Chris Petersen made a decision the other day that reminded me of something former Denver Broncos coach John Fox did before his team got clobbered by the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48.
On the eve of the game, per Fox’s orders, the Broncos changed hotels. Over the course of a week, players had gotten accustomed to their home-away-from-home surroundings. For reasons that remain curious, Fox had the team pack up, board buses, and relocate to a secret lodging facility.
A minor adjustment, perhaps, but an adjustment nevertheless. Because the week prior to the Super Bowl is the closest thing in sports to a circus, replicating regular-season normalcy is impossible. But with their interview commitments fulfilled, the Broncos finally had settled into a routine when they were told to pack up and move out.
Whatever Fox presumed he was accomplishing, it backfired. Denver was rattled from the game’s first snap, which sailed over the head of quarterback Peyton Manning and into the end zone for a Seahawks safety. The rout was on.
So how is any of this relevant to Chris Petersen? Here’s how: Petersen is prohibiting any Huskies from speaking to the media this week because they’ve got, as he put it, “a lot on their plate.”
True that. Between the start of classes at UW and the resumption of a fierce, border-state rivalry at Oregon, the Huskies’ plate has the loaded look of a defensive tackle’s Thanksgiving Day buffet tray.
But in breaking with his usual policy of granting the media access to most offensive players on Tuesdays and most defensive players on Wednesdays, Petersen is sending a message at odds with his insistence that beating the Ducks is no more important a challenge than beating any other opponent.
Labeling a Washington-Oregon game as ordinary is a tough sell, especially when the Huskies are ranked No. 5 and attempting to snap a 12-game losing streak in a series historically spiced with vitriol. Secluding them from the media makes the sell even tougher.
Last week, Petersen showed why he’s among the best college football coaches in America. He and his staff prepared for Stanford with a meticulous game plan honed by crisp practices arranged during a short week.
It all worked to produce the 44-6 victory that vaulted the Huskies into the national championship picture. Seems to me a logical approach toward the Oregon game would be: Don’t change a thing.
If players were available to talk to reporters before a contest against the nation’s seventh-ranked team, they should be available to talk to reporters before a contest against a team in free-fall descent.
Seen as preseason contenders for the Pac-12 title, Oregon has lost three in a row. The skid began when the Ducks’ defense, attempting to preserve a 20-7 lead at Nebraska, gave up five touchdowns in a 35-32 defeat.
Losing to Nebraska at Lincoln, even if the Cornhuskers aren’t ranked, is never a reason for panic. Panic at Oregon was established when Colorado came to Autzen Stadium and allowed freshman quarterback Steven Montez to throw for 333 yards and three touchdowns in his first start.
The Ducks’ young secondary might be a mess, but more problematic is a rushing defense that surrendered 280 yards to Washington State in the Cougars’ 51-33 blowout victory. At 4.8 yards per carry, Oregon’s rushing defense poses an inducement for opponents to move the chains with low-risk handoffs.
On the other side of the ball, the Ducks’ signature trait — big-play explosiveness — has been mitigated by an offensive line incapable of asserting itself. The Cougars, whose signature trait is not defense, made eight tackles for a loss last Saturday night.
An offense that runs eight plays resulting in negative yardage against the Cougars should fear the Huskies, who on Friday sacked Stanford’s quarterbacks eight times.
On paper, Washington-Oregon is the kind of mismatch associated with those doomed celebrity marriages destined to last six weeks. The Huskies should win, and they should win by a margin comfortable enough for backup quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels to replace Jake Browning midway through the second half.
A classic candidate for charisma-bypass surgery, Chris Petersen has the personality of a mannequin in the window of a tuxedo-rental store. The odds he’ll ever begin a spoken thought with the words “that reminds me of a funny story,” are, oh, about a gazillion-to-one.
Petersen’s intelligence enables him to compensate for the magnetic-force absence. He’s a man of deep thoughts, and while those thoughts might not seem particularly interesting to the airline passenger seated next to him on a flight to Asia, he’s proving to be a perfect fit for a football program that languished before his arrival in 2014.
The worry for Huskies fans is that Petersen’s deep thoughts could be prove to be detrimental against Oregon. He’s got the better team — three to four touchdowns better — and yet Petersen went into bunker-mentality mode by suspending the media’s access to his players.
A routine week suddenly was reconfigured into a worrisome week, because the coach didn’t trust every last detail of the routine.
“Overthinking” is a word that applies, but a better label might be “John Fox Syndrome.”
He changed hotels on the eve of the Super Bowl. The game was over before it started.