Huskies: # 8 in Nation or # 8 in Pac-12?

browning-john-sperry

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

After a rousing win over the Idaho Vandals this past weekend, our purple friends of the north moved up two places in the Coaches Poll to the # 9 slot, while maintaining the # 8 position in the AP Poll.

Oregon continues to get mixed, minced, sliced, diced and chewed for imperfections, but the pollsters just keep a blind eye glued to the wonder dogs.

With a generous buffet of early season cupcakes going down easy, it’s still early to know for sure who has what. Both Washington and Oregon have substituted freely during second halves against the have-nots of college football, so both teams could have had greater scoring margins and better stats than what two weekends of history have shown.

The Ducks obviously have some things to figure out on defense. If they don’t, it’s going to be a matter of how many teams they can outscore. Based on what we saw Saturday night, that could be quite a few, even with a defense that seems to think that “Three-and-Out” is nothing but the name of a FishDuck.com editorial.

But though nobody is talking about it, the Washington Huskies have their own problems to work out, and those problems are the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. 40 + 59 = 8? After downing two cupcakes, the Huskies have the nation’s # 40 defense and # 59 offense. Against Rutgers and Idaho. And that somehow translates into the # 8 team in the country.

As mentioned above, the Huskies have substituted freely after establishing early leads in their first two games of the young football season. But they’ve also played two sincerely bad teams.

Rush hour for recruits at the Kibbie Hut -- home of the Idaho Vandals.

Wikimedia.org

Rush hour for recruits at the Kibbie Hut — home of the Idaho Vandals.

If you think Oregon has a geographical recruiting challenge, try recruiting to Moscow, Idaho or anywhere in New Jersey. Never setting foot in New Jersey is one of the few things I hope to accomplish before I die. And Moscow is a cow town even for Idaho. I should know. I was born in Idaho and have lived here most of my life. Maybe “cow town” is too generous. The Moscow area was originally named “Hog Heaven.” And I am not making this up.

On top of that, the Idaho Vandals play their home games in a (slightly) oversized Quonset hut. But I digress.

By any means, the Huskies have the easiest schedule in the Pac-12, and you would expect them to shine against the Idaho’s and New Jersey’s of the football world. The scoreboard that the pollsters spend nearly five minutes carefully viewing from all angles certainly suggests that they did just that.

But there are a few chinks in the doggy armor, which are apparently not as interesting to pollsters as the fact that Oregon is starting a former FCS quarterback, which obviously never works.

Besides running up some mediocre total offense and total defense stats, the Huskies have converted only 36.4 % of the time on third down. That’s # 87 in the country. Against Rutgers and Idaho. Sorry, I guess I already mentioned that.

Why is it that a team that ESPN said has some of the best offensive skill players in the Pac-12, second only to Washington State (0-2, oops) can’t convert on third down against … you know, Idaho and Rutgers? The answer has something to do with …

2. The Running Game. Everybody — and I mean EVERYBODY, even Charles Fischer, FishDuck himself — is all over Oregon’s shabby run defense. Oregon’s run defense stands at # 71 in the country at 3.9 yards per carry. You would certainly hope for better against Cal Davis and Virginia.

But Washington’s run offense sits tied for # 106 with Florida Atlantic at a meager 108.5 yards per game. Against … never mind.

You can make all the “liberal substitution” arguments you like, but the truth is that the dogs are grinding it out at an average of 3.6 yards per carry against a couple of pretty bad teams.

UW running back Myles Gaskin has gashed Rutgers and Idaho for a total of 127 yards.

John Sperry

UW running back Myles Gaskin has gashed Rutgers and Idaho for a total of 124 yards.

Leading rusher Myles Gaskin — who has gotten stuffed fairly regularly — has run 27 times for 124 yards, once breaking loose for all of an 18 yard gain. That’s an average of 4.6 yards per carry. And that’s the best the Huskies have. Against … you know who.

Note: Oregon, as a team, is averaging 6.8 yards per carry. With a so-far anemic running game, Washington has been bailed out by special teams and its …

3. Passing Game. On the surface, Washington’s passing game looks sound. QB Jake Browning has the second-highest QB rating in the country after two games. (Oregon’s Dakota Prukop sits all the way back at 11th, living proof of the perils of bringing in an FCS transfer.)

But we already knew that Browning could complete passes against weak defenses. Last year he had 13 touchdowns and only one interception against Utah State, Sacramento State, Oregon State and an Arizona team that gave up 49 points per game in six Pac-12 losses. Against everybody else, Browning had 3 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions.

