A template is finally in the books. Opponents now have an official scouting report on the Washington Huskies football team under new coach Steve Sarkisian.
Plan on giving our insight about what unfolded in 60 minutes, a few grades. But first, one journalistic explanation about late deadlines.
A 7:38 p.m. start might be fan-friendly, but is no ally to the deadlines. On Saturday, four reporters were in the press box to write two pages worth of content – with 90 percent of it quote-less. In fact, three of the stories were filed before the game ended right before 11 p.m.
As far as the game story, in last night's situation, I know going that in a nationally-televised game on ESPN, the best-case scenario for an ending is what happened – 11 p.m. Consequently, I had been writing a running account of the game, with a few minutes to polish it up before sending it at a strict deadline of 11:15 p.m.
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Two TNT reporters were on the field at the end of the game, with hopes of grabbing a player/coach quote for the main bar. Nobody was talking, but Don Ruiz fetched a quote from UW athletic director Scott Woodward, which was the best we could get (and I'm not complaining … Woodward is a pretty accommodating guy).
Sarkisian took the podium for his post-game press conference at around 11:20 p.m. – five minutes past deadline. There was little chance to chase anything into the game story.
So … a little insight about the process.
And now the team:
&bull GIVE J.J. THE BALL
The depth at the receiver position was talked about all preseason. Sarkisian envisioned rotating as many as six of them against No. 11 Louisiana State. And that is what happened – six played (barely).
Here was my unofficial snap count for each player in the UW's 83 plays from scrimmage:
1, James Johnson, freshman: 68.
2, Devin Aguilar, sophomore: 45.
3, D'Andre Goodwin, junior: 43
4, Jordan Polk, sophomore: 37.
5, Jermaine Kearse, sophomore: 26.
6, Cody Bruns, sophomore: 2.
What do we take from this? First of all, it's clear this is a new staff with new ideas. So why not use new weapons, especially if they are your own?
Right now, Johnson is the team's No. 1 receiver – by a wide margin. He should be. He has skills no other receiver has. He's the complete package.
Sarkisian has dubbed the true freshman, "Big-Game James," UW tailback Johri Fogerson admitted after the game.
And it seems like the regulars are getting used to the idea that Johnson will be in the lineup. A lot.
"He makes plays. I … honestly haven't seen him drop a ball since we've been in camp, maybe once or twice," Fogerson said. "He has hands of glue, man."
By my count, Sarkisian utilized 15 different receiver combinations. Johnson was part of eight of them, with the most popular being the pairing with Jordan Polk, with whom he started the last fall scrimmage in August, and the first play Saturday night against LSU. The duo took 19 snaps together.
Next was the three-receiver set of Johnson, Goodwin and Aguilar (15 plays).
Bottom line, when Sarkisian chose to be aggressive in the passing game – on slants, seam routes and curls, and not necessarily throwing deep – Johnson was in the game. He commands the attention needed to open up other players, and the new coach has quickly realized it.
&bull TWO-RUNNING BACK SPLIT IN SPACE
Now, here is the unofficial count of receiver-set distribution in 83 plays:
One-receiver sets: Two (2.4 percent of plays).
Two-receiver sets: 37 (41 percent).
Three-receiver sets: 31 (37.3 percent).
Four-receiver sets: 13 (15.7 percent).
One relevant thing jumps out about this – in order to create mismatches, as long as they stay healthy, he is going to pair tailbacks Chris Polk and Fogerson together, splitting one or both of them out. Sarkisian did that in a lot two-receiver sets, giving the defense almost a four-receiver look.
Fogerson had two receptions for 58 yards, including a 51-yard catch on the UW's first drive. It set up Jake Locker's 17-yard TD throw to Johnson.
Polk has two receptions for 34 yards. And both running backs were targeted more than that, a combined nine times.
"Coach Sark sees things we obviously don't see all the time," Forgerson said. "He said it's a dual threat (attack)."
&bull AIYEWA DOES SAFETY DANCE
Sometimes it's unclear why a coaching staff patiently waits for a player to get up to speed, or get healthy or finally realize how football is supposed to be played.
One of those players is junior Victor Aiyewa.
Frustratingly, Aiyewa has been injury-riddled. He had the world's longest-sustaining groin injury in 2008. He had a concussion on a benign hit the latter part of fall camp that kept him out over a week.
But his contributions jump off the table, as they did Saturday against LSU.
As a reserve, he had five tackles, and two pass breakups. He also was part of the hit with linebacker Mason Foster that forced LSU running back Charles Scott to fumble at the Huskies' 18 early in the second quarter.
Aiyewa will make mistakes. He commits silly penalties (like he did on special teams). But he simply is an impact performer. And on a defense that desperately needs that, his services should be required full-time.
Is there a spot open for him? We'll know this week. Free safety Greg Walker could not make the tackle on two long LSU scoring passes to Terrance Toliver, who is a wonderfully-talented athlete. Unfortunately, Walker is not, and that was exposed on both plays, which came on cornerback blitzes, leaving Walker alone to deal with Toliver.
Toliver's final TD grab, a 39-yarder with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter, gave LSU a 24-13 lead. It also signaled Walker's last play of the night with the defense.
A defensive pairing that personally I think has vast potential is moving Nate Williams to free safety, and letting Aiyewa patrol strong safety. It was a combination that coaches experimented with at the end of the preseason, and used the entire fourth quarter Saturday night.
OK, some grades:
PASSING: Some of Locker's best throws of the summer came on slant patterns. His third-down conversion was ridiculously good. He threw for a career-high 321 yards. One interception was returned for a TD. Grade: B-plus.
RUSHING: The UW has something in the Chris Polk-Fogerson tandem. Polk is running tough, and surprisingly put a lot of stress on the Tigers' front seven Saturday night. He has 21 carries for 90 yards. Grade: A-minus.
RECEIVING: By my count, only two drops, which is encouraging. Johnson is a star-in-the-making. Pair or group him with whoever, and Sarkisian should be able to exploit some matchup on the field. Also, props for tight end Kavario Middleton (five catches, 45 yards, one TD), who outplayed his much higher-publicized counterpart, LSU's Richard Dickson. Grade: B-plus.
OFFENSIVE LINE: No real troublesome aspects, except for one sack given up and a couple of false starts. Against LSU, that is prettty solid. Grade: B.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Charles Scott is a big running back, and LSU wanted to run him up the middle. For the most part, defensive tackles Cameron Elisara and Alameda Ta'amu (who has a sack and quarterback pressure) were up to the challenge. Grade: B.
LINEBACKERS: Not surprisingly, E.J. Savannah (11 tackles), Mason Foster (eight) and Donald Butler (six) lead the team in tackles. Foster was outstanding by forcing and recovering Scott's fumble. Savannah was sloppy early, but had a stellar second half. Grade: B.
SECONDARY: The weakest link. Walker was beaten on two scoring plays, and was replaced. Cornerback Vonzell McDowell Jr. couldn't handle Toliver, either. Coaches are still feeling out this group. It could lead to more playing time for Wilson High product Desmond Trufant (two defensive snaps) at cornerback opposite Quinton Richardson. Grade: C.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Coordinator Johnny Nansen's approach not to boot the ball to speedster Trindon Holliday was the right call. LSU's longest kickoff return was 11 yards. After struggling the latter part of fall camp, kicker Erik Folk made 3-of-4 field goals (34, 37, 32), but missed wide left on a key attempt from 42 yards early in the fourth quarter. Grade: B-minus.