Washington Football Offensive Preview
I want you to know how painful it was to watch these games and have to listen to a bunch of lunatics constantly woofing throughout.
Cal will open Pac-12 play with a visit to Seattle, where the Huskies hope that the ghost of Evan Weaver can’t haunt them anymore. The season has not gone very smoothly for the Huskies so far: they opened the season with an embarrassing loss to FCS Montana 13-7, and were thoroughly dominated for most of the game in a loss to Michigan 31-10 (before a 4th quarter touchdown made the score a little bit more respectable). The losses fell squarely on the shoulders of the offense and their inability to get any drives going. The defense looked solid the majority of the time, but after enough 3-and-outs against Michigan, they were eventually worn down and gave up 3 touchdowns in the second half. The Huskies finally turned it around against an obviously overmatched Arkansas State team and blew them out of the water in a 52-3 drubbing.
I still don’t understand what went wrong for Washington in the Montana game. Arkansas State looked more like an FCS team than Montana did: they gave Washington the exact same defensive looks the entire game, and were beaten on the exact same offensive plays the entire game (typically, a deep shot down the sidelines for WR Jalen McMillan). Arkansas State just did not have the personnel required to play man coverage against UW’s receivers. Montana, on the other hand, bullied a far more talented offensive line (LT Jaxson Kirkland will likely be drafted to the NFL in the early rounds, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see OC Luke Wattenberg or RG Henry Bainivalu drafted either — although definitely not based on the way they played in the Montana game) to stifle the UW run game and generate pressure and force mistakes by their quarterback.
So, in a nutshell, this is an offensive unit that has been inconsistent at best. Before the season, I had UW as a dark horse contender for the Pac-12 North: they have talent all over the field, a strong defense, and the bulk of their skill position players returning. They also added a 5-star QB to their roster, UW legacy Sam Huard (the son of Damon Huard and nephew of Brock Huard, both former UW/NFL QBs). “Freshman” (read: second year) QB Dylan Morris is still the starter, but that’s some stiff competition looking over his shoulder. The Huskies have fallen below expectations, but have they finally turned the corner on offense?
Let’s hope not.
By most reports, QB Dylan Morris is a hard-working, smart quarterback. He has a decent-to-good arm, and is fairly accurate most of the time. My biggest issue with Morris is that he’s often attempting difficult or dangerous throws with little margin of error:
This is a great throw, but if his accuracy is just a bit off, this could have been a pick-6. Indeed, 3 games into the season, he has 4 touchdowns but 5 interceptions. A lot of his interceptions have looked similar, e.g. he’ll try to zip one in to a receiver on a crossing route, but he’ll throw it with too much heat and just a bit behind his receiver, and it’ll deflect off the receiver’s hands for an interception by the trailing defensive back.
A play that Washington took advantage of in their previous game against Arkansas State was the following:
That is, get man coverage to the outside, and keep throwing it over the defensive back to a talented receiver like Jalen McMillan. I’m pretty sure that Morris racked up at least half of his 367 yards last game in this fashion. It’s not an easy throw, but Morris hit it repeatedly.
QB Dylan Morris is more of a pro-style quarterback, but he has decent enough mobility if he does get flushed from the pocket:
Although QB Dylan Morris reportedly plays mistake-free football, I didn’t always find that to be the case. There were some throws where he either didn’t read the coverage correctly, or he did read it correctly but figured he could make an extremely difficult throw anyway.
In the following example, Morris gets greedy swinging for a homerun instead of taking the wide-open throws underneath:
The next play I have to cut Morris a little bit of slack because he was just trying to make something happen, but this is probably not the kind of throw you want to see when the game is on the line:
There will be a lot of pressure on the Cal defensive backs to take away the big play from Morris, because Morris will most definitely take shots down the field. It would also help to get some pressure on Morris, as he does make some bad decisions when facing pressure.
