Washington's third-down defense remains a problem. The Huskies got out of the Rose Bowl with a win, but their narrow escape left Adam Jude wondering if they'll be able to make it back come January.
The good, the bad and the lingering questions from Washington’s 31-24 victory over UCLA on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl:
The ground game
Junior center Nick Harris was emphatic. Yes, he said, the Huskies “definitely” took a step forward on offense Saturday night. That was especially true in the first half, when the Huskies had 335 yards of total offense, including 133 on the ground. Myles Gaskin finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, and Jake Browning had one of his better games running the ball. “It was definitely cool to get a win in the Rose Bowl,” Harris said, “and hopefully come back here later on in the season and we get another win in the Rose Bowl.” The offensive line has improved each week, and that was apparent on the handful of “wedge” plays — with two or three tight ends in close formation — in which the line got great push against a big UCLA defensive line, which allowed Browning to surge ahead for six first-down runs. On one fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter, Browning pushed ahead for a 7-yard gain. “We love wedge. We pride ourselves on wedge,” Harris said. “That one wedge we didn’t get a couple weeks ago, and we got a lot of backlash for that from the coaches. So we’re not going to not get a (first down on) wedge.”
The clutch drives
The UW offense closed the door in the fourth quarter with two key drives. Early in the fourth, after UCLA got within 24-17, the Huskies drove 81 yards on 12 plays and chewed up 6 minutes, 45 seconds, and ended with Gaskin’s second TD run. Browning converted two third downs on the drive: a 34-yard pass to big-play machine Ty Jones, and a 14-yard run on a QB scramble. “He’s slippery and he’s crafty when he runs, and we really want that to be a part of his game,” Chris Petersen said. After another UCLA touchdown, the Huskies recovered an onside kick and got the ball back with 1:37 remaining. Even with UCLA using its three timeouts, UW was able to run out the clock after consecutive runs of 6 yards and 5 yards from Sean McGrew, and after Browning ran around for a few extra seconds in the backfield. Smart clock management there. Browning took a knee three times to end it.
The leaky defense
The problem wasn’t so much that UCLA was moving the ball. The problem was the manner in which UCLA — and its true freshman QB — was moving the ball: with ease … with efficiency … and without much resistance. “I think they were just hitting (us) in our soft spots,” UW defensive back Myles Bryant said. “I think we needed to play in a little bit tighter coverage so we’ll go in and make those adjustments.” The Bruins had 422 yards of total offense, a season high against UW’s top-ranked scoring defense. They averaged 5.6 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per play. Dorian Thompson-Robinson picked apart UW’s zone coverages in the second half. The Huskies uncharacteristically missed tackles. The looked vulnerable and tired and worn down by Chip Kelly’s tempo. “I think this is a great game to put on and say, ‘We can play better,’” Petersen said. “I think we played hard. We made plays when we needed to, but I think we can play cleaner.” Give Huskies credit for this: They did limit the explosive plays, a trademark of Kelly’s offense. But a persistent issue continues to pop up: third-down defense. It was a problem against Penn State, a problem against Auburn and a problem in the second half against UCLA (which converted seven of 10 third downs). Oregon, by the way, has the best third-down offense in the Pac-12, converting 52 percent of the time.
The rested Ducks
Speaking of Oregon: The Ducks were idle this weekend. And they get the Huskies at home on Saturday afternoon, for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC. (The Huskies have opened as a four-point favorite.) At least one Oregon player has kept the score — 70-21 — from the 2016 UW-Oregon game posted in his locker. They haven’t forgotten, and they (and their fans) will be ready Saturday at Autzen Stadium. “It’s going to be probably the most ‘live’ one we’ve played so far,” Harris said. “It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be an intense game. They’re a good team, so we’ve got to have a great week of practice. We’ll put this game behind us and we’ve just got to get ready because it’s going to be a big game, it’s going to be a good game and it’s going to be a loud game.”
Is Myles Gaskin OK?
It was a curious thing to see McGrew, the third-string running back, on the field for that crucial last-minute drive. He did well, of course, to pick up that final first down, but one can’t help but wonder about Gaskin, who appeared to be favoring his shoulder earlier in the fourth quarter. Maybe a separated shoulder? Maybe just a minor ding? Maybe nothing? Gaskin didn’t make an appearance for postgame interviews, and Petersen doesn’t talk injuries, so we can only speculate. Gaskin, for the record, took to Twitter after the game and declared: “I’m good.” The Huskies had better hope so.
Can the Huskies get back to Pasadena?
How wild is the Pac-12 right now? Stanford, two weeks after an overtime win in Eugene, lost at home, minus Bryce Love, to Utah on Saturday. Washington-Oregon might be the game of the year in the conference this week, and outside of Oregon State there isn’t an obvious win remaining on the Huskies’ schedule. Washington State and Colorado look more and more like serious title contenders; Cal’s defense is good enough to provide a strong resistance in Berkeley; and Stanford should bounce back with a healthy Love. The encouraging news for the Huskies is it doesn’t feel like they’ve played to their full potential yet, but they’ll probably need to Saturday afternoon in Eugene.