This is what fast legs look like.

Gary Breedlove

This is what fast legs look like.

And there are reasons for this. First, Browning isn’t exactly the most mobile quarterback out there. Last year he galloped for 35 yards on 65 carries. So far this year, he’s minus-9 against Rutgers and minus-1 against Idaho. So if there’s any change, it’s not for the better if you’re fond of furry animals that like snow and howl at the moon.

Second, Browning’s passes have a bit of a loft to them. It’s a nice soft ball that a receiver will probably come down with if the defense is bad enough. But if the defense is a little quicker, the pass is more likely to end up an interception than a touchdown. Based on last year, about three times more likely. And in the Huskies’ first two games, we’ve seen that ball thrown a lot.

These legs -- not so much.

John Sperry

These legs — not so much. See also whose legs look scrawny in top photo.

Two years ago, USC’s Cody Kessler fit the same mold. We were told that the next year would be different. It wasn’t. Kessler actually went backwards from 2014 to 2015.

Browning in 2016 is a different quarterback in a different year, so maybe things will be different. But to me it looks like he’s throwing the same ball. And if he’s going to make his 35 yards rushing for the year, he’s got 45 of them left to go — against competition that is only going to get tougher.

Oregon has work to do and much to prove. Getting gashed up the middle by Cal Davis and Virginia has to feel uncomfortable to everybody, especially with a tough road trip to Nebraska coming up, followed by the rigorous Pac-12 schedule.

But the Ducks aren’t hiding from their problems, and nobody is telling them they’re great just the way they are. Not to mention any names, but I would be more nervous if the Ducks couldn’t run the ball or convert third down against patsies, and were still ranked in the top 10.

Top photo by John Sperry

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • William Moore

    Mike, nice to see a rational anti-Husky take. I don’t get the Husky love either and will always despise them. Now, when will we see new novels from you?

    • Mike

      Hi, William —

      Great to hear from you. Thanks for asking about the novels. I’ve had a bit of a change of direction. I’ve got two sequels in first draft form, but have started working with an editor (John Marlow) on the first one instead of moving ahead with the sequels. John is an accomplished author and screenwriter, so it’s a real privilege to be working with him.

  • Platypus

    All is right with the world this Monday morning…excellent purple dawg bashing not to mention it’s all true. I love it when the national media sets the bar so high that there’s only one place to go for the mutts. Stanford is going to put some kind of hurt on them in two weeks.

  • Kellen Garrett

    They’ve done nothing to deserve their ranking but my biggest concern is the receiver play from Washington. Defense better get ready because those guys can burn people.

  • Bashing the Huskies with facts, sweet pics of sacking Huskies and my Mike Merrell fix. It is a good day!

  • MAITAIDUCK

    I have to agree with everything you said Mike and I also hope Oregon finds some guys to stop the run because if Hoke can’t coach better than this why was all the time wasted to bring him in. We could of just stayed in a 3-4 defense and brought in Mike Nolan who I’m sure would of had the run game dialed in and stopped.

  • AC Tesla

    As a lifetime Husky I’m not sure we are for real either. I dont take early season polls that seriously. That said, I’m beginning to think that Jake Browning is developing into an exceptional QB. I’m looking forward to the game in Eugene instead of dreading it although I wish it was later in the season when Jake has had more time to perfect his skills. John Ross also looks crazy good. Nice to see him come back with all his blazing speed in tact

    I don’t know how good the Ducks are either, but I expect a good tough game. I’m sure your fans will be the good sports we’ve always known Duck fans to be. I know Coach Pete is looking forward to getting to coach in Autzen Stadium again.

    • Mike Merrell

      HI, AC —

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. It will be interesting to see if Browning has matured against good competition. I’m not sure if later in the season would be better news for the Ducks or the Huskies. The Ducks definitely have some things to (hopefully) work out, and Helfrich is 8-0 over the past two years in November. If everybody stays healthy, Oregon’s young offensive line (as many as 4 RS freshmen starting) should make for a dynamite offense later on in the season.

      The disrespect shown to Oregon’s skill players is absolute nonsense. As for the Duck defense, right now looks like an offensive coordinator’s wet dream. There are many prayers being spoken that the light will come on really, really soon.

