Special teams, receivers, play calling, and more in this edition. …
Q: Following the Nebraska game, I heard a number of expert-types talks about the receivers’ inability to get separation as a factor in the poor passing game. Obviously, the primary reason was that the Nebraska DBs are really good, but from the receivers’ perspective, was there a lack of speed, strength, precise route-running, poor reads, or something else.
A: Unfortunately, I have to give the cliche answer that it’s a little bit of all of the above. But if I had to say one thing seemed to be a bigger factor than anything else it was simply shedding the defender at the line. Nebraska played physically, and often played press coverage, and it seemed like that bothered UW’s receivers. The best example may be Jake Locker’s second interception, the one returned for a touchdown, where the Nebraska defender just plowed through Devin Aguilar to get the ball (Hugh Millen, for one, argues Nebraska should have been called for illegal contact — regardless, the play illustrated how physically Nebraska’s DBs were throughout). The physical coverage meant even when UW’s receivers got free, the timing was often thrown off. So to me, that was the biggest factor.
Q: I am curious what specifically the coaches are doing to improve special teams. Lots of talk of “cleaning stuff up” but nothing seems to improve.
A: “Cleaning up” generally means making sure all the players know their assignments and are executing them correctly. The two biggest areas where this has been a problem have been simply kicking the ball where it’s supposed to go, and defenders then running to the proper place. A couple of the long returns against UW have been for these reasons. UW did also make a fairly significant scheme change to the KOR team after the first game, putting two returners back instead of just one, so not as if they haven’t changed some things.
Q: If the first 15 or so plays are scripted, why doesn’t Steve Sarkisian adjust
throughout the game when those plays weren’t working against Nebraska?
A: Well, the reality is that the first 15 plays weren’t so bad on Saturday. The first 15 offensive plays of the game would have included the first eight of what was UW’s best drive of the game — the 11-play, 80-yarder that resulted in Washington’s first touchdown. It seems like most people have been arguing that they should have kept doing what they did on that drive. And one thing to keep in mind is that while the first 15 are scripted, there are exceptions built in depending on down and distance and all of that. UW had 100 yards yards in the first quarter — 80 on the round — good numbers against that defense. It was the rest of the game that was the problem as UW had just 146 yards in the final three quarters — and just 23 yards on 13 plays in the second quarter, when the game really began to turn.
Q: UW caught a lot of people’s attention last year as they went from a doormat to a team that fights on every play. Do you think teams underestimated us last year and this year no one is looking past us for their next game? BYU is less than good, Syracuse came out swinging and Nebraska stomped us.
A: It’s possible that was the case early last year, particularly against LSU and USC. But I think once UW beat USC and got ranked No. 24 in the AP poll that every opponent took UW as seriously as anyone else. Certainly, it seemed that way the way they all played. BYU does appear to be less-than-good, and no doubt that game is really looking like a huge lost opportunity right now — the season would feel quite a bit different if UW were 2-1 now instead of 1-2. But I don’t think BYU played harder against UW this year than it would have last year or than it did in 2008 or anything. UW just didn’t play as well as it needed to win that game. No question, I think UW has gotten the best shot from its opponents so far this year. But I think it generally did last year once past that first third of the season (Cal being an exception).
All for now.