Washington v. Washington State
Tough to evaluate, though certainly fun to watch, a snowy Apple Cup this year. How much do you take away from Gardner Minshew II’s struggles in that poor weather; how much do you attribute it to Washington forever having Mike Leach’s number?
I’m focusing on James Williams, the redshirt junior scatback for the Cougars. He’s seen more touches from scrimmage this season than ever before, greatly benefitting from Minshew’s love of targeting the swing route out of the backfield.
Williams makes his hay as a quick, well-balanced back who runs with a lot of urgency and great instincts in space. In that he comes from an Air Raid system, Williams has been targeted heavily across his time in Wazzu: his 195 catches account for 38% of his career touches. Accordingly, his best plays often seem to come when he’s in open space: pure one-on-one, head up against a defender. His anticipation and elusiveness shine.
Williams does not project as a bellcow player, or even as the primary back in a committee — rather, given his success as a pass-catcher, he projects best as a 1B player. His strengths and weaknesses remind me of James White, though White hit gold with his role in New England, and I’m not sure Williams will be able to carve out such a nice wherever he lands in the NFL. He feels so very much like a Day 3 pick who will provide value wherever he lands.
- You saw the limitations of Ben Burr-Kirven today, the uber-productive linebacker responsible for much of Washington’s defensive success. Burr-Kirven struggles when tackle attempts are outside of his frame, given his short arms and tendency to lunge into contact. I love him, but he’s limited.
- Bad angles all over the place for the defenses — has a lot to do with the snow, but I was disappointed in Myles Bryant, the small nickelback for the Huskies. He’s physical and a great tackler, but too often he came too far uphill and left the alley too wide as a force player. Nickels must be strong against the run in the NFL.
- Congratulations to Myles Gaskin, the Huskies running back who is the 10th player in FBS history to run for over 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. Healthy from a midseason shoulder injury, Gaskin looked as quick, physical, and smart as he always does. Like Burr-Kirven, I don’t necessarily like him as a Top-50 pick, but I think he’s a value player on Day 2.
Stanford v. UCLA
As it is my last unpacking of the Pac-12, it’s only appropriate that we end it with a similar reaction to how we began unpacking the Pac-12, all the way back in Week 1 against San Diego State.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside is good, folks.
I know there are athletic concerns with J-JAW, a bigger bodied receiver who plays like a tight end. Given what I’ve seen from his tape and his basketball background, I really don’t think Arcega-Whiteside will be a below-average athlete for his size at the wide receiver position. If a lack of elite athleticism precludes a wide receiver from a Round 1 grade in your valuation, that’s fine by me. It doesn’t for me.
Arcega-Whiteside eviscerated the UCLA defense for 7 catches, 106 yards, and 3 touchdowns, modeling again one of the largest catch radii in all of college football. Arcega-Whiteside augments his own incredible size with a physical brand of play that I imagine will translate against NFL corners: he interferes (really, it’s pass interference) early enough in the rep that it never gets called and established advantageous position.
His strength as a jump ball player, especially in the red zone, will always translate to the next level — and it will be valuable to teams. J-JAW wins against man coverage anywhere inside the sidelines, and is especially dominant in the red zone. Against zone coverage, Arcega-Whiteside again wins with leverage and strong hands away from his frame.
Arcega-Whiteside likely falls somewhere on the Kelvin Benjamin – Mike Evans spectrum, unless he tests well — which again, I don’t think is out of the realm of possibility. Regardless, his strengths are of that mold that have seen multiple busts in recent years. But Arcega-Whiteside has some truly dominant tape, and I struggle to believe an NFL team won’t wager on him with a high pick.
- While it was a stronger day for Bryce Love of recent memory (22 carries, 85 yards), everything I’ve been told from the NFL indicates to me that Love has fallen out of favor. Love’s injury history, weight concerns, and bottomed-out production in 2018 all have scouts wondering what he brings to the table beyond speed. He’s still tumbling on down to a Day 3 pick.
- Stanford QB K.J. Costello had one of his strongest performances of 2018, capping what has been an up-and-down season that probably ends in a net positive for the first-year starter. Costello’s still normalizing his placement, especially downfield (The Underthrow King!) but he has great zip, size, and pre-snap recognition. Name to star for 2019, I’d imagine.
- UCLA TE Caleb Wilson remains, quietly, another stud TE in this class. As the Chip Kelly system settled in for the Bruins, Wilson re-captured the success of his 2018 campaign, capping it off with an 9 reception, 184 yard performance against the Cardinal. Wilson’s late 66-yard catch-and-run, which set up the game-tying opportunity for UCLA, showed off his excellent straight-line speed at 235 pounds — he’s been oddly struggling with drops, though.
Final Pac-12 Rankings
- Washington (Pac-12 North champion)
- Washington State (Bowl eligible)
- Oregon (Bowl eligible)
- Stanford (Bowl eligible)
- Utah (Pac-12 South champion)
- Cal (Bowl eligible)
- Arizona (Bowl eligible)
- Arizona State (Bowl eligible)
- Oregon State
Way too early 2019 Pac-12 Rankings
- Washington State
- Arizona State
- Oregon State