Wow! What a week it’s been for BYU football. That overtime thriller against USC will be long remembered by fans as a signature victory in the Kalani Sitake era. Now that the school announced new throwback uniforms for this game, fans are excited to welcome to Provo our next Pac-12 opponent. What kind of game will the Washington Huskies bring to LaVell Edwards Stadium? We spoke with John Sayler from UW Dawg Pound to find out.
Vanquish the Foe: This is Jacob Eason’s first year at QB. What does he bring to the offense that hasn’t been there the past few years?
John Sayler: Jacob Eason is kind of everything Jake Browning is not. I don’t mean that to disparage Browning, as I think he was underappreciated by Husky fans and horribly undervalued by opposing fans. Eason has a rocket arm, a lightning-quick release, and the size and stature to see the field. He makes quick decisions and gets through his progressions swiftly.
He does not appear to have the trust of the coaches when it comes to audibles. He looks to the sideline for the new play, something I can’t even recall Browning doing as a true freshman. He also lacks some of the pocket agility that Browning possessed, and when he takes off to run he doesn’t protect himself or the ball very well. Jake Browning had some really bad scrambles during his career, and that has incorrectly labeled him as having terrible pocket presensce. The exact opposite is true in my opinion. He was excellent at moving around and always ran the ball effectively when given an opening.
But that arm; Eason can throw a football on time, with accuracy and remarkable velocity. That’s what he brings to the offense. I would love to see him with a bit more touch on screen passes to the outside. There is never an excuse for making your receiver adjust to a throw behind the line of scrimmage.
VTF: The Huskies lost a lot of talent from last year to the NFL, like star offensive lineman Kaleb McGary, RB Myles Gaskin, and LB Ben Burr-Kirven. What position group has had the biggest talent drop-off since last year? Who have been some of the surprising newcomers?
John: The young secondary is still finding itself, with four new starters in the mix. I would definitely not say there is a big “talent drop-off” there, more of an experience drop-off. At linebacker is where you will find more of a decrease in the talent. Senior Kyler Manu has taken one of the inside linebacker spots, and the jury is very much out on whether or not he is fast enough in this defense. Brandon Wellington has all the tools to be the next great UW middle linebacker, but he has not been assignment sound all the time and the Huskies have allowed some big plays because of it.
Probably the area of biggest concern for Husky fans was the defensive line, but players have stepped up there and appear to be future superstars. Redshirt freshmen Tuli Letuligasenoa & Sam Taimani have really showed up in the first three games. They are going to be great players for sure.
VTF: When these two teams played each other last year, BYU didn’t score any points until the final minute of the game. Is Washington’s defense as stout now as it was last year? Why or why not?
John: Not right now. The tackling has been just OK at times, and redshirt freshman Kyler Gordon has shown himself on film as someone who opponents will pick on. Also, Manu has to be popping on tape as a weakness to offensive coaches. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very good defense. When the Huskies are playing great defense, they are giving up some yards and first downs, but when the opponent crosses the 50 yard line, that’s when drives stall. They have been elite at not allowing big plays the past few seasons, but there has been a few longer plays against the UW defense this year which is concerning. BYU has a better QB this year, so they won’t just be trying a bunch of fly sweep handoffs like in 2018.
VTF: Which playmakers on offense does BYU need to be most worried about? And on defense, what individual player for UW can completely change the game?
John: Watch out for Washington’s three-headed running back monster. Salvon Ahmed leads the way with his one-cut explosion through the line. Ahmed is a burner, but he also runs through arm tackles. He is very good at reading his blocks and getting positive yards. Sean McGrew is more the short, shifty, Myles Gaskin type. He’s a bowling ball who is always propelling forward. The biggest surprise has been redshirt freshman Richard Newton. The 6’0” 210 pounder has become the Huskies go-to back for short yardage, often out of a wildcat formation. This guy has an impressive “angry” style of running with lightning quick spin moves. Paired with UW’s experienced and talented offensive line, the Husky running attack is the backbone of the Chris Petersen offense. If these guys get it going, things get much easier for Eason and the passing game.
Myles Bryant is the playmaker on defense. He’s small in stature at 5’9” but he makes big plays from his rover/nickel/safety position. He will rush the QB on one play, and be the single high safety on the next. Zach Wilson better know where Bryant is at all times.
VTF: Washington is favored by 6.5 points this game. BYU will win if...?
John: Getting off to a good start is important for BYU to make sure the crowd stays fully in the game, and keep the pressure on a young Washington defense. Wilson needs to take what the defense gives him and not try to do too much. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake is brilliant at disguising coverage, and just when you think you’ve got man-to-man, the outside linebacker drops into coverage and next thing you know, there is a mix of zone and man coverage. Teams that have had success against the Huskies in the past have remained extremely patient.
One defense, BYU must slow UW’s running game and put pressure on the Husky receivers to gain separation for Eason. If the downhill running game gets going for Washington, it’s going to make things much more difficult for the Cougars to stop the Husky offense.
VTF: What are your predictions for how this game will play out?
John: BYU is tough at home, and a very well coached football team. Zach Wilson’s play is going to be a key in this game. Chase Garbers from Cal is what I would call a pretty average quarterback, and he had success moving around and extending drives. Wilson needs to do the same.
This will not be anything like last year’s game. Give me the Huskies 23-20.