. We felt like we were right there. We were playing good ball and I think there was a lot of missed opportunities to win that football game, and I think that’s something that’s definitely going to bother a lot of guys for a long time.”
Said defensive back Austin Joyner: “We knew it was going to be a really big game. We obviously know the stakes are really high when we play teams like that. So sometimes I think we maybe come out a little bit too amped up, a little too juiced to play an opponent when we know we really need to win this game.”
Three Auburn plays, in particular, loomed large for UW defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe after he studied film. A look at those three plays:
The setup: A fast start helped Auburn build a 9-0 lead, but the UW defense had started to settle in early in the second quarter and had a prime chance to get off the field after Greg Gaines and Jaylen Johnson stopped Auburn running back Kam Martin short on third-and-1 at the UW 43-yard line. Auburn decided to go for it on fourth down.
The play: Before the snap, the Huskies had three down lineman — Gaines in the middle, with Johnson to his left and senior Shane Bowman to his right — and outside linebackers standing on each side of the line. Auburn had six blockers at the line, its five linemen and a tight end on the left side of the formation. QB Jarrett Stidham took the shotgun snap and again handed off to Martin.
The breakdown: After the snap, Gaines leaned to his right and engaged Auburn’s left guard; Johnson went left and engaged the right guard. That left a sizeable hole in the ‘A’ gap. Center Kaleb Kim used his left hand to shove Gaines’ left shoulder, then stepped through the hole to block linebacker Jake Wambaugh. Martin burst through Wambaugh’s attempted arm tackle at the 40 and ran 19 yards to the UW 24-yard line. Six plays later, Auburn kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 12-3.
“When you’re playing a championship-level-type game, details are everything,” Malloe said. “And one small mistake here or there turned into a big play for them.”
The setup: Fourth quarter, 8:55 left in the game. The Huskies lead 16-15. Auburn faces third-and-9 at its own 25-yard line.
The play: Auburn sends four receivers out wide, two on each side of the formation. The Huskies put six defenders near the line of scrimmage, trying to confuse Stidham about where the pass rush will come from. The Huskies ultimately send just two pass-rushers initially, with three linebackers (Burr-Kirven, Beavers and Ariel Ngata) waiting near the line of scrimmage to dissect the play. As Beavers eventually comes around his left to start to rush the QB, Auburn tight end Chandler Cox releases out of the backfield unnoticed. Right before Beavers delivers a hit on Stidham, the QB lobs a pass to a wide-open Cox, who falls back for a 12-yard gain and a first down. Stidham had a clean pocket for 4.8 seconds to throw.
The breakdown: Two things the Huskies focused on this offseason, Lake said, were third-down defense and forcing turnovers. Auburn finished 9-of-18 on third downs and UW didn’t create any turnovers. “It didn’t feel like typical UW defense … because we need to force turnovers,” Joyner said.
The setup: Nine plays after that third-down conversion, Auburn had another one at the UW 10-yard line. It was third-and-7, and Auburn sent three wide receivers out to the right, forcing the Huskies to spread the field. UW countered with a nickel defense, plus two down linemen and two stand-up defensive ends (Johnson and Benning Potoa’e). Gaines, UW’s best interior lineman, was not on the field.
The play: Stidham took the shotgun snap and handed off to JaTarvious Whitlow, who burst up the middle and through a hit from safety JoJo McIntosh for the game-winning touchdown. Bowman was washed out by a double team by the left tackle and left guard, who then got into the second level to knock back inside linebacker DJ Beavers. Potoa’e went unblocked on the right edge after biting on a QB fake.
The breakdown: Malloe said UW’s D-line was not aligned properly on the play.
“The defense that we run, all 11 have to be on the same page from how we get to the quarterback to how we cover,” he said. “If one of us fails, then pretty much the defense is out of whack. So we’re putting a lot of ownership on the front this week to make sure that we can beat some one-on-ones. We’ve got to put more details into our pass rush this week to make sure we’re better at that.”
The Huskies say they will carry lessons from those plays — those missed details — into the rest of the season, starting with Saturday’s home opener against North Dakota (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“We know we’ve got way more to us, and we know we could’ve executed a lot better, coaching staff and players both,” Lake said. “Just knowing that if we were that much more detailed, we’d have a victory in our hands right now.”