Each week we will choose a specific level of the defense (line, linebackers, or defensive backs) and highlight how they performed in some of the game’s key plays. Hopefully this is useful for our readers to see something perhaps they missed at game speed or provide the science behind what they did see. This week we start with the boys up front because they were a huge question mark coming into the season. On the defensive report card the the linemen earned a strong B+ from the committee of one.
Play #1: 3rd and 5 at the Washington 40, Rutgers leads 7-0, 5:29 left Q1
Result: Darnell Davis is unblocked, hitting Browning so hard the ball pops loose, recovered by the Huskies to set up 4th and super long punt. (tweet above)
Alignment: Washington lines up in shotgun trips left and a single back to the strong side. Rutgers counters in a 40 nickel, with its two linebackers, up at the middle of the line so Washington has only 5 guys to block a potential 6. Lumor was upright on the strong side tackle, Roberts opposite the guard, Previlon head up on the center, Morris across the other guard, leaving Wilkins and Davis both opposite the right offensive tackle.
Assignment: Rutgers plays a man-to-man cover 1, with Roberts taking the running back leaking out. As a result, the left guard doubles Previlon with the center so Rutgers has three men overloaded to the weak side. The guard takes Morris and the tackle picks up Wilkins just as he is taught, leaving the outside man free.
Technique: Wilkins does the smart thing and stunts inside (+1) forcing the right tackle to step to his left giving Davis a direct line to the quarterback. Davis goes full speed (+1) and Browning never sees him coming. His arm is tucked into his body so Davis does not even need to swipe at the ball to force a fumble. The only blemish is if anyone else could have gotten into the backfield, they may have recovered the loose ball for a scoop and score, or at worst Rutgers ball in the red zone.
Browning never looked right even though the slant might have been open long enough to get a completion and he would have seen Davis. Instead he wanted to get the ball to his back but did not have enough time. Excellent job by the defense overall.
Play #2: 1st and goal at the Rutgers 8, Rutgers leads 7-0, 1:45 left Q1
Result: Coleman gains two yards, setting up a second and goal from the 5. Washington ends up getting a field goal.
Alignment: Washington attempts to run a hurry up after a 51 yard completion and sets up in a shotgun twins right, H-back behind the left tackle, running back Coleman to Browning’s right. Rutgers matches up in their standard 4-3 stack with Davis, Bateky, Turner, and Wilkins across the front.
Assignment: Everyone on Washington’s offensive line blocks down to his left with the H-back pulling to kick out Davis on the right. Rutgers linemen hold firm with Turner appearing to slant to his right, Wilkins setting the edge despite a double team.
Technique: Wilkins completely holds his ground against two blockers (+2) preventing a chip block onto Morris. Turner beats the center and “sits down” to prevent the back from going outside left (+1). The back is forced inside where Bateky has a free arm against the right tackle (+1) exactly how he is taught. The right guard goes to the second level to block Roberts who does not get driven back (+1). It’s 1 on 1 and an unblocked Morris makes the tackle with Hampton there if needed. Any second effort is thwarted by Turner and Wilkins turning around to grab the legs of the ball carrier.
This play may not seem like much at first glance, but Rutgers did an impressive job doing the little things they did not do enough in 2016. Ultimately despite the long pass play, Washington is held to three points on the drive after defended passes by Roberts on 2nd and Hester on 3rd. The 3rd down play saw Browing have to throw to his hot read because Turner was in the backfield immediately. The hurry up offense in the red zone did not work against Rutgers here, but it would in the second half.
Play #3: 2nd and 10 at the Rutgers 37, Rutgers leads 7-3, 14:43 left Q2
Result: After an interception by UW and a near interception on the first down play, Gaskin is stopped for a loss of three. A holding penalty makes it 2nd and 21 pushing UW out of field goal range.
Alignment: Browning lines up under center with two tight ends left and a single back. Rutgers is in what appears to be a 50 front with Eric Margolis outside the tight end on the line. Davis is opposite the left tackle, Turner across the center, Wilkins outside the right guard, and Turay standing up outside the right tackle.
Assignment: At the last split second, Davis slides across from the guard who cannot adjust as he is already in his stance. As Washington does man to man blocking, the left guard is responsible for Davis and the left tackle goes to the second level to block Roberts.
Technique: Davis (+3) fires quickly and blows by the right guard to the inside, exactly where the play was supposed to go. The lineman holds Davis to avoid catastrophe, forcing the back to cutback to his left. Roberts avoids the inside tight end forcing the play even further to the left. Margolis (+1) had set the edge nicely so there is only one lane available. Saquon Hampton who was near the line to take on one of the tight ends gets a free lane to fill the cutback lane and stop the play for a loss.
Play #4: 3rd and 7 at the Rutgers 40, Rutgers leads 7-3, 6:37 left Q2
Result: Washington throws another incomplete pass, this one tipped, forcing a punt. They are now 0-5 on 3rd downs in the game:
Alignment: Washington is in shotgun, twins to each side, back to Browning’s right. Rutgers is in their preferred 40 nickel. Turay is lined up way outside the left tackle, and Lumor way outside the right tackle. Hogan is head up on the left guard, Previlon is head up on the right guard. Roberts stands over the center, Morris is opposite the right tackle.
