The three passes fell incomplete, and neither could really, truly be classified as a drop. But each could have been caught.
And the fact that none were is simply the latest example of a problem Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen has seen in practice all season.
The Huskies’ offense, Petersen said, fails too often to make plays when presented with even the slightest adverse circumstance. Or, as he puts it: You feel like everything’s got to be just perfect for us to move the ball, like (to) sustain things, all the boxes have to be checked. We’re not there enough to create some things (when) it’s not all perfectly lined up.”
That was apparent on those three passes in the first quarter of Washington’s 27-17 loss at Arizona State.
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The first, on third-and-14 from ASU’s 36-yard line, was a relatively accurate throw by quarterback Jake Browning over the shoulder of receiver Jaydon Mickens in the end zone. But Mickens, reaching forward after looking back into the sun, couldn’t catch it. The ball slid off his fingertips.
Two throws to receiver Dante Pettis on the Huskies’ next possession had a similar feel. The first was thrown in front of Pettis to an open space in the end zone, but Pettis stuck out one hand and couldn’t haul it in. The second was a throw to the back of the end zone that seemed to just brush Pettis’ fingers as he tried to run under it.
Catching each of those passes would have required above-average skill. But they certainly weren’t uncatchable, and they were precisely the kind of plays the Huskies haven’t been able to make for much of this season.
“I don’t think it’s because the guys aren’t into it and (have) energy and trying to do it,” Petersen said Monday, “but I do think there’s some inconsistency there a little bit in practice that kind of carries over into the game.
“Again, that kind of goes back to practice. I’m just a firm believer, like, you practice at a really high level over time and consistently, you’re going to play pretty good. I think that part of things can be better.”
And it’s not all on the receivers. Browning also missed some throws, including what looked like a sure touchdown pass that he threw too far for tight end Joshua Perkins.
“At times our pass protection is not what it needs to be, and so you can go there,” Petersen said. “Jake can’t set his feet, and he’s got to get out of there all those times. At times the ball’s right on the money and we get some drops. At times, they’re kind of 50-50 balls — OK, let’s go make a play. So it’s kind of a little bit of all those type of things in our pass game. And I think at times, it looks pretty good, and at times it’s like, what are we doing here?”
Browning threw for a career-high 405 yards and completed 28-of-52 passes with a touchdown in the loss. He also threw interceptions on three of UW’s final four possessions, all in the fourth quarter.
“In some ways, you can see some progress coming; we’re (moving) up and down the field,” Petersen said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about points. We’re still not scoring the points that we need to score. That’s the frustrating part to everybody involved. … You see this and it’s like ‘OK, the kid threw for 400 yards and at times we’re explosive in the run game.’ We just have to be more consistent.”
Apple Cup kickoff set
The Apple Cup game between UW and Washington State on Friday, Nov. 27 will kickoff at 12:30 p.m. and air on Ch. 13. It is the regular-season finale for both teams. WSU (7-3, 5-2 in Pac-12) is already bowl-eligible, while the Huskies have to win their final two games to qualify.
Petersen said nose tackle Elijah Qualls, who has missed UW’s last two games after leaving the Huskies’ Oct. 31 game against Arizona because of an ankle injury, is recovering “a little bit slower than we thought he was going to be.” He said he’s hopeful Qualls can return this season. … Junior tailback Dwayne Washington also missed Saturday’s game because of injury. Petersen said Washington has a chronic leg injury. “Sometimes it flares up on him, and sometimes he can play through it.”