John Sayler from the Washington SB Nation sister site, UW Dawg Pound, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Washington Huskies. My answers to his questions are here. Should be a great game on Friday.
Ralphie Report: Jake Browning has been a revelation for the Huskies this year, and he has weapons galore to give the ball to. What makes this offense click so well? How do you stop this Washington offense?
Like any offense, it starts with good offensive line play. The Huskies have dominated the line of scrimmage in every game this season except for the loss to USC. The O-Line was one of the biggest question marks entering the season as they returned a lot of young players who had experience, but it was unknown if they would improve. They have improved and have done a great job creating running room for UW’s backs and giving Jake Browning a nice clean pocket more often than not. As far as Browning and his breakout season, it is way, way more of an improvement than anyone could have predicted. He’s an exceptionally smart player with great accuracy, timing and touch. He reads defenses well, gets the Huskies into the right play, and executes his plan before the defense has time to react. Stopping UW on offense is not complicated, but it’s not easy either. You have to do what USC did: Get pressure on Browning while covering all of his targets. Jake missed some open receivers in the USC game because he was rattled early. I think everything had come so easily in the games before that he wasn’t ready for a defense that could win one-on-one matchups all across the field. By the time his playmakers began to win, he was getting happy feet and not going through his progressions.
Ralphie Report: Taylor Rapp, Sidney Jones, and Budda Baker are formidable players in a scary secondary. Kevin King is also no slouch, and JoJo McIntosh would start for many teams. It seems like this secondary is aggressive and prefers to make a play rather than react. Is that an accurate assessment? How have teams been able to move the ball through the air against Washington?
That is an excellent assessment. The secondary is really talented, and Sidney Jones is so rarely tested he must get bored sometimes. He did get beaten deep last week by WSU’s Gabe Marks, but Taylor Rapp came out of nowhere to knock down the pass. Jones is not only a great cover corner, but he is outstanding in the run and screen game as well. His anticipation and ability to read a play makes offensive players look foolish at times. Kevin King is spectacular with his ball skills, but he is the guy that opposing offenses attack. USC was able to make hay in the passing game by attacking UW with Tight Ends, but Sam Darnold played a phenomenal game that night so I’m not sure using the Tight End is a recipe for guaranteed success against UW; it certainly didn’t work for Stanford.
Ralphie Report: How has the defense weathered the season ending injuries to Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis? Both were a big part of the front seven on defense. Has this affected production up front at all?
The Mathis injury had an immediate impact on the Husky defense. He was playing at an unbelievably high level when he got hurt, and the pass rush has never really been the same since he went down. I thought losing Victor would be a huge blow (and it still could prove to be) but DJ Beavers has stepped in and played really well in his place. Beavers had been getting a lot of reps at the inside LB spot before Victor’s injury, and now that the job is his you can see him playing with greater confidence. Washington has a lot of talented players on their defensive line, and that has helped make up for the loss of Mathis and Victor.
Ralphie Report: John Ross is obviously a fantastic receiver, as are Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher (one of the best names around). Who are some other names to watch on offense?
Wide Receiver was supposed to be the weak link on the Husky team in 2016, and their outstanding play has been a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Everyone knew John Ross was a deep threat, but no one expected him to be such a great possession receiver. Pettis is sneaky-athletic; faster than you think, stronger than you think, better than you expect. He’s a great route runner and he and Ross have developed great chemistry with Jake Browning. McClatcher missed a few games in the middle of the season, and he has returned to full strength. He’s a high school running back that is really strong and shifty in the screen game. The tight ends have not been very productive as receivers, but Darrell Daniels is a matchup nightmare with his combination of size and speed. He often just clears out space for the other receivers to work underneath. Blocking TEs Will Dissly and Drew Sample are murder in the run game and Sample is often a safety valve for Browning over the middle. Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman make as good a 1-2 punch at running back as you will find.
Ralphie Report: Who are some havoc-wreakers to look for on defense? Who should CU fans be worried about?
Well, a defense starts 11 players, and UW placed nine defenders on the Pac-12 All Conference Teams, plus the Defensive Frosh of the Year in Taylor Rapp. So that leaves safety Jojo Mcintosh as the only guy you don’t have to worry about if you trust the voters (I would assume some CU fans don’t trust those voters with Awuzie making only 2nd team). Free safety Budda Baker is just a phenomenal football player. He will line up all over the field and diagnose play after play. He is as sure a tackler as there is in college football and the Huskies will miss him dearly when he forgoes his senior year and enters the draft at season’s end. Same goes for DT Elijah Qualls, a versatile lineman with great speed and power who can play inside or on the end. Keishawn Bierria is a playmaker at inside linebacker, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines are 650 pounds of nightmare in the middle, Sidney Jones and Kevin King are great corners. There are just a lot of good players on the Husky defense.
Ralphie Report: It seems like Washington plays slow and methodical on offense. Has a hurry-up team hurt the defense before, seeing as they don’t practice against it? If CU sped the game up, how would the Huskies react? Have they faced the hurry-up before?
UW doesn’t huddle, but they do take their time getting the ball snapped. Browning gets his troops to the line, then looks over the defense. They can and will go hurry up if they choose to, and at times it has helped get Browning get into a rhythm, but they are not one of those teams that just rushes up and snaps the ball as fast as they can. I’m sure they practice hurry up plenty for the reasons you describe as far as preparing the defense. Remember that a defense practices against a scout team designed to mimic the opponent’s style. Several UW foes used the quick-paced offense this season, particularly Oregon who goes as fast as any team I have ever seen.
Ralphie Report: It’s hard to find a weakness statistically on this team. Is this team as complete on the field as it is on paper?
It really is a very complete, sound football team; great talent, smart players and very good coaching. There isn’t Alabama or even USC level talent up and down the roster, but Chris Petersen fills his teams with coachable guys that buy into his system. It’s hard to come up with weaknesses, but if I had to, I’d say Jake Browning tends to underthrow his deep balls and sometimes holds the ball a beat longer than he should. Defensively, they don’t possess an outside pass rushing specialist. Since Mathis went down they have had to rely more on blitzes and that has led to a few blown coverages.
Ralphie Report: Predictions for the championship game?
Vegas likes the Huskies by a touchdown and who am I to argue? Both of these teams have had terrific seasons and I expect to see a great football game Friday night. UW 31, CU 24