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Duck Tape: Film Analysis of Washington 2021

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A preview of Oregon’s week 10 opponent in Seattle

Montana v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Thanks to BT of the Dawg Pod for discussing the Washington football roster with me on the Quack 12 Podcast. Listen HERE!


Offense

After charting all eight of Washington’s games this year, I think their offense is almost identical to Cal’s when Oregon played them in week 7, both philosophically and in their statistical strengths and weaknesses. They have strong formational tendencies and lean heavily on a methodical, ball-control approach behind an efficient run game. Their backs stay ahead of the chains with modest, yards-after-contact carries, and they earn what explosive plays they get through the air to a small but fairly effective wide receiver corps.

The most significant difference between Cal in week 7 and UW in week 10 (and incidentally, Cal in week 10 as well) is that the Huskies recognize when they need to throw it deep and that’s how they leverage themselves out of the long, fruitless drives that had caused the Bears to lose so many close games to start the season. In each of UW’s last four games they had fallen behind but came back to either tie it up or take the lead by hitting some long passes in the second half.

That’s not to say that UW’s passing attack is very efficient - they’re underwater in per-play efficiency with 121 successful designed passing plays vs 140 failed ones, or a 46.4% success rate given the down & distance on my tally sheet. Outside of garbage time they pass for 6.9 yards per attempt, well below the FBS average, and their offensive line gives up a lot of pressure, with 18% of dropbacks ending in a sack, scramble, or throwaway.

But they are getting explosive passes at a decent enough pace - 16% of their dropbacks gain 15+ yards, and that’s enough to keep all of their games competitive. Here’s a representative sample of successful passing plays:

(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)

  1. :00 - An RPO with a double slant and the safety is jumping inside, pretty easy pull for a quick throw with no underneath coverage, even though the slice block is getting #9 QB Morris no protection.
  2. :13 - This offense is not particularly ambitious until they’re forced to be. Here they’re backed up inside their 10 and the pattern is two 5-yard stop routes and two TE leakouts to the flats.
  3. :20 - Now the game situation — down 14, minute left in the half, 2nd & short — calls for more aggression, and UW complies. Nice route running by #16 WR Odunze to create some separation and gain outside position for this back-shoulder throw.
  4. :41 - Smart throw by Morris - the blitz means there’s no underneath coverage of the slant, but he has to wait for the ILB following the back to clear, so the timing on this play is essential.

There’s no single obvious problem plaguing UW’s passing efficiency, instead I’m seeing a mix of several things. On the podcast we had a long discussion about their offensive line’s disappointing performance this year (surprising to some, not to others), but it’s also an inconsistent quarterback, defenses taking away the safety-blanket tight end, and a lot of drama in the wide receiver unit. Here’s a representative sample of failed passing plays:

  1. :00 - I think the pressure is hurrying him a bit, but I see backfooted throws like this from Morris pretty often. There’s no real power in his ball without a big windup and it dies on him, forcing #11 WR McMillan to try and come back for it midair through coverage.
  2. :13 - Not great protection, not a real smart throw.
  3. :30 - We bounced around a couple of theories on the podcast about why #87 TE Otton isn’t getting more targets, but the one I prefer is that he is still a huge threat and defenses have just consistently identified it and taken him away with double coverage, as here when Morris tries it anyway.
  4. :45 - The offensive line has been good for about one holding flag per game on passing plays, here it’s still not enough to give Morris the time and space he needs to hit this deep shot accurately.

The Huskies’ rushing performance is the opposite: relatively efficient but not explosive, which again is how I described Cal in week 7. On the season they have 122 successful designed runs vs 91 failed ones, or 57.3%, which is a fairly good per-play success rate. I think their backs show a lot of toughness in grinding out the extra yard or so after contact to flip an otherwise failed rushing play — again, because the blocking isn’t great — into a successful one, and they have one of the highest “yaco” rates outside of Cal that I’ve charted this year. Some examples:

  1. :00 - Morris probably should have kept the ball here, but #5 RB McGrew spins out of the sure tackle just after the mesh and then falls forward with some assistance for an extra couple to get 5 yards on what should have been a TFL.
  2. :06 - The amount of punishment McGrew takes to pick up half the distance on 2nd & 6 is almost distressing.
  3. :23 - By far the most successful rushes in UW’s playbook are to the outside when they get the entire offense moving to block; this play should look familiar from Oregon’s 2019 game in Seattle.
  4. :47 - Stanford has figured out that 100% of the time when UW balances the tight ends in 12-personnel, they run behind Otton; they’re slanting the correct direction and the backers, including the OLB over the slot, are moving to the play instantly off the snap. Still, yet another heroic “yaco” effort by McGrew gets half the distance.