      • AC Tesla

        I still like the idea of the game later in the season Mike. I’d rather win or lose with both teams at the top of their games. I have a great amount of respect for the Oregon program and there is no doubt the OU program has been much better than the Dawgs for more than a decade.and I’m sure they will be favorites come that Saturday. But I think the Dawgs just may have one of the best coaches in the country in Coach Pete and I don’t think the Ducks can assume that they will just steamroll the Huskies.

        This is a very athletic Washington team with both the size and the speed to hang with the Ducks. Something that hasn’t been true for a long time. Also Jake is the most accurate throwing Husky QB I may have seen in 4 decades. He doesn’t have the strongest arm or the best mobility, but he sure has the touch.

        I wouldn’t say the pollsters are showing Oregon disrespect. Unless you’re Alabama, they just look at the players returning and not much else. Also given that Oregon is starting an FCS QB, I don’t think you can blame them for saying to Oregon “prove it”. And not every FCS QB is Vernon Adams. I knew that kid could play since he sliced up the UW secondary when he was at Eastern. Is this FCS kid that good? If the Ducks learned anything last year is that Adams made a huge difference and the other QBs were so so at best.

        • Mike Merrell

          Probably the greatest disrespect shown to the Oregon program this year occurred when ESPN rated Oregon’s skill trifecta (QB-RB-receiver) as sixth in the conference, with WSU first and UW second.

          The Ducks have the best group of running backs in the conference, hands down. They are so deep at receiver that a guy who ran in the Olympic finals in the 110 hurdles, has great hands and knows how to run routes and block,0 isn’t even in the starting lineup. That is ridiculous depth.

          As for QB, Prukop was not just another FCS QB. He was first team All America on a team that provided no supporting cast.

          QB depth was an issue for the Ducks last year. But last year’s # 2 QB is now # 5 on the depth chart. It is bizarre that national media is essentially saying that (1) Oregon can’t develop its own QB’s (Marcus Mariota, anyone?), and (2) can’t recruit QB’s. Oregon recruited Prukop against Alabama, Michigan and Texas. It’s also strange for Prukop to be questioned. Your own words, “Is this kid that good?” echo the national media. Good lord, Nick Saban was fighting to the end to get his hands on the guy.

          When games are played in the season is a real craps shoot. Development is one thing. When you factor in injuries, team morale, individual matchups, etc. it gets complicated. I think most Oregon fans are hoping really hard that the Duck defense gets things worked out before they find themselves in over their heads.

          • AC Tesla

            I haven’t seen Prukop play so I’m not going to judge him yet. But these are early season guesses by ESPN.

            What would you expect since virtually no one has seen him play? Do you really think based entirely on promise that they should have been ranked higher at that point? Maybe you’re right, and they’ll be Heisman contenders midway through the season, but to say they were slighted is an overreach.

          • Mike Merrell

            AC —

            Again, I disagree. Those were not “early season guesses” by ESPN. They were poorly researched and idiotic assertions. How poorly researched and idiotic? On the College Football show, Todd McShay, pretending the be a big expert on Oregon, said that if the Ducks had won their bowl game last year, that would have made 8 wins.

            As for the importance of coaching, I agree completely. As a former college athlete, I’ve had some great coaches and a couple who had issues. The impact of coaching is HUGE. It’s not only techniques and motivation. Maintaining a team culture is in my mind the biggest factor — and it falls squarely on the coaches. Look at all the trouble USC has had trying to regain a team culture, and where it has left them.

          • AC Tesla

            You say tomato Mike. Of course they were poorly researched. Do you think they have time to make good assessments? Mostly, they look at how good you were last year and who is returning.

            As for coaching, we are in total agreement and that is the biggest reason I think the Huskies are on the rise. Coach Petersen sold me when he cut Marcus Peters. You just don’t see many coaches with the courage to kick the best player off the team.

            I’m optimistic, but I should be at this point. You can’t go into these games thinking you don’t have a chance which I definitely felt like for about 10 years. I hope what you fear. That the Dawgs return to the way they played under Don James. Coach Pete has me thinking he might be the Dawgfather reincarnated.

  • CAPT_Mike2

    Hi Fishduck,
    Been quite awhile since last visit, and you’ve been busy!
    Quite agree the Husky Hype Train is rolling strong, and that stats
    Against weak opponents are *not* a good measure.
    Nonetheless, it appears our Dawgs look improved, and
    That your Ducks have cause for concern.
    I’m not dumb enough to predict a win at your house;
    h*ll, until we actually crank out a win you deseverdly retain
    ‘Bragging rights.’
    For the record, I have enjoyed your site as a great place to
    learn more about the game.