Assignment: The back flares right after ensuring RU does not blitz. Rutgers stays in cover 1 with the other safety picking up the inside left receiver. Hogan stunts inside temporarily clogging up three defenders. Previlon goes behind him toward where the right guard started out. Turay and Lumor both go for an outside rush.
Technique: Turay (+1) blows by his man as does Lumor (+1) past the right tackle forcing the back to have to help. Browning has to step up in the pocket but realizes he has nowhere to run because Roberts is free on one side after Hogan (+2) occupied two blockers. Morris (+1) is still waiting for the back that never came is on the other. Previlon closing in bats down the pass with the arm he kept free (+1).
Washington would down the punt at the 1 for the second consecutive drive and turn the tide on the following punt return. Rutgers D throughout the entire first half was tremendous, especially against the run and on 3rd down.
Play #5: 3rd and goal at the Rutgers 7, Washington leads 10-7, 9:20 left Q3
Result: Coleman scores and easy touchdown on a wheel route to his right. Washington takes a 10 point lead.
Alignment: Rutgers lines up in a 40 over front with Margolis at the line outside the left tackle across from an H-back. Davis is between the left guard and left tackle. Joseph is inside shaded on the left guard. Previlon is across from the right guard. Turay is outside the tight end.
Assignment: It’s unclear if Turay was supposed to be in coverage, but based on how Previlon slants outside, Turay probably should have been. Everyone on the line goes for a pass rush, but the linebackers and safeties seem to be in a zone where Morris ends up with two men after Austin passes a crossing receiver to him.
Technique: Browning looks left drawing all the defensive backs and linebackers to that side. Trevor Morris initially covers an inside crossing route then ended up chasing the back. There was likely a mix up with the safeties AND Turay (-1) probably was responsible for the back judging by his indecisiveness. Still though, where was safety help?
The frustrating thing here is, as a fan, why is Turay in coverage? He was getting pressure at will and we saw this happen against Indiana on almost the exact same play last season in a critical 3rd and goal spot. Had Turay simply pass rushed, Browning probably wouldn’t have had time to get a pass to the back of the end zone anyway. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and I praised Niemann for mixing up plays on third down. Perhaps what should be more maddening is that Rutgers had 5 defenders covering two guys on the far side effectively. Someone should have been there to help Trevor Morris in the middle / other side. If it was a run to the right, likely the same result would have happened as the pass.
This was a huge swing because if Rutgers could have held Washington to 3, it would have been a one possession game and momentum would have been up for grabs. This also began the series of plays where Rutgers struggled to contain running backs running sideline pass routes that put all the pressure on the Rutgers O.
I could have gone with one of 4 consecutive horrible plays by the Rutgers defense on the previous drive when they did not get set, but let’s cap this review with the play that sent the fans to the exits. The previous play was one that ended the 3rd quarter. Browning was forced to check down to his back, Gaskin who Trevor Morris had lined up for a loss that should have set up a third and long near midfield. Gaskin beat him with a cut and raced all the way to the Rutgers 18 as the third quarter ended.
NOTE: I do not agree with fans leaving at this juncture, unless they needed to drive back to Seattle.
Play #6: 1st and 10 at the Rutgers 18, Washington leads 20-7, 15:00 left Q4
Result: Gaskin makes an over the shoulder catch just inside the pylon with Morris in good, though not perfect coverage. Washington makes the extra point to take a commanding 27-7 lead. Gaskin had all 39 yards on the drive after Murphy’s second interception of Bolin.
Alignment: Washington starts in the formation that Rutgers simply couldn’t stop in the 2nd half. Tight end on the line to the left with an H-back behind him that goes in motion right. Browning in the shotgun with a single back to his left. Rutgers is in a 40 over with Margolis outside the right tackle. Next to him is Wilkins, Joseph, Previlon, and Turay (I think).
Assignment: Rutgers appears to be in a “robber” with Roberts free in the middle and Hester and Hampton waiting to take a deep route over the middle. It’s a four man rush which become five as Margolis has the H-back responsibility.
Technique: Turay sells out on the pass rush which seems ok because it looks like Previlon (+1) takes the outside contain on that side. Wilkins gets no push at all (-1). Joseph-Day (+1) almost singlehandedly turns the tide as he completely undresses his blocker with a spin move into the space vacated by Previlon, forcing Browning to get rid of the ball. Browning absorbs the huge hit but still delivers and almost perfect pass to Gaskin for the TD against Morris on the sideline, almost identical to a big play earlier in the game.
Overall assessment: For the most part they did a great job as I mentioned in my report card. Turay and Lumor performed OK in pass coverage. Until late in the game, the line did not wear down. In retrospect, surrendering four straight scoring drives in the second half probably should have lowered the defense’s overall score. The line upon further inspection was not the reason for that. Individually, I wouldn’t give anyone in this unit lower than a B-.
Looking ahead: Eastern Michigan has an offensive line with three or four new starters from a year ago. Rutgers will likely play it conservative defensively, so expect much of the typical Ash cover 4. This means the line will need to disrupt the running game like they did in the first half against Washington. If they can generate pressure overall, EMU could struggle to complete passes with so many men in coverage. Oddly, by outperforming expectations against the Huskies, Eastern Michigan becomes a must win to validate the progress. Winning in the trenches is what could allow the Scarlet Knights a no doubt victory. That means getting the Eagles off schedule and putting the in third and long, otherwise buckle up for Week 2.