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Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Washington Offense

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Washington has an offense, and if last week is any indication, Cal's defense needs to pull a Danny Zuko and shape up.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

After escaping Austin with a win where Jerrod Heard went Super Saiyan, Cal sits at 3-0. The last time the Bears started 3-0, they lost their next game at Washington in 2011. As luck would have it, Cal heads up to Seattle to take on the Huskies on Saturday.

Washington hasn't had the greatest offense this year, breaking in a new quarterback in Jake Browning. Browning, a true freshman, threw a national record of 91 touchdowns in his senior season of high school, under the tutelage of former Cal QB Troy Taylor. Sonny Dykes compared him to Jared Goff in his early development. Browning has started to find his stride as a quarterback, going 22-31 for 368 yards and 3 touchdowns against Utah State. Washington Coach Chris Petersen has found his guy after Cyler Miles retired and Jeff Lindquist failed to live up to expectations.

That being said, the Huskies have some work to do as they get into the meat of their schedule. They averaged 2.1 yards per carry against Utah State, which is beautifully horrendous. Their top two running backs, Dwayne Washington and Myles Gaskin, did even worse against Boise State, picking up 19 yards on 13 carries. Against Sacramento State, they dominated, but their production against FBS opponents hasn't come close to that yet.

Scheme:

Unlike what LiffeyBear has written in the past, Chris Petersen has strayed away from his philosophy of using a motion man. My best guess for this is Browning's inexperience. The motion man will tell you something about the defense when the defense adjusts. You learn whether they're playing zone or man, and you can take advantage of those adjustments. At this point in the season, Browning does not have the game experience that Petersen would like in order to make these adjustments. Therein, the reads in the offense should be simpler at this point, but more motions could be incorporated in this game.

The Huskies will run a little bit of motion or will shift from time to time to mess with the defensive personnel. It can change from a shotgun set with a receiver split off the tight end:

UWForm1

Then they can move to shifting the tight end to the other side, putting the split receiver in the slot:

UWForm2

Then the nearside receiver motions to a bone position so he can be a lead blocker for the running back.

UWForm3

This play didn't work due to a blitz from the Mike linebacker and poor blocking from the left guard, but the play design takes advantage of a new numbers advantage on the left side.

Other times, there will be no motion, and the Huskies will run a route combination. In the Boise State game, UW ran quite a few plays with trips receivers to one side. This is done for two reasons. First, it cuts down the reads for Browning to one side of the field. Secondly, combination routes that can clear out space for an open receiver help cut down the decision making process even more. For example, in the play below, Washington lines up with trips to the left.

The outermost receiver goes on a streak and the innermost receiver goes on a curl. This clears out the defensive backs, and leaves Jaydon Mickens with a linebacker trying to press him. Mickens gives Browning an easy open safety valve who can pick up the first down. Browning doesn't have to go through too many progressions, and makes the right play for the first down. It also helps Browning to have this easy safety valve when the offensive line is struggling.

This line of thinking led to success against Cal's defense last year. Against Washington and UCLA especially, the defense had issues covering swing routes and passes underneath the linebackers like the one to Mickens. Due to poor open field tackling and lack of secondary depth, these plays gashed a susceptible defense. The defense of this year seems improved in that category, but they'll have to continually prove it until anyone believes it.

For more on specifics of the Washington offense, read LiffeyBear's post on Washington's offense against Utah State.

Personnel

Jake Browning is going to be the offensive centerpiece for the Huskies. He's got tools to be excellent at the college level. Much like Goff, he's a pocket passer who isn't going to run away from you, but has the ability to step up and make the right throws. You don't throw 229 touchdown passes in high school without being an excellent talent. Currently, Browning stands at 6'2" and 206 lbs. This is about the same size as yours truly, so if his offensive line is going to be as sieve-like as they were in the first two plays, he needs to pack on a bit more muscle if he doesn't want to die.

His stats for the season:

  • 66.3% completions
  • 844 yards with 9.48 yards per attempt
  • 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Those are some solid numbers, though the yards per attempt is inflated from a few long touchdown passes against Sacramento State and Utah State. That being said, the ability to make those long passes happen at this early of a stage in his college career is a good sign. His weapons around him are mostly freshmen and sophomores, so he should only get better as they improve around him. He is still a freshman, so if Josh Rosen's game last week is an indicator, Browning is still mortal and vulnerable.

Myles Gaskin and Dwayne Washington are the two running backs who will be threatening in this matchup. Gaskin will be the one who receives the bulk of the carries. He had over 10 yards per carry against Sacramento State, and received the majority of the carries against Utah State. He has the ability to be productive in the right situation and can be explosive. Washington will be a problem for our linebackers. He only had 2 rushing yards against Utah State, but burned them for 131 yards receiving and two long touchdowns. He got the first on a dump off and the second on a long seam route thrown right on the money. I'd worry about the assignments on play's like this

Jaydon Mickens is the wide receiver I'd worry about the most. He is similar to Bryce Treggs in many respects, and can make plays happen underneath. I'm fairly certain he can run a wheel route as well, which bodes problems for the Cal defense. All joking aside, he can make plays in zones where the defense is vulnerable and the open-field tackling is suspect.

Conclusion:

It's hard to say anything definitive at this time. The first two games seems to point toward the defense being above average. The Texas game led to beliefs that the defense may not be as great as the early returns say. The good thing about this matchup is that Browning does not have the same running ability as Jerrod Heard. If the Bears can get pressure on him like they did in the 3rd quarter against Texas, he could fold like a cheap card table. That may be an exaggeration, but he's a true freshman, so anything can happen. I'd expect a much better performance from the defense, leading to a much less heart-rending victory. Go Bears!