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Rushing attack problematic again in Washington's loss to UCLA

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Rushing attack problematic again in Washington's loss to UCLA

Kamari Pleasant attempts to slip free from the defense during Washington’s game against UCLA at Husky Stadium on Oct 16.

Last season, Washington football head coach Jimmy Lake proudly wore a hat that read ‘Run the Damn Ball’ before games and during interviews.

Lake wants his team to be able to run the ball down the throats of the opposition, but Washington hasn’t come close to achieving that at all this season, yet again faltering on the ground in its 24-17 loss to UCLA.

Washington only had 83 yards rushing Saturday night, the fourth time this season that it was held to under 100 yards rushing. The UW is 1-3 in such games.

The Huskies were unable to get anything going in the run game during the first half, going into halftime with only 4 yards on the ground. This made it extremely hard to get a rhythm on offensive, with drives stalling out multiple times throughout the half.

Execution has been a huge problem for the Washington running game. Both the offensive line and the running backs have made mistakes throughout the season. Missed blocks, indecisiveness in the backfield, and poor decision-making have all hamstrung the Huskies rushing attack this season.

“I think it was just finishing the plays,” senior running back Kamari Pleasant said. “Finishing the plays and finishing our jobs.”

Creativity, or a lack thereof, is another problem that has been facing the Huskies all season. Offensive coordinator John Donovan almost never calls to run the ball to the outside, choosing run plays to go between the tackles on almost every running play.

This makes Washington’s offense predictable, especially in obvious running situations, which allows opposing defenses to stack the box against the UW. Even when opponents stack the box against the Huskies, they will still try to run the ball up the middle, which often results in little to no gain.

The only time Washington’s run game showed any sign of life came on the opening drive of the second half. The Huskies got 59 of their 83 total rushing yards on that drive, thanks to more creative play-calling that featured runs to the outside. Kamari Pleasant lead the way with 47 of those yards before quarterback Dylan Morris plunged into the end zone to cap off the drive.

Although the touchdown drive was likely scripted, it shows that creativity in the running game can open up the offense.

Washington’s inability to find a consistent option out of the backfield has also been a major problem. While having a rotation in the backfield where any guy can step up on any night is great in theory, it becomes a problem when no one steps up.

“We rotate our backs and our plan is always to rotate those guys,” Lake said. “It looked like it worked for a little while but it wasn’t enough, but we always want a fresh running back going out there.”

Pleasant was the lone bright spot for the Huskies on Saturday. After getting only two carries in the first half, Pleasant became one of the Huskies’ primary ball carriers in the second half. On the first drive of the half, Pleasant had back-to-back carries of 32 and 15 yards to move the Huskies into the red zone and set up a UW touchdown.

“I saw that they came out in nickel,” Pleasant said. “I just stick to the keys that I do every single day in practice. A hole opened up and I made one guy miss, and got into the secondary.”

Pleasant finished the night as Washington’s leading rusher, running for 80 yards on nine attempts.

If the Huskies hope to improve offensively during the second half of the season, it all starts with the running game. Execution, getting the ball outside the tackles, and hopefully finding a hot hand at running back will be key for Washington if they hope to improve their running game for the rest of the season. 

Reach writer Nick Lombroia at Twitter: @lombroia

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