SEATTLE – For the Washington Huskies and their fans, the lasting memory of Saturday night’s 24-14 loss to USC will likely be the Trojans’ Anthony Brown blocking a punt by Travis Coons, scooping up the ball and sprinting 11 yards for a touchdown.
It was the defining play of the game, but Washington’s special teams play was altogether forgettable. Surrendering a blocked punt was one of several mistakes on a night when the special teams were anything but.
“It definitely wasn’t our best game on special teams, to say the least,” coach Steve Sarkisian said.
While special teams haven’t been the Huskies’ biggest problem this season, mistakes by the unit last week against Oregon also proved pivotal. In games against upper-echelon teams, those miscues are magnified.
“Against good teams, it’s hard to win,” Sarkisian said.
The blocked punt was far from a surprise. On two previous punts by Coons, USC brought pressure up the middle past the three punt protectors – Semisi Tokolahi, P-io Vatuvei and Sione Potoa’e - nearly blocking each attempt.
On the third attempt, the Trojans brought an extra rusher and got past the protection. Brown laid out full and blocked the kick with ease. As he sprung to his feet, two of his teammates knocked the ball right to him and he scooted into the end zone for the score. Washington was trailing 17-7 in the second quarter until the crucial play and suddenly it was 24-7.
“I think the natural thing to think is, ‘Well, the three guys in the back didn’t get it done, which really isn’t the case,’ ” Sarkisian said. “We had a breakdown in the frontline of the protection that caused the issue. That’s something we practice every day and we just didn’t execute very well.”
That mistake was compounded by more. After giving up a blocked punt, the Huskies tried to get one of their own. However, DiAndre Campbell couldn’t quite make the block and crashed into USC punter Kyle Negrete. It resulted in a first down and took away a last-chance scoring opportunity in the first half for the Huskies.
“We felt like we had a chance to go after the punt,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know if he missed him or not.”
UW also made a critical mistake fielding a punt. Marvin Hall, who muffed a punt last week against Oregon, was inserted for a punt return in the third quarter. However, he made a poor decision to field the punt on the Huskies’ 4. He was able to make it to about the 10, but put Washington in awful field position.
“Sometimes when a returner is not lined up on the 10-yard line, you get confused to where you are at,” Sarkisian said. “So we field a punt inside of our 10, that’s a mistake there.”
Coons also missed his only field-goal attempt. With the Huskies down 24-14 in the third quarter, the transfer kicker got a chance to cut the lead to seven points. But he yanked his 45-yard field goal attempt far left.
“That was at a pretty critical junction,” Sarkisian said.
Of course, there were a few bright spots for the special teams unit. Desmond Trufant was able to block Andre Heidari’s 41-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Cody Bruns, who returned punts most of the game, had a nice return of 27 yards. Jaydon Mickens also averaged 27.6 yards per kick return.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org @RyanDivish blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports