Great Expectations: Previewing the PAC 12 Championship

Expectations, as I have said before, are a bitch.

They warp your mind and confuse your soul. They prevent you from truly seeing what is happening right in front of your goddamn face. When you perceive something relative to your expectations, you’re really looking at the distorted shadow of something; like trying to see morning traffic through a windshield that hasn’t fully defogged yet.

Now, it’s okay to have expectations. In fact, it’s perfectly normal and happens to everyone around this time of year. Expectations are formed after we experience things and formulate takes. In fact, the source of all takes is just how our expectations make sense of what happens around us. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for your terrible burger take.

The expectations for the Washington Huskies going into this season were, without a doubt, very high. They debuted in the preseason AP Top 25 poll at #6, a supposed contender for the College Football Playoff and the clear cream of the Pac-12 crop. Beat Auburn (then #9) in Atlanta in the opener, and 12-0 (and crucially, potentially avoiding Alabama in a semifinal) was a distinct possibility.

Well, safe to say, that all didn’t happen. The team we thought we had then was a dynamic offense headlined by the dual senior leadership of Jake Browning (whom you should leave the hell alone) and Myles Gaskin (who is the best-but-not-most-talented running back the Huskies have ever had). Three excruciating losses to Auburn, Oregon and California were made possible by questionable play-calling, horrendous red-zone execution and two absolutely baffling coaching decisions that we probably will never get a good explanation for.

And so, here we are. Your 2018 Washington Huskies are sitting at 9-3 in late November, wondering what might have been as they prepare for the …*checks notes*… Pac-12 Conference Championship Game? Wait, who put that in there? Well, shit…rewrite.

The Huskies have been a good team this entire time, albeit a distinctly flawed one. If you’ve been following the team’s season-long S&P+ profile (in this house we use S&P+) then you know what kind of team this is: one that is efficientbut not very explosiveon offense; one that struggles to score points (especially touchdowns) when the field shortens in the red zone; one that gives up a lot of short yardage plays, but doesn’t give up points, but also doesn’t create negative plays like turnovers, sacks and TFLs; one that has an atrocious special teams unit that consistently puts the defense in bad field position.

That’s who the Huskies are and that’s okay, because they’re one win away from going to the damn Rose Bowl.

The only thing standing in their way is a Utah Utes team that has also shifted expectations throughout the season. Their defense (particularly their run defense) is especially good, while their offense had been much maligned until injuries to their quarterback and running back caused an upward shift in their production. In the chart below, I’ve highlighted the head-to-head matchups between the Utes and the Huskies. The offensive/defense stats are from the Utes’ perspective, so the Huskies rank is their opposite unit going up against Utah’s unit.

Stat Utah Rank Washington Rank Edge
Off Success % 38th 36th Even
Off Margin Eff 44th 26th Solid Washington
Explosiveness 87th 4th Heavy Washington
Margin Explo 79th 4th Heavy Washington
Avg. Field Pos For 41st 53rd Slight Utah
Avg. Field Pos Vs. 56th 101st Heavy Utah
Finishing Drives For 60th 10th Solid Washington
Finishing Drives Vs. 56th 93rd Solid Utah
Expected TO Marg 55th 6th Solid Washington
Def Success % 16th 25th Slight Utah
Def Marg Eff 16th 28th Slight Utah
Def Explosive Allow 55th 69th Slight Utah
Def Margin Explos 28th 56th Solid Utah
Off Rush Efficiency 20th 10th Slight Washington
Off Rush Explos 48th 17th Solid Washington
Off Stuffed Rate 51st 96th Solid Utah
Def Rush Eff 11th 34th Solid Utah
Def Rush Explos 20th 79th Heavy Utah
Def Stuffed Rate 5th 42nd Solid Utah
Off Passing Eff 43rd 22nd Solid Washington
Off Passing Explos 86th 1st Heavy Washington
Off Sack Rate 95th 113th Slight Utah
Def Pass Eff 45th 17th Solid Washington
Def Pass Explos 33rd 34th Heavy Washington
Def Sack Rate 34th 68th Solid Utah
FG Value 11th 96th Heavy Utah
Utah Kickoffs 21st 61st Solid Utah
Utah Punts 27th 108th Heavy Utah
Washington Kickoffs 98th 105th Heavy Utah
Washington Punts 31st 100th Heavy Utah

The basic takeaway from the matchup is this: Utah’s defense is better than Washington’s offense and Washington’s defense is better than Utah’s offense but Washington’s offense is closer to Utah’s defense than Utah’s offense is to Washington’s defense. Also, the Huskies’ special teams are fucking dreadful and will absolutely rear its ugly head in this game. This has the makings of a low-scoring, offensively boring affair, similar to the earlier matchup in Salt Lake City. Of course, bone-head plays made things really interesting in that one but I think the special teams unit and not Jake Browning (whom you should leave the hell alone) will be the source of that #Pac12AfterDark craziness.

This is not the easiest match up for the Huskies but one they can surely win. Ah, shit, there I go again with my expectations.

Whatever.

I expect to see you in Pasadena.

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