    Best Regards,
    HuskyInExile

    • Mike Merrell

      Hi, Capt —

      Thanks for reading and commenting. You guys are making it difficult for us to hate all things Husky, which is one of our major reasons for living.

      There are two things I won’t believe until I see. One is Browning’s ability to hit receivers under heavier pressure and against tighter coverage. The other is Oregon putting up a good show on defense. Missing in action so far is Myles Gaskin. He sure has been getting stuffed at the LOS a lot. Not so sure about the Husky O-line, which gave up 30 sacks last year, and doesn’t appear to be run blocking all that well this year. The game could well come down to who improves more — UW O-line or UO defense. It looks to me that both have some distance to cover.

      • CAPT_Mike2

        Guess I’m inclined to agree.
        Good news, from our point of view, is that even this early in the season, is that the game looks to be competitive.
        I’ll admit to concerns about issues you’ve pointed out, and I’ll be d*mn*d before getting hopes up too high; that
        Kind of attitude was richly rewarded during Sark’s tenure!
        In any case, we need to take care of business w Arizona (in the dreaded desert), and chop down the Tree first.

      • AC Tesla

        I’m curious Mike, did you watch the UW Idaho game or just look at the stats? Browning was 23 of 28 for an 82% completion average and frankly 3 out of the 5 incompletions were dropped balls. Also if anything, the O-line was less than stellar not providing the cleanest of pockets. The first touchdown should have answered your question about Browning.

        If you’re looking for chinks in the Husky armor I think you’re looking in the wrong place. Jake has been great going back through the last 5 games of last year with a 70+ plus completion percentage. Right now, the offensive line troubles me more than anything. Neither the run game or the pass protection has looked as good as you would expect against these lesser opponents. If it doesn’t find its rythm Oregon will run away from the Dawgs again. But as we both know it’s early. I’m hoping they start asserting themselves so I can keep dreaming about Husky wins. Go Dawgs!

        • MAITAIDUCK

          Yeah he’s great all right! Seriously speaking though the mutts don’t have a whole lot of talent regardless in their offense. Not like Oregon does and by the time that game comes around I will bet it becomes more like the games before last years close game. Oregon has possibly their best offense ever so I doubt Washington will stop it at all especially at or in Eugene. Oregon is way deeper than the huskys especially on offense as in 3 deep at all positions except O Line. Oregon will be on a continued win streak especially if they beat Nebraska a team that’s better than Washington.

          • AC Tesla

            It doesn’t look that way to me. There is no doubt to me that the Ducks recruited some good players and are maybe deeper than the Huskies but Coach Pete seems to some exceptional players as well. In a way injuries that hurt the Huskies the last few years have actually been a bit of a blessing since they have come back stronger and faster than before. If you think that Ross, Pettis and Gaskin aren’t high quality players at this point, then you never will.

            As for your assessment of the Oregon offense. That seems like hyperbole to me. Prukop hasn’t been challenged. Virginia is NOT Washington which is returning 7 starters from the PAC-12s best defense last year.

            I’m not looking past the Ducks, in fact I predicted 2 losses for the Huskies this year. The first against Stanford and the second in Eugene. That said, my guess is this game will be much harder than you want to believe.

        • Mike Merrell

          AC —

          I respectfully disagree on the “last 5 games of last year” point. The last three, yes. They were against the Beavers, WSU on the ropes without Falk, and Sun Belt powerhouse Southern Mississippi.

          The two games before that were against Utah and Arizona State. In those two games Browning was 51/91 for 56 %, with two TD’s and four interceptions. A good part of his issues against better teams last year (and the verdict is still out on this year) may well be the offensive line, coupled with a lack of mobility – a bad combination. You can get away with that against weak defenses, but he was still in the top 20 for taking sacks last year with 30 on the season.

          The pattern last year was that he played great against skill-challenged defenses, and was a bit of a deer in the headlights against defenses that could bring it. It’s great to complete over 80 % against Idaho, but what happens against Stanford?

          • AC Tesla

            Sorry, I was trying to say through the last 5 games including last year. I get it, you’re not a believer in what was a true freshman having ups and downs and you believe that will continue to struggle against better teams even as he matures. Maybe, maybe not.

            Browning doesn’t have the athletic prowess of a Mariota or Locker, but he’s incredibly accurate. Yes, Browning was average against the better teams last years, but I’m of the belief that maybe we can attribute much of that to being a pure freshman. I hope.

            The proof will be in the games. See you in Eugene Mike.