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One thing clear, Huskies’ success depends on offensive line

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 15, 2019

Washington running back Richard Newton goes low for a touchdown against Hawaii on Saturday in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Washington running back Richard Newton goes low for a touchdown against Hawaii on Saturday in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

Around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Washington Huskies sprinted through clouds of billowing purple smoke onto Alaska Airlines Field, as more than 67,000 fans gradually settled into their seats. Not to be outdone, the visiting Hawaii Rainbow Warriors almost immediately returned the favor, releasing waves of green smoke as they entered out of the opposite tunnel – prompting a round of hearty boos.

But once the smoke cleared, the beatdown commenced.

Here are three things we learned from Washington’s convincing 52-20 win over Hawaii.

Washington’s offensive success starts with its line: That was certainly the case on Saturday, as UW’s experienced offensive line cleared the way for 190 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry and four touchdowns. Running backs Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Richard Newton received eight carries apiece, equally distributing the damage in a productive performance on the ground.

Meanwhile, junior quarterback Jacob Eason completed 18 of 25 passes (72%) for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just once on the night and took zero additional hits.

So, through three games, what do we know about the Husky offense? If the offensive line can open space, UW has the running back depth – with Ahmed, Newton and McGrew all contributing – to steamroll opposing defenses. Washington has averaged 4.8 yards per carry on the season. Its trio of talented tailbacks are producing 5.6 (Ahmed), 5.6 (Newton) and 6.3 (McGrew) yards per carry respectively. The common thread, of course, is the Husky offensive line.

And what else have we learned? If Eason has a clean pocket, the 6-foot-6 junior is a consistently accurate quarterback. He’s completing 69.2 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 773 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He has been sacked five times in three games, but four of them came in the 20-19 loss to Cal.

If defenses can’t harass Eason, he’ll inevitably find an open Husky. As the offensive line goes, so goes everything (and everyone) else.

Myles Bryant is UW’s best defensive player: OK, maybe we already knew this. But Washington fans were gifted a friendly reminder on Saturday. Bryant – a 5-9, 185-pound senior safety – produced a pair of first-half interceptions, jumping a route on Hawaii’s second offensive play before literally ripping the ball out of the hands of a Rainbow Warrior wide receiver in the second quarter. He also barreled up the gut on a blitz for the Huskies’ only sack of the day.

Through three games, Bryant ranks third on the team with 15 tackles and has added two interceptions, two tackles for loss and a sack. He’s a rare senior leader in a relatively inexperienced UW defense. He’s a prototypical Jimmy Lake DB, capable of instantly sliding into any position in the Husky secondary. He’s a 2019 preseason All-Pac-12 first-team performer – for good reason.

Of course, this isn’t to say the Huskies don’t have other capable contributors. Defensive backs Keith Taylor and Elijah Molden are both capable of doing damage. Defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and outside linebacker Joe Tryon are potentially impactful presences as well.

But when his Huskies needed somebody to make a play on Saturday, Bryant didn’t make one. He made three.

The third quarter is a Husky killer: The similarities are staggering.

In two third-quarter drives on Sept. 7, Cal gained 148 total yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.

In two third-quarter drives on Saturday, Hawaii gained 146 total yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.

Granted, those offenses sliced up the Huskies in dissimilar ways. Cal barreled over the UW defense, running for 122 yards and repeatedly slipping tackles. Hawaii did its damage through the air, completing nine passes for 88 yards while converting 4 of 6 third downs and both fourth-down tries. Instead of relying on downfield shots, Hawaii made a determined march down the field with back-to-back 14-play drives.

The methods were different, but the results were nearly identical nonetheless.

“The problem is, it can be third-and-8 (for Hawaii), and that’s like third-and-4 for most offenses, right? That’s just what they do,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said after the game. “They just kind of read it, and throw it down field in those intermediate sticks areas. So they did a good job of staying in those situations, and they got fourth down I think (two) different times.

“It was fourth and short, or it was third-and-2 or 3. Any offense is hard to defend there. We just couldn’t get them off the field.”

It remains to be seen whether the third quarter will continue to haunt the Huskies next weekend at BYU, and beyond.

But, in the last two games, the numbers are clear enough:

In the third quarter, Cal and Hawaii scored a total of 27 points. They managed 13 points in the other six quarters, combined.

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