Washington can make some noise in the Pac-12
The Washington Huskies entered Memorial Coliseum on Thursday evening as 17 point underdogs to the No. 17-ranked USC Trojans. Four quarters later, the Huskies exited with an impressive 17-12 win thanks to an efficient running game and tenacious defensive. It was a perfect example of the coaching staff implementing a game plan to take advantage of their team’s strengths and the players executing it. Washington controlled the pace of the game, won the all-important turnover battle and held USC to 1-13 on third down.
This is the formula for Washington to make some noise in the Pac-12 North, but o they have the pieces in place to make it happen? Let’s break it down.
Through five games, Washington ranks sixth in the country in overall team defense at +104.8. Linebackers Cory Littleton (+16.3) and Keishawn Bierria (+11.9) lead the balanced defense that is equally effective at defending the rush (+51.9) and the pass (combined pass rush and coverage grade of +56.2). Even more impressive is the defensive depth. Only three players have negative grades and none less than -1.5. With the defense talent spread out so evenly and the strength at the linebacker position, Washington should be able to avoid a defensive let down in any given game.
The offensive side of the ball is a different story at -50.7. The run blocking has been the biggest issue so far this season (-36.8). Only two offensive players grade out positively as run blockers and they combine for 16 snaps on the season. Enter freshman running back Myles Gaskin. Gaskin leads the Washington offense with a grade of +5. He has forced 14 missed tackles on 58 attempts and has a respectable breakaway percentage of 54.8. As a hard runner with breakaway speed, the offense only needs to open a few holes per game to spring Gaskin for a big play.
Freshman quarterback Jake Browning has started slow at -4.7. While his completion percentage is 61.7, his accuracy percentage is 71.9 which ties him with TCU quarterback and Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin. As Browning becomes more comfortable with the speed of the college game, he should be able to cut down on the negative throws.
The Huskies’ two losses were hard-fought games against AP Top-25 opponents. Washington opened the season with 16-13 loss at Boise State and later lost at home by six to the 5-0 Cal Golden Bears. The schedule gets tougher with a home game against Oregon next week before traveling to Pac-12 North Division favorite, Stanford. In the season’s last five weeks, the toughest opponents are AP No. 5 Utah at home and on the road at Arizona State. The defense will keep the Huskies in close games. It will fall on the offense to grind out first downs, protect the ball and produce timely big plays. If they win at least two of those four games, the Huskies could be looking at their first six conference-win season since 2001.