Richard Newton is the starting running back, although (like Cal), UW has a lot of running backs in the rotation. Newton is likely their most versatile back, possessing a nice blend of both size and speed, and he took a lot of snaps from the wildcat for UW in critical yardage situations.
Sean McGrew, on the other hand, is the undersized running back—he’s listed at 5’7” 180 lbs.—but he doesn’t play like it. Although he’s very quick and elusive, he’s not afraid of contact, and I often saw him run directly at and through tacklers. McGrew takes a lot of pitches out of the backfield as a way to help him get the ball in open space, and he’s also a receiving threat.
Another well-rounded back is Cameron Davis. Davis is decent in protection, but he also has a nice blend of size and speed.
Despite the talented running backs, the Washington run game has been struggling so far this year. Even though Washington has a ton of talent on the offensive line, so far they have not been playing up to their potential. Teams have seemingly gone after the redshirt freshman LG Julius Buelow and RT Victor Curne, but the more experienced OC Luke Wattenberg and RG Henry Bainivalu haven’t been playing well either. Their best offensive lineman, LT Jaxson Kirkland, struggled against Michigan, but he was being matched up with another very talented NFL Draft prospect (DE Aidan Hutchinson, who beat Kirkland a few times). I am not sure why the offensive line has regressed since last season, but their running backs have struggled to take off as they are often being met behind the line of scrimmage, which keeps forcing Washington into obvious passing situations. The performance of the Washington offensive line is something to keep an eye on.
I’ve been writing the same things about UW’s receiving corps pretty much every year, and the story is still the same: there’s a lot of talent here. So much so, in fact, that receivers buried on the depth chart have transferred away to start for other teams (e.g. Ty Jones is starring for Fresno State, Puka Nacua left for BYU, we just saw Jordan Chin at Sacramento State, etc).
The most obviously talented receiver is the NFL-ready tight end, Cade Otton. Otton has a lot of versatility as a receiver, and can be seen lining up all over the formation as UW looks for mismatches in coverage. He’s a great route runner for a tight end, and he’ll often find his way into the soft spots of zone coverage for reliable chunks of yards. He’s got great hands, and can be counted on to use his size and receiving skills to make tough contested catches. He’s also tough to bring down:
I’m also a big fan of Terrell Bynum. I’m not sure why, but I think a lot of Huskies fans aren’t. I suppose he doesn’t have elite size or elite speed (and a lot of UW fans have unreasonable standards), but for some reason, Terrell Bynum always seems to show up in big moments. I take highlights when I see them, and I naturally just end up with a lot of Bynum highlights.
For instance, Bynum was the only receiver to pull in a touchdown against Michigan:
Here’s another big play, where Bynum gives the defensive back no chance: he doesn’t turn to make the catch until the last possible moment, and when he does, he pulls in the one-handed grab:
WR Jalen McMillan had a big breakout game against Arkansas State. He was already featured in some of the QB Dylan Morris highlights, but here he is again, just beating man coverage with speed:
They honestly have too many receivers to give proper attention to, and this article is already long enough as it is. Michigan transfer WR Giles Jackson is often seen in gadget plays or running the jet sweep. Rome Odunze projected to be a starter with his speed and play-making ability, but he has missed the start of the season with an injury and is still listed as questionable. They also have a large number of 4-star freshman wide receivers. In short, UW will not be hurting for talent at the receiver position for a while.
However, despite all this talent, there is one issue I want to point out with the receiving corps: drops. UW receivers have the ability to get wide open against overmatched defenders, only to then drop an easy catch:
As good as this group is, they don’t always play up to their potential.
I’ve been saying something similar for the past few years now, but this is a match that doesn’t look too good for Cal on paper, and yet that hasn’t seemed to stop Cal in previous years. Of course, it takes a lot of things going right for Cal, and a lot of things going wrong for the Huskies. Cal’s chance really depend on which version of UW shows up: the potential Pac-12 contender, or the team that dropped one to an FCS school. After the departure of Chris Petersen, they certainly haven’t looked as sharp as in years prior, so I am cautiously optimistic.