After the Huskies shut out BYU for nearly the entire game, Washington ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense. Their No. 1 QB ain't bad, either. Beat writer Adam Jude reviews the good, the bad and any lingering questions after the Huskies' 35-7 win.
The good, the bad and the lingering questions from the Huskies’ 35-7 rout of then-No. 20 Brigham Young on Saturday night:
No. 1 QB
The backlash that piled up against Jake Browning — even if only from a small circle of fans — was perhaps the most puzzling development of the first month of the season for the Huskies. That drumbeat grew louder after the Huskies’ season-opening loss to Auburn, and louder still after Browning’s backpedaling interception in the victory at Utah. One positive from all that: Many on the Huskies’ offense took the criticism of Browning as personal attacks not only of him but of the offense overall, and they rallied around their senior quarterback. So while Browning, true to form, downplayed the significance of his record-breaking performance in Saturday’s victory — breaking Cody Pickett’s school passing mark, now at 10,347 yards and counting — there was a level of underlying satisfaction from Chris Petersen and offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, among others. Hamdan agreed that the criticism Browning has taken has hardened the QB. “I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the football experience,” Hamdan said. “Some of these guys these days face more heat in college than they would at the next level (in the NFL). It probably happened to (Tom) Brady when he was at Michigan. For a guy like (Browning) to handle it with the class he does, to come back and get to work every day after each game, I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that.”
No. 1 D
The Huskies are one month into Jimmy Lake’s first season as a play-caller and it can only be described as a resounding success so far. Washington ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 11.6 points per game. The top scoring defenses (note a familiar team at No. 3):
1. Washington, 11.6
2. Cincinnati, 12.2
3. Auburn, 12.6
3. Kentucky, 12.6
5. Iowa, 13.0
5. Alabama, 13.0
5. Georgia, 13.0
Against BYU on Saturday, the Huskies were a mere 41 seconds away from their first shutout of a ranked opponent since 1990. If not for Chico McClatcher’s fumbled punt return in the closing minutes (more on that below), the Huskies would have had the shutout. Even then, with BYU getting the ball at the UW 24-yard line, the Huskies’ second-string defense made the Cougars earn every yard (BYU scored on a fourth-and-one run in the final minute).
The Huskies, by the way, have allowed only one passing touchdown through five games, and that came in the first quarter of the first game against Auburn. That means the Huskies have gone 284 minutes without allowing a passing touchdown. Color one former Pac-12 QB impressed:
Have to admit I was initially confused on Salvon Ahmed’s first-quarter touchdown run, his first TD of the season. I was confused because I thought it was Myles Gaskin getting the carry at first, but when after a couple steps the running back made a burst to the right I had to do a double take: Ah, that’s Ahmed, not Gaskin. For all his wonderful qualities — patience and vision and durability that few running backs possess — Gaskin does not have the suddenness of Ahmed. They’re built similarly, and have the same straight-line speed, but we saw why many fans have been clamoring for more touches for Ahmed (more, more, more!) over the previous four weeks. Hamdan knows this, too. “Every time he sticks his foot in the ground,” Hamdan said, “you never quite fully know where it’s going to go.” Ahmed added a 6-yard TD run in the third quarter, and he enters October third in the Pac-12 with an average of 7.12 yards per carry. Ahmed did fumble the ball later in the game after a 37-yard run — the first fumble of his career — but he was fortunate UW center Nick Harris had hustled nearly 50 yards downfield to make the recovery. “He really bailed me out on that play,” Ahmed said. “He really hustled on the play to get that far downfield, so I definitely owe him.” And the Huskies, it feels, definitely owe Ahmed a few more touches.
The rest of the offense
After the game, Petersen sounded most pleased with the progress of the offensive line, which for the first few weeks had some issues settling in after a significant injury to star left tackle Trey Adams, plus Harris’ knee injury that kept him out of one game. The Huskies gained 464 yards on just 62 plays against BYU — 7.5 yards per play — and the line deserves a lot of credit for that. The receivers ought to get some love, too. Aaron Fuller ranks second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards (94.8 per game), and you’re starting to notice the way defenses are game-planning to try take away the deep threats — which in turn should open things up for Gaskin and Ahmed in the run game. “We’ve come a long way in that (receivers) room,” Hamdan said.
The third-down defense
BYU’s offense was just 5 for 14 on third downs. It felt much worse for the Huskies, though, and that probably is largely because of that third-and-23 the Cougars converted in the third quarter. “Frustrating as heck,” Petersen said. Still, Lake isn’t worried. He was, in fact, quite blunt last week when asked about some of the issues on third down. “The only stat that matters to me is scoring defense,” he said. “Because our job ultimately is to keep points off the board. … I don’t get too caught up into the third-down percentage.”
Here we go again? Redshirt freshman Peyton Henry had been solid in his first four games as the Huskies’ place-kicker, converting six of his seven field-goal attempts. But he missed both of his attempts Saturday night, the first from 40 yards and the second from 24 that went off the right upright. Henry also ranks last in the Pac-12 in touchback percentage, with just 10 touchbacks in his 28 kickoffs (60.3 percent). Give him for this, though: He has improved on kickoffs lately, putting 10 of his last 16 kickoffs into the end zone (with four of those coming in the thin air of Salt Lake City). Bottom line: There’s work to do in the kicking game.
Is Chico McClatcher OK?
We got a glimpse of the old Chico on Saturday night when he took a swing pass from Browning, got a crushing block from tight end Cade Otton and raced along the left sideline for a 23-yard gain. It was, alas, McClatcher’s only touch of the game — that is, until he lost the fumble on BYU’s final punt of the game, giving the Cougars prime position to end the Huskies’ bid for a shutout. McClatcher also had a big drop in the red zone on a pass from Browning a week earlier against Arizona State. Through five games, he has just eight catches and the feeling here is the junior slot receiver is suffering from a crisis of confidence. Some of that, no doubt, can be attributed to rustiness — and I’m not sure folks fully appreciated how significant his injuries were from a year ago, when in September 2017 he suffered a torn ACL and a broken ankle in the same leg (the Huskies had kept the ACL hidden for nearly a year). It might take him a little longer to build himself back up, but McClatcher could still be a real factor for this team down the stretch.
Are the Huskies still the clear favorite in the Pac-12?
A full month into the season, the Pac-12 North outlook remains what we thought it would be in August. Well, mostly. The Pac-12 South is a mess — and no one messier than winless UCLA, the Huskies’ opponent this week at the Rose Bowl — but outside of Oregon State there doesn’t appear to be an easy out in the North. I predicted before the season that no Pac-12 team would run the table in conference — that’s not going out on a limb, considering only one Pac-12 team has done it over the past 12 years — and that feels especially true as the calendar turns to October. The Huskies have to go to No. 18 Oregon on Oct. 13 — with the Ducks coming off a bye — and even after its loss Saturday at Notre Dame, Stanford (Nov. 2) might be the Huskies’ most difficult game remaining. Colorado (Oct. 19) and Cal (Oct. 26) won’t be pushovers, and the Apple Cup in Pullman more and more looks like it could again help decide the North champion. Buckle up.