In the immediate aftermath of Washington Football’s 30-27 loss to Oregon Saturday, much has been made about Chris Petersen’s decision to wind the clock down and force Peyton Henry to kick a pressure-filled 37-yard field goal. As you know, he missed it, and then Oregon won the game in overtime, leaving myself and Huskies fans everywhere to wonder why the offense didn’t try to at least work the ball further downfield to make the kick a bit easier.
Regardless of the rationale on the field, the Huskies’ offense had shown the ability to grind up the Ducks on the ground, and Jake Browning had mostly kept the ball out of harm’s way. Also, new players had chances to shine in the temporary absences of a few stars. At the current rate, Washington will be in good shape for the remainder of the season, although the College Football Playoff is now out of reach.
One of the big positives of the game for the UW was the play of all four of its running backs. Myles Gaskin led the backfield with 69 yards rushing and Salvon Ahmed scored two touchdowns on the ground, but it was the play of backups Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant that left people surprised. With Gaskin and Ahmed nursing injuries in various stages of the game, McGrew and Pleasant kept the ground game churning with 60 yards between the two of them and kept the pressure off of Browning to throw every down.
Pleasant used his explosiveness to get sizable gains on less carries, but McGrew showed more patience as a runner and used his vision to find the subtle openings in the defense. He’s also been trusted in recent weeks to handle kickoff return duties, and Saturday he took three kicks out for 57 total yards. Not staggering numbers by any means, but it’s indicative of how much more trust Petersen has put into him since the start of the year.
The Huskies also did well in using their tight ends to move the chains. Drew Sample has been a proven commodity at the position this year as the main tight end in the offense, and he was Browning’s leading receiver against the Ducks with four catches for 79 yards. The big surprise from this group, though, was Cade Otton. Otton, a redshirt freshman, has quietly played in every game this season, and caught two key passes against Oregon that kept the chains moving.
In college football, most tight ends aren’t featured except in very specific circumstances. However, with Browning scrambling and running, guys like Sample and Otton are valuable checkdown options to help keep the momentum moving forward.
All this being said, the majority of the receiving corps seemed to disappear against a fast and physical Oregon defense. Ty Jones hauled in a 43-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter, but other than that he, Aaron Fuller, and Andre Baccellia combined for just 41 yards through the air the rest of the game.
With the way the schedule is laid out, these issues might be a moot point, but it is possible that the receivers will need to get open in a big spot. If Washington State rolls into the Apple Cup with momentum, that looks like the toughest test left. The Cougars’ defense is allowing only 163 passing yards a game currently, adding difficulty to an already competitive rivalry game.
Washington, however, may play a lot more loose without the weight of making the College Football Playoff. Winning the Pac-12 is now the primary goal, and a much more reasonable goal considering that teams like Stanford and Colorado on the downturn.
This offense has shown itself as versatile with skill players all over the field and in the depth chart, and it’s going to take all of them for the Huskies to dominate this last stretch of their schedule.
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