As we always do the day after a Washington Huskies football game, it’s time to parse positives and negatives, this time from a 48-13 UW victory over Rutgers.
First, a few quick links.
--- And here are the final stats, play by play and game participation. I count 72 UW players who saw the field.
1. Jake Browning seems to have improved his deep throws.
This was one of Browning’s biggest problems as a freshman. How many times did a receiver run open last season, only to have Browning misfire with the ensuing throw? It made it difficult for the Huskies to get their downfield passing game going, and Browning identified that problem as an area of emphasis during the offseason.
It seems he made some positive changes. Browning made a trio of outstanding deep throws in the first quarter, each of them touchdowns -- 43 yards to Chico McClatcher, and throws of 38 and 50 yards to John Ross III.
(He also missed Ross on a deep ball, saying later that he threw it too flat and didn’t put enough air under it. He corrected that mistake on his next two throws to Ross, who, considering his speed, is a difficult guy to overthrow.)
Deep throws, Browning said, were “something I struggled with last season, but I have been getting better through spring ball and fall camp. Like I said, just working on the little things because we weren’t very far off last season. Those little things here and there when you are throwing the ball that far down the field. The smallest detail can make the difference. It was nice to get that going and obviously Ross helps with that. There is definitely room for improvement. I missed Dante (Pettis) on one that I thought could be a big play. There is still room to improve on stuff like that, but it was a step in the right direction.”
UW coach Chris Petersen agreed, saying Browning simply needed to learn how to put air under the ball and give his receivers a chance to run under it.
“I think there is nothing more frustrating when you're throwing a deep ball and you don't give a guy a chance to make a play on it,” Petersen said. “Whether it gets thrown out of bounds... just over throw 'em. We threw one that was a little bit short and Dante got the pass interference on it so that's another good thing. We'd like to be able to give our guys chances to make plays on the ball. I thought Jake did a great job with that today.”
2. John Ross is still really fast -- and definitely healthy.
You likely already knew this, considering that he ran a hand-timed 4.25-second 40-yard dash at the Husky Combine in March. But against real, live football players, Ross caught five passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns, returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdowns and looked exactly like the player the Huskies need him to be.
“I feel better than I have ever,” Ross said. “I feel bigger, faster, and I am just really thankful I am able to do it again.”
Petersen said that was no surprise, because even though Ross missed last season due to a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee, he’s been healthy and practicing since the spring.
Ross said he spent the offseason working on routes with Browning, because he didn’t get to catch any passes from him while he sat out last season. Their chemistry was apparent on one of Ross’ touchdown catches: the Huskies had a run call in, but Browning saw the 1-on-1 matchup he wanted against Ross (Ross said he saw it, too, and “got a little too excited”), and checked into a deep throw to Ross.
“He is very fast, and it is a year and a half of hard work that he has put in to getting the knee back and all that,” Browning said. “I’m excited for him because he is such a good guy and works so hard. It was nice to see him come into his own after all that hard work he put in.”
3. The defense couldn’t have looked much better.
From the start, it was apparent Rutgers could do very little against the Huskies’ No. 1 defense. They gained just nine yards on their first 15 rush attempts, and finished the first quarter with minus-6 yards rushing. Quarterback Chris Laviano rarely had time to throw -- the Huskies sacked him three times -- and Rutgers wound up averaging just 3.5 yards per play. They also forced three turnovers, including two that resulted in scores (a field goal and a touchdown).
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said it was an ideal start, and that for all the unknowns presented by Rutgers’ first-year coaching staff, the Huskies seemed to handle themselves fine in their 2016 debut.
“When you get three turnovers and do a pretty good job keeping them in check for most of the game,” he said, “it’s a good start, for sure.”
Another plus: because they were so far ahead in the second half, the Huskies were able to rest their starters and use as many players as they wanted.
1. The running game didn’t look great.
Against an opponent as weak as Rutgers, the Huskies likely expected to get more out of starting tailback Myles Gaskin than 57 yards on 15 carries. As a team, the Huskies averaged only three yards per rush. The strength of Rutgers’ defense is its defensive line, so perhaps some struggles were to be expected, but there is no question the Huskies wanted to run the ball better than they did.
“Hit and miss,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “I thought we had some good hits early with Myles. We did get some explosives, so our run game in the first half wasn’t what we wanted. Really disappointed in the third quarter. Had an emphasis on wanting to come out and run the ball there, and we didn’t get that going. That’s what I’m saying, there’s a lot to clean up.”
The Huskies finished with 380 yards of total offense after tallying 202 in the first quarter alone. But they only ran 59 plays, scored on a kickoff and punt return, and had a touchdown set up by Brandon Beaver’s interception return to the 4-yard line -- and played their backups for most of the second half -- so the total yards number is deceiving.
2. The Huskies only converted 3-of-12 on third down.
Washington ranked 10th in the Pac-12 last season in third-down conversion percentage at just 37.9, and Saturday didn’t look any better as the Huskies converted at just a 25 percent rate.
Again, they didn’t really need to, and they obviously had no problem piling up a bunch of points in the first quarter. This, like the running game, is a minor nit. But when coaches sit down to analyze film and correct mistakes, I would imagine third down will be an emphasis.
“I look at our third down,” Smith said. “We had a couple opportunities in the red zone we didn’t finish. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but we’ll definitely take it as a start.”
3. It was just Rutgers.
After a game like that, there isn’t a lot to criticize, so one of the “negatives” might simply be that Rutgers doesn’t look like a very good football team, and the Huskies will have to prove themselves against several very good football teams this season.
(And no, Idaho and Portland State don’t rise to that threshold, either.)