John Wooden once said, “Nothing is ever as good as it seems, and nothing is ever as bad as it seems.” On Saturday, against Stanford, the offense did appear to be as bad as it seemed. One of my keys to the game heading into Saturday which I mentioned in last week’s article was hitting Stanford over the top with big passing plays. Unfortunately that happened only once in the game (a touchdown to Jaydon Mickens.) It becomes very difficult to win a game when you have no vertical passing game, and Stanford is too good of a defense to face without that vertical passing threat.
But it wasn’t just the lack of a deep passing game that hurt the UW offense, it was pretty much everything. Coming into the game Stanford was the #1 ranked defense in the country, sadly I speculated that that ranking might have been more indicative of the competition they had faced up to that point; I was wrong. Stanford is so sound defensively, they are well coached and they do everything as a unit on the field.
It really showed while watching the game from my perch in the upper deck. One of the first things I look at when the offense gets to the line of scrimmage is how many players the defense has in the box, what our formation is, and where the safeties are for the defense. I would venture to guess that Stanford had a two-deep safety look over 75% of the time on defense. As an offense, if you see the defense is in two-deep it usually means you should run the ball, and in the first half we tried to do that. Unfortunately, Stanford’s front seven is mammoth (which allows them to run a ton of two-deep) and handled our offensive line up front rather easily on running plays. There were so many times that Stanford had just six players in the box on defense (which almost always means you should run the ball) but we still could not get any major running gains on them. It is a credit to Stanford and to how well they recruit to their defensive system.
If you want a great example of how sound Stanford is defensively watch the reverse UW ran to Jaydon Mickens in the game. This play had worked several times before for UW against their previous opponents, when the play was developing I thought they might have something. But sitting there waiting for Mickens on the reverse were two Stanford players and they held him to a gain of just two yards. Perfect coaching and it shows how important it is to have players that truly buy-in and pay attention to every single detail.
The fault of this game on offense does not fall on one player, it really goes back to every single player and coach on offense. Jonathan Smith took a great deal of blame, and I still am one of those who believes he needs to do a much better job. But I can’t get the picture of Stanford sitting in a two-deep safety look all game out of my head, if a defense can do that to your offense and still control your team up front you are just flat out of luck at that point. I still have major questions about Smith, but I also recognize that Stanford presented major problems for this offense leading into the game.
The good news is that we will not face a defense like that again the rest of the year. Statistically speaking the rest of the conference defensively is an absolute disaster. Of the top 5 defenses (by total defense) in the PAC12 UW only faces one of them the rest of the way, Oregon State. They have already played Stanford, and they avoid USC and Utah this year, who are number 3 and 4 respectively; UW is number 5 in the conference. Here are the national ranks (in parentheses) by total defense of the remaining opponents: Cal (113), Oregon (98), ASU (97), Colorado (83), UCLA (102), Arizona (89), Oregon State (16), WSU (81). Just to give you an idea of some of the other teams ranked in the 90 area or so they include juggernauts like: Indiana, Old Dominion, and Toledo. Now, I completely understand that our offense is not the greatest thing ever, but when you are facing opponents that struggle that badly things will get better for UW.
What I keep coming back to as a fan of UW Football is that Chris Petersen is our coach. The difference between a game like this under previous staffs and a game like this under Petersen and his staff is that I actually have confidence in where we are going with him at the helm. Maybe we won’t win 10 games this year, like I was originally hoping for. But regardless this will be a process, as Petersen has been saying over and over again. And while I sit back and enjoy the process I will continue to remember that “Nothing is ever as good as it seems, and nothing is ever as bad as it seems.”