clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Blogging with the Enemy: RBR Q&A with UW ‘Dawg Pound

John Sayler from the ‘Dawg Pound dropped by to answer some burning questions

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Both Alabama and Washington have had some tough injury luck down the stretch (oddly enough, with similar freakish bone breaks.) Our readers know how Alabama adjusted its lineup, but how has Washington worked around the loss of junior mike LB Azeem Victor and DE Joe Mathis, who at the time led the Huskies in sacks?

The Huskies defense absorbed a huge blow when pass rushing end Joe Mathis went down midway through the season with a foot injury and was done for the season. He was playing as well as anyone on a very talented defense, and the Huskies defensive philosophy of getting to the QB with a four-man rush had to be altered. Then Victor broke his leg in the USC game and some thought that would ruin the Huskies’ chances for a playoff run. Unlike Nick Saban who goes to the closet and pulls out another 5-star, dusts him off with a lint brush and continues to dominate (tongue firmly in cheek), UW lacks the depth to do the same. Freshman DJ Beavers has played well in place of Victor, but the drop-off is noticeable, especially in pass coverage. There has been a committee approach to replacing Mathis, and freshman Benning Potoa’e will get the start in the Peach Bowl.

With all the prefatory comments about transient football aside, there is one data point of comparison, USC — and it appears to be a stark contrast. But, for those who did not see the Huskies’ lone loss, what happened?

If I were an Alabama fan, it would be very easy to be confident that the Huskies will struggle in the Peach Bowl the same way they had trouble against USC. It was the only game all season where UW didn’t have the talent advantage to consistently win the one-on-one matchups, and because of that, they weren’t really able to get anything going. USC was able to stuff the run, get pressure on Browning with largely a four-man rush, and cover Washington’s receivers. Jake Browning flat out panicked in that game and really began to press in the second half. Defensively, because of injuries, it was the first time all season where UW had to dial up blitzes to get pressure, and there were a few blown coverages caused by that. The blitzes flushed USC quarterback Sam Darnold, but he moved around in the pocket, kept his eyes downfield, and made plays. Even when his passes were a little off, his receivers helped him out with nice grabs. The UW team continued to blitz the rest of the season and seemed to adjust to the necessitated change in scheme much better over the last three games.

So should each team’s USC game be the barometer for how this one will go down? We all know that’s just not how things work in college football.

Alabama's aggressive defense will give up a few deep throws in man-coverage, and UW's John Ross is obviously that guy. But, to exploit Alabama's 4th and 5th players in coverage, to work the middle of the field, who are the second and third options for the Huskies?

I just don’t think Browning will have time to get the ball deep to Ross unless the Alabama defense is forced to adjust to something else that is working for UW. It’s not likely to be the running game, so the short/intermediate passing game will be Washington’s best bet to move the football early. Alabama is too fast and tackles too well to try to work a bunch of tunnel/bubble screens and hope to break tackles, so I think we will see Browning hitting short 5-10 yard underneath routes off a two step drop with Ross and #2 WR Dante Pettis clearing out the secondary by running deeper routes. If that works, Saban will need to adjust by perhaps dropping an end into coverage and then a max-protect deep shot could be there for UW. WR Chico McClatcher and TE Darrell Daniels are the players who will have to be productive for the Huskies on these types of short routes if UW has any chance to excel on offense.

The Huskies have a very good tandem of backs in the bruising Lavon Coleman and the slippery, smaller Myles Gaskin, and Coach Petersen obviously loves to run the ball. How do you think that they will be used against an Alabama defense that gives up just 63 yards a game on the ground?

All season, the Huskies would use the passing game to set up the run. In fact, the only game where UW was able to establish a running game right from the beginning was in the Pac-12 Championship win over Colorado. Gaskin is slippery, but he is also powerful. Coleman is bruising, but he also has some wiggle. Coleman is a very good blocker, so I could see him used to help protect Browning. Gaskin has improved as a pass receiver, and there is not a ton of film of him being used in that capacity, so he could factor in the short passing game I referenced above. Bottom line, UW will not be able to just line up and hand off and hope to move the Alabama front seven back and run the football. It will take success in the passing game to provide a rhythm on offense which could then set up some blocking schemes designed to create running lanes.

At some point Jake Browning is going to get pressured. While he has just 37 non-sack rushing attempts, extending the play is a killer. Does he have the wheels to exploit overpursuit or his mobility more a matter of buying time in the pocket to find an open man?

Browning is a slippery guy. He has a good pocket awareness which at times borders on panic. If Alabama is able to bring out the panic, it could get ugly for UW on offense. He often finds success scrambling because opposing defenders have been drilled over and over not to leave receivers when Browning begins to scramble. He will keep his eyes downfield when he breaks the pocket and look to throw the ball until the last possible second. A little pump fake as he approaches the line of scrimmage often holds the LB or DB long enough for Browning to use his above average speed to get yardage.

In terms of offensive balance, points scored, and about a dozen other metrics, the measurables of the two teams matchup pretty evenly. So, if there is one clear mismatch you see in the Huskies' favor, what is it?

This one can go either way depending on –like I said above-- if Alabama is able to make Browning panic. The one clear advantage UW has on any opponent is Browning’s elite anticipation when he throws the football. When he is on his game, he makes his throws well before his receiver makes their cut and puts the ball exactly where it needs to be. That is virtually impossible to defend. Alabama’s defense is certainly capable of not letting Browning get into a rhythm, however.

With all the star power on Washington's offense (and a Budda Baker thrown in for good measure) who is this season's unsung hero, the unheralded player that has quietly made a difference?

When a team goes 12-1, there are obviously going to be several players who fit that description. But I’m going with true freshman guard Nick Harris. Harris was a two-star recruit who worked himself above some more highly touted players on the depth chart. Chris Petersen even asked offensive line coach Chris Strausser what Harris was doing working with the second string in camp. Upon watching film, Petersen retracted the question. He kind of personifies Petersen’s recruiting philosophy, finding talented players who fit his system that other coaches may have overlooked based of physical measurables. Harris has played considerably this season and started a few games. He’s an athletic blocker who will face his biggest challenge in the Peach Bowl.

Alright, what's our final score and how do we get there?

I’m terrible at predictions, but what the hell; here goes:

This is a huge stage for Washington, and no matter how many times you tell yourself you are ready for it, you’re not. Alabama has been here so many times that they will be poised from the getgo, so I see the Tide taking an early 7-0 lead and threaten for more points before the Huskies settle in and begin to play good defense. Most of the Alabama games I have watched this year the Tide toys with its prey before destroying it, so Washington will keep it a game until the second half. That’s when Hurts gets loose on a scramble or two, UW can’t keep their offense on the field, and Alabama stretches out their lead. How much they stretch out that lead will depend on how many points their defense scores.

Call it 34-13 ‘Bama.

Thanks to John Sayler for dropping by and giving us some details on the Huskies. You can follow the ‘Dawg Pound on Twitter at @UWonSBN, and visit their site at