Before boarding an airplane and flying back to Seattle, let’s take a look back at Washington’s 31-24 victory over Utah with our usual review of positives and negatives. But, as always, a few links and highlights first.
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Video highlights from the Pac-12 Networks:
Audio highlights from play-by-play man Bob Rondeau:
1. The Huskies ran the ball well against a tough defensive front.
This was never as important as it was on UW’s first possession of the third quarter, after Utah had taken a 17-14 lead -- the Huskies’ first second-half deficit of the season.
UW began its ensuing possession with a 19-yard pass from Jake Browning to Darrell Daniels, followed by two big runs by Myles Gaskin -- gains of 16 and 26 yards -- and two runs by Lavon Coleman that gained nine yards before Browning’s 5-yard touchdown pass to John Ross.
Gaskin finished with 151 yards on 19 carries, plus a touchdown. He now has 878 yards rushing this season. Coleman, who has emerged as a reliable No. 2 option, had 60 yards on eight carries, and has averaged 8.3 yards per rush through UW’s first eight games.
Petersen said some of Gaskin’s runs were well-blocked, and others materialized due to Gaskin’s shiftiness (and spin moves). Browning said afterward he thought UW’s run game was the key to victory, and that he was particularly impressed the Huskies were able to piece together such an effort -- 199 yards on 36 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per rush -- against a defensive front as stout as Utah’s.
2. Dante Pettis.
The junior receiver didn’t get much on his first four punt returns. In fact, he averaged only 0.5 yards per return on Mitch Wishnowsky’s first four punts, and Utah’s star punter did a masterful job of flipping the field whenever he was called upon.
But as Pettis said, Wishnowsky’s big leg wound up helping the Huskies in the end. Pettis finally had some room to run when he caught Wishnowsky’s final punt at UW’s 42-yard line and made the first tackler miss before scooting up the right sideline for the decisive, 58-yard touchdown.
Pettis is now UW’s career record-holder with five punt-return touchdowns -- two this season, two last season and one as a freshman in 2014. His emergence as a reliable receiver this season has been one of the Huskies’ most pleasant developments. But his playmaking ability as a punt returner was what really bailed the Huskies out on Saturday.
3. All told, not a bad defensive effort.
It might have seemed at times like Joe Williams was pounding the Huskies into submission, and the Utes tailback certainly played well -- he finished with 172 yards rushing on 35 carries. But when all was said and done, Washington had limited Utah to 4.7 yards per play, a figure the Huskies can’t be too upset about. Utah ran 80 plays to UW’s 56, and the Huskies still finished with more total offense.
The Huskies were particularly stout against the pass, allowing ex-UW quarterback Troy Williams to complete only 14 of his 31 pass attempts for 163 yards -- a pretty paltry average of 5.3 yards per attempt -- and mostly eliminated Utah’s passing game as a legitimate threat (though Williams did toss a pair of touchdown passes).
Azeem Victor led the Huskies with 16 tackles (we’ll get to his two penalties in a second). Connor O’Brien filled in again for Joe Mathis and finished with eight tackles, including one for loss. UW’s run defense was soft at times, and the Huskies certainly could have pressured the passer better (we’ll get to that, too). But in the end, this was a solid defensive effort on the road against a top-20 team, given how many more plays Utah ran than UW. And the Huskies came up with a stop on Utah’s final drive when they really needed it.
1. Killer penalties.
Hard to imagine three penalties changing the game the way three personal foul penalties against the Huskies changed this one.
First, there was Azeem Victor’s taunting penalty that negated a third-down stop near the goal line in the second quarter. It was completely unnecessary, and particularly unwise. Instead of (probably) settling for a field-goal try, Utah wound up getting a first down at the 2-yard line, and scored a touchdown two plays later.
Victor’s facemask penalty on another third-down stop at the goal line gave the Utes new life on a different drive, and they also capped that one with a touchdown. And the roughing-the-passer penalty against Psalm Wooching in the fourth quarter -- the call was a little iffy, but still -- extended a Utah drive after Troy Williams had thrown an incompletion on 3rd-and-11. And, sure enough, Williams capped that drive by throwing a game-tying touchdown pass.
That’s three penalties, all committed on third down, that led directly to three Utah touchdowns. It’s not hard to imagine how different this game might have been if none of those infractions had occurred.
“Disappointing,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “I thought we’d have more poise than that.”
2. Not much pass rush.
Despite his shaky stat line, Troy Williams had quite a bit of time to throw all afternoon. UW’s only sack came when Keishawn Bierria blitzed Williams on third down on Utah’s final possession. Otherwise, Williams was pretty comfortable in the pocket.
The obvious conclusion is that the Huskies really miss Joe Mathis, who once again sat out due to injury. Petersen acknowledged afterward that Mathis’ absence was felt. He leads the team with five sacks from his edge rusher position. The Huskies didn’t have much problem pressuring the passer without blitzing in earlier games against weaker opponents, but it might be time to get a little more creative in that department.
It remains to be seen how long Mathis will have to sit. But UW could certainly use some better production from its pass rush next week when it visits California, which has one of the Pac-12’s most potent offenses, and the week after, when it hosts a surging USC team with a quality quarterback.
3. Jake Eldrenkamp is hurt.
It didn’t sound like Petersen was too concerned that Eldrenkamp would miss extended time, saying afterward that “we’ll get Jake back. It’s nothing super serious.” Still, Petersen didn’t know if Eldrenkamp would return next week, so his status will certainly be something to monitor.
UW fared OK without him. True freshman Nick Harris filled in at left guard and seemed to hold his own. But Eldrenkamp is UW’s most experienced offensive lineman, and he’s a big reason why the Huskies have taken such a big step forward in run blocking and pass protection this season. They’re fortunate to have some decent depth at his position, but they’ll certainly want him back as soon as possible.