Huskies and Cougars battled in the trenches all day
After a tough loss — another in a long series of tough road losses — what did we learn about the Washington Huskies' football team? The game was in a tough road environment at high altitude, and how well or poorly the Huskies responded gives us some interesting things to consider.
Given that the majority of the defense is returning in their second year of the program — the execution of the game plan wasn't quite as crisp as one would expect. Clearly on the 48-yard fourth quarter touchdown, the blitz coverage wasn't executed properly. There were several other plays where players either lost contain of the backfield or played too loose for their assignment.
The BYU quarterbacks — true freshman Jake Heaps and junior Riley Nelson — combined for a 60 percent completion rate - which is way too high for games you are trying to win. The run defense only gave up 140 yards which drove BYU to attack through the air. However, when that happens, the pass defense needs to hold up its end of the bargain.
Huskies' quarterback Jack Locker had some good stats for the day — 20 for 37, for 266 yards and one touchdown, but he was missing the one statistic to help his Heisman campaign - the W. In the fourth quarter, there were a few Heisman moments where he could have led his team to victory, but several failed third and fourth down conversions eliminated any chance of magic. Jake does need some support from the sideline on the play-calling, but his own decision making within must improve to get the Huskies to a bowl game, or to get himself to New York.
On several drives, the Huskies mixed up the offensive play-calling, and had the BYU defense on its heels. However, in the second half, after the adjustments, the Huskies weren't able to have the same success. The one glaring piece of the play-calling was bootlegs. There were a couple of runs called for Locker, but the roll-outs weren't called as often, and BYU's defensive ends and linebackers focused on keeping Locker in the pocket, which greatly simplified their tasks. These types of pigeon-holed play-calls also hindered the Huskies in several close games last year - the end of the Notre Dame game comes to mind.
When Brendan Lopez's first ever collegiate long-snap flew over punter Will Mahan's head, the Huskies hurt themselves with a special teams mistake. Later in the game, Chris Polk misplayed two kickoffs and left the Huskies with a longer field than was necessary.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian pulled Polk and put true freshman Jesse Callier back there — presumably with very clear instructions as to how to handle kickoffs. These issues on special teams must be addressed as the season progresses. The Huskies haven't yet gotten strong enough to win a game without a solid effort from all three phases of the game.
In order for the Huskies to achieve their goals of the season — either a Pac-10 title or a bowl game — they must address these areas. First game jitters are over. Emotions have gone up and down. Now they must learn from them and improve their execution both on the field, and the sidelines. And at some point - they have to learn how to win a tough road game.