Washington’s red zone issues stretch back to 2018. And through the first half of this season, the Huskies haven’t found a consistent solution.
Even in the win over Arizona, where UW scored on all seven of its trips to the red zone, it still settled for field goals three times. During the first half, the Huskies twice started drives in Wildcat territory — once inside the 10-yard line — and couldn’t reach the end zone.
So it seemed natural that UW head coach Chris Petersen would field a question about Oregon’s red zone defense during his meeting with the media on Thursday. After all, the Ducks have the No. 5 red zone defense in the country.
Petersen’s response: “Hopefully, we get in the red zone.”
He has a point. Opponents have only reached the red zone just 14 times against Oregon, which is tied for fifth nationally. But when teams do get there, it’s still difficult to leave with a touchdown. Opponents have scored 8-of-14 times, or 57 percent. But Oregon has only allowed two red zone touchdowns, which leads college football.
“We’ve been talking about that until we’re blue in the face,” Petersen said. “Not only in the red zone … you’re talking about after the Auburn game, (Oregon has) given up one touchdown a game. It’s all critical. We’ve got to be able to stay in manageable situations and play our best ball.”
The Huskies have scored on 18 of their 22 red-zone trips this season. But they’ve only made it to the end zone 11 times, or 50 percent. That’s a drop from 2018 when they scored a touchdown 59 percent of the time.
In its loss to Stanford, UW scored on two of its three red zone appearances but managed just one touchdown. The Huskies also scored just a single touchdown in their 20-19 loss to Cal as all four red-zone trips ended in a field goal. UW did have some success in the second half against Arizona, scoring four red-zone touchdowns.
“I think it goes to rhythm and guys understanding in that red zone you’re going to have to … play assignment-perfect football,” Petersen said of the second-half improvement against Arizona. “That, to me, is not overly complicated to play assignment-perfect football. You’ve got to know your assignments. And if you don’t, we’re doing too much with them as coaches.
“And then we’ve got to play really fundamentally great football. Doesn’t have to be perfect, but we’ve got to have great fundamentals. There’s a couple times we weren’t perfect on our assignments. If you’re not perfect down there, good luck.”
Peyton Henry bounces back
Last season, UW kicker Peyton Henry had a chance to beat Oregon. Late in the fourth quarter, with the score knotted at 24, Henry trotted onto the field at Autzen Stadium to attempt a 37-yard field goal.
Oregon called timeout twice in an attempt to ice him, but he got the kick off both times. He missed the first, made the second. But the third — the one that counted — went wide right.
After the game, Petersen had this to say: “I feel bad for Peyton. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a young guy. I wish they wouldn’t have had as many timeouts to keep doing that. Peyton is a hard-working guy. He’s made a lot of field goals in his short career. He will be back, and he will be better.”
Those words have proved prophetic.
Now a sophomore, Henry has yet to miss a field goal this season. He even set a career-high with a 49-yard make against Cal. Henry is 14-for-14 on field goals and 29-for-29 on extra points. He made 16-of-22 field goals in 2018 and 43-of-44 extra points in 2018.
“Whether you’re doing really well, you have to keep learning from why am I doing well,” Petersen said Thursday. “And when things don’t go right, it’s how do I fix this? And just keep that mindset of, I’m truly in the moment and I’m truly grinding. And that’s what he’s done.”
Petersen said starting center Nick Harris is “week-to-week.” Harris missed last week’s win over Arizona with an injury. After the game, Petersen said he thought Harris would be available to play against Oregon.