Another Pac-12 October, another matchup with our fine furry friends up north. Kindred spirits would be putting it mildly!
I know thus far this week’s leadup has been full of poetry and cameraderie, but at some point we need to set the love-fest aside and actually talk football. To this end I spoke with UWDP’s intrepid Brad Johnson, who lays out a bunch of points of interest regarding the 2018 Fuskies overall and the UO-UW tilt in particular.
1. With dominant teams at both head coaching stops and a 134-30 record, it’s obvious Chris Petersen knows what he’s doing. What’s his recipe for success? And what does he need to do to get over the next hurdle - a BCS/CFP victory?
UWDP: I shook my head with smug condescension at all of the Boise State fans that talked about Chris Petersen’s character and integrity when he was first hired here. I figured it was a bunch of rubes buying a bill of goods from a slick salesman. After having watched the man for the last five years, I really think that the things that make him successful are largely what make people successful in any walk of life. He’s smart, he has a well-defined plan of what he wants and how he’s going to get there, he’s honest, he’s willing to accept help, and he’s humble. That sounds mealy-mouthed, and the manifestation of it all is pretty boring. To spice it up, I’ll say he’s incredibly intense and competitive. That didn’t really work….
He has all of the leadership qualities that people talk about but can’t learn from books or seminars – you’re either born with them, or you’ll never fully understand them. I don’t think Petersen could describe to you what makes him successful, and he certainly couldn’t teach someone how to do it “his way.” It sounds trite, but you probably gave the best answer to your question in the question itself. He just knows what he’s doing. And he reacts well on the rare occasions he doesn’t.
I think the Huskies are at the level of “perennial Pac 12 title contender” right now. I could be wrong. But to get to that step of being a “perennial playoff contender,” the biggest obstacle is talent, especially at a few key positions. I don’t know what Oregon’s staff is doing to recruit as well as they are, but I don’t think that Chris Petersen and his staff would be able to replicate it if they were running the Ducks. Your guys seem to have more mojo in that department. Washington’s recruiting is on the steady uptick, and things really even out at all positions groups next year or the year after. That’s what it’s going to take to make that next jump.
For a longtime starter with two 10+ win seasons under his belt, Jake Browning sure seems to polarize Huskies fans. Conventional wisdom says he doesn’t handle the rush well, but you could say that about most QBs (including Herbert). Is there something more to the skepticism, or is this just fans being fans and expecting flawless QB play?
UWDP: He’s got a fairly mediocre arm, he’s not overly athletic, and he just doesn’t look like a guy that should be a good NCAA QB. He’s as boring as his coach, and he came in as a good prospect that was closer than most to maximizing the talent that he had. That last point, coupled with his being a four-year starter, are maybe the biggest factors. The mistakes (like the head-scratching decisions in the pocket in the face of pressure) and the limitations (the arm for the big-time throws, or the speed and strength to avoid defenders) were okay because “he’s just a freshman” and “he’s going to get bigger and stronger.” He had a really good sophomore year with a deep (and healthy) receiving corps. As a junior, with a much shallower and waaaaaaaaaay less healthy receiving group, he “regressed” to a lot of fans. I don’t think that’s actually the case – Browning isn’t the engine that drives the Husky offense as much as he is the barometer of overall offensive health. He probably got too much credit early, and too much blame now. And so today, in year four of largely being the same guy, his familiarity has bred contempt.
I think he’s a really good quarterback. Probably the most efficient to ever play at Washington.
3. Who’s one UW player for us Oregon fans to watch on offense, and what should we look for? Not necessarily your most prolific offensive player - let’s hear about guys that provide something unique for your team or are otherwise instructive.
UWDP: Sort of a concept on offense – You’re probably aware by now that Washington runs two tight ends as its base offense. Against defenses that like to blitz a lot, the Huskies keep both of them in in pass protection. Against teams that don’t, they’re out in routes. Jake Browning has done a really nice job finding them the last three games. They aren’t down-the-field dynamic playmakers, but they’re really good at getting lost in zone coverage, only to pop open for a key 3rd down conversion. So Oregon blitzing, even if they aren’t getting sacks, could really limit Washington’s pass offense by reducing it to a lot of two- or three-man routes. Watch what those guys are doing early on; it could tell a big story for the game.
Ty Jones has a fairly amazing catch radius. He’s fun to watch. I’m hoping you get lots of chances, because right now, Browning doesn’t seem to look his way nearly enough. (ed. note: Ty Jones, a 6’4” sophomore WR, is definitely a contender for the Fusky most likely to cause us problems)
4. And how about one on defense?
UWDP: The outside linebackers – Benning Potoa’e and Jaylen Johnson. Johnson was a defensive tackle last season, but with the departure of Vita Vea and a lack of really big bodies to replace him, the defense has put more size up front by moving Johnson to the field-side outside linebacker spot (it’s odd watching a 280+ pound guy drop in coverage), and Potoa’e to the boundary side. They basically play stand-up defensive end techniques in Washington’s base 2-4-5 nickel. When they run that same defense out of a three-man front, and Potoa’e will play off the line. If these two guys are making tackles, Washington is in good shape. If you see lots of Oregon running backs (and the QB) getting the edge around these two or cutting back inside them, Washington is probably in a bit of trouble.
Safety Jojo McIntosh has to have a big game for the Huskies. He plays a lot of flat coverage when the secondary is in zone. He’s a huge part of keeping small gains from turning into big ones, and supporting the run.
5. What’s an advantage UW might be able to exploit against Oregon this Saturday?
UWDP: So, let me do the “Arrogant Fusky” thing first and get that out of the way. Washington has the better team. The Huskies’ offense (29th by S&P) is better than Oregon’s defense (80th) by a decent margin, and the Husky defense (10th) is better than Oregon’s offense (16th) by a very small one. Washington also has the better coaching staff. Have at it.
I don’t think this really has the makings of a clean, sexy game. I think it’s more likely to be close and sort of ugly. The Huskies have more experience playing and winning games like that than Oregon does. The Huskies could have some advantages with receivers over your secondary, but they haven’t been great about exploiting them in the past.
6. What’s a weakness or disadvantage specific to this matchup that you guys are worried about?
UWDP: Home field advantage is huge for the Ducks. You have a really, really good quarterback – I’m a fan of Justin Herbert and have been since his first start, back in 2016 against Washington. The Ducks have shown a lot of big-play potential throwing the ball in particular, and if Herbert is “on,” he has the ability to really hurt the Huskies’ man coverage.
Washington isn’t built to come back very well. A two score lead at any point in the second half puts a ton of pressure on an offense that relies on efficiency.
Oregon’s coaches are really selling the importance of winning this game. That could be a good thing, and it could be a bad thing. I don’t think it’s enough to be the difference either way, but it could be a factor, especially early.
Washington is really thin up front on the defensive line, and at inside linebacker.
Myles Gaskin was holding his right shoulder near the end of the UCLA game. I have no idea how healthy he’s going to be. That has the potential to be huge.
7. And the obligatory predictions - let’s do the final score, plus one other key team or player stat. What say you?
UWDP: I think the Huskies win this one and cover, 31-24. I think the Huskies are able to handle what is going to be a very intense atmosphere, and Washington’s secondary is good enough to cover for the lack of pass rush. On defense, the Ducks just aren’t quite talented enough yet, and the Huskies grind out enough drives to take it. Key stat will be: Washington only has two interceptions on the year, which is just crazy. I think they double that Saturday, and two short fields are a huge part of the game’s result.
Thanks a ton for your time Brad, good stuff. Go Ducks!