Formationally, this offense will usually tell you when it’s going to rush - when the QB goes under center, with a fullback or without, they rush 82% of the time, but when they’re in the shotgun their run rate falls to 37%. There are also certain giveaways regarding the tight ends as to the direction of the rushing play.

That predictability is probably a big reason why, outside a rare and isolated chunk-yardage play, 4- to 5-yard grinds are about all they’re getting on the ground. They’re averaging 4.4 yards per carry outside garbage time, and only 8% of their designed runs gain 10+ yards, the lowest explosive rushing rate I’ve tallied in years. Their stuff rate — the percentage of rushes that go backwards, earn a foul, end in a fumble, or gain 1 yard or less without a conversion — is 25%. Some examples:

  1. :00 - Cal has eight in the box and UW isn’t bothering to take one away by reading him, since the TE is slice-blocking the “read” OLB. The o-line simply isn’t good enough to win without a numbers advantage, much less at a disadvantage.
  2. :11 - Okay, four-man front, zone blocking with 11-pers, so the LT and TE get the OLBs and the RG-RT combos one DL and the LG-C combos the other, with the goal of one apiece on those combos moving up to the second level for the ILBs. But both the d-linemen split the combos and blow up this play before it starts.
  3. :16 - The endzone angle on this clip shows why UW is struggling so much with inside zone running: these combo blocks are actively useless. Nobody has the backside OLB and nobody can possibly get up to the ILBs. Both guards are standing around as the play blows up.
  4. :28 - I have quite a few runs on my tally sheet in what would otherwise be obvious passing situations like 3rd & long or here 1st & 15. I probably wouldn’t have chosen power with three o-linemen who are liable to wind up on the grass.

There’s one play worth mentioning which is somewhat unusual in that it’s more effective than any other play they have, which is the wildcat. The predictability of it — a run every time — seems to be offset by letting the back choose the hole, and it forces defenses to be both extremely aggressive and gap sound. A couple examples:

  1. :00 - Here #22 RB Davis gets the carry, he’s been the second back in the rotation in the last few games after being benched for fumbling the ball on some early carries, but I think he’s UW’s best all-around runner. The QB motions out late and it creates some confusion; still, Stanford has a shot in the backfield but Davis breaks free.
  2. :07 - After getting burned by the wildcat on several plays Oregon St finally attacked the line aggressively and read the pull correctly. They get inside it and the TE’s block to shut this down.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Montana at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defense

Washington’s change at defensive coordinator hasn’t affected their defensive system or playcalling at all; I’m seeing the same scheme, coverage shells, and blitz patterns as I have for the last six seasons. They use a 2-4-5 with a sky high safety; philosophically they want to keep the play in front of them and take away explosive plays of all kinds, using mostly a cover-3 zone to defend the pass. Injuries and some recruiting problems at inside backer and the safeties have left the middle of the defense even softer than it already would be structurally, but the corners remain excellent and deep completions to the outside have been very rare.

The weather forcast calls for even gloomier conditions than usual for Seattle, and on the podcast we discussed the possibility that this game leans heavily into rushing for both teams. That might mean we see more of the 3-down front UW occasionally employs in obvious rushing situations, and probably very little of their exotic dime package with no d-linemen at all (at this point with the number of injuries to the secondary, the Huskies might not even have six playable DBs).

If Oregon elects to run frequently, they’ll face a defense that’s deeply underwater - just 97 successfully defended rushes on the season vs 138 failures, or 41.3%. Washington gives up 5.7 yards per carry outside of garbage time on my tally sheet, and until they played Stanford’s hard-to-watch offense last Saturday that number was 5.9 YPC and actually higher than their yards surrendered per pass attempt, the first time I believe I’d ever seen that through seven games. Here’s a representative sample of failed rush defenses:

  1. :00 - Here #43 ILB Sirmon gets fooled by the fake handoff and runs to the flat, the other backers are standing around waiting to get blocked. Cal’s QB drags UW’s platoon of pint-sized DBs for an extra 10 yards.
  2. :25 - You have to set the edge better than this, especially to the strongside against Oregon St. The Beavs’ pair of TEs are demolishing #41 OLB McDonald and #5 DB Cook so far downfield that it interrupts anybody else who might catch this touchdown trot.
  3. :35 - The bizarre thing about this play is that UW is expecting it to go to the field and so the nickel’s rushing from that side and the ILBs are jumping that way, but any decent film study on UCLA would tell you this pistol-21 formation is an inside give or an option pitch to the boundary (the latter would also have worked).
  4. :52 - I think the two big space-eaters on UW’s d-line, #91 DL Letuligasenoa and #94 DL Taimani, are pretty effective, and here both are leaning into the lane. But both are just getting off their blocks too late to slow the back, who gets three at first and then three more through contact.

The best thing the Huskies do in rush defense, consistent with their philosophy, is keep those runs from going the full field. Only two runs all year have gone for over 40 yards, and only about 13% of designed rushes gain 10+ yards (although again, prior to playing Stanford that number was 14.5%). Even without stopping efficiency runs, they are generally forcing opponents into methodical drives. Some examples:

  1. :00 - Cal is in 13-personnel so UW matches with their 3-4 front, expecting and getting a power run. Good tracking of the play by #99 DL Tuitele and #55 OLB Bowman (though Bowman looks to be out for the rest of the season with an injury). #23 DB Powell, a walk-on but probably their new starting safety, closes off the outside bounce.
  2. :14 - Great job by Letuligasenoa to get off the block and make the tackle single-handedly.
  3. :24 - This is how UW wants rushing plays to go - the big d-linemen in the middle close off the inside lanes, and a fast, flexible defense comes down and stops the outside bounce.
  4. :33 - An injury to starter and former walk-on #48 ILB Ulofoshio has caused some scrambling for replacements; I’ve seen #15 ILB Heimuli, #53 ILB Tafisi, and #42 ILB Bruener given shots at it, with the best performance coming from Bruener last Saturday. Here he dodges the LG’s 2nd-level block and makes the tackle with an immediate stop.

Pass defense remains a strong suit for UW. Their efficiency rate is pretty good, with 110 successfully defended designed passing plays vs 81 failures, or 57.6%. More significantly, they’re really limiting passing yardage, with 5.9 yards allowed per pass attempt outside garbage time and only 12% of dropbacks resulting in a 15+ yard gain. Without much of disruptive presence in their interior defensive front and some injuries restricting the edge rush, this is mostly about top quality cornerback play. Some examples:

  1. :00 - I don’t think I’ve seen better form from a Pac-12 corner on film this year than this coverage and incredible interception by #2 CB Gordon.
  2. :21 - There’s not a lot of film on #22 CB McDuffie, which is about the highest compliment a corner can get. The impressive thing is putting on the brakes with this comeback route to stay close enough to disrupt the quick throw.
  3. :30 - Both #20 DB Turner and #29 DB Irvin are out of position on this play, the former because he’s trying to charge the QB and the latter because he crashes into the umpire. But #44 DB Radley-Hiles comes off his coverage to break up the throw to the TE, in a dramatic re-enactment of his famous play in the 2019 Peach Bowl when he was at Oklahoma.
  4. :44 - One of the biggest surprises of the season is the return of #58 OLB Tupuola-Fetui from an Achilles rupture much earlier than expected. We discussed on the podcast whether they’ve been slow-playing him a bit, but he looks pretty quick off the snap to me.

As we talked about on the podcast, where opposing offenses have had more success is the middle of the field with short throws, in-breaking routes, crossers and the like, with the idea of attacking the depleted ILB and safety groups, and usually having the time to get to the third or fourth read in the progression. Some examples:

  1. :00 - Here’s the dime package, note that those are four linebackers on the LOS and one at depth, with no d-linemen in. I’m sure the RT is quaking in his cleats from #17 OLB Smalls’ fearsome glare but the other three aren’t getting much penetration with a more traditional attack. We get a nice high angle to look at this very soft zone coverage; a well timed pass to the in route slips behind Sirmon and ahead of Gordon.
  2. :19 - It’s 3rd & 7 and the ILBs are playing 3 to 5 yards off the line to gain, with Tafisi much too far away, and with too little footspeed, to catch this crosser.
  3. :39 - Per UW’s defensive philosophy, they’re much more concerned about throws off a scramble than the quarterback picking up a few yards with his feet and so tend to back off until he’s well past the line of scrimmage.
  4. :46 - Almost all of Stanford’s passing yardage last Saturday came on plays like these, attacking the classic hole in this zone coverage with a tight end to midfield. The blitz by the ILBs just makes it easier.