As always, let’s parse positives and negatives after Washington’s 27-17 loss at Arizona State.
1. The Huskies’ offense – particularly the passing game – was as effective as it’s been all season … for a half.
UW coaches made it clear after the game that their gameplan was to throw the ball a bunch, and that’s what they did. Jake Browning’s 52 pass attempts were a career-high, and his 405 passing yards were the most by a Huskies quarterback since Keith Price against Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.
In the first half, it seemed the Huskies protected the quarterback well against ASU’s blitzing defense, and UW had more open receivers than it has in maybe any other half this season (despite the fact that Browning missed a few throws and his receivers didn’t help him out as well as they could have on some catchable passes that fell incomplete).
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In spite of the loss, I think the way the Huskies threw the ball in the first half probably more closely resembled Petersen’s ideal than any other half they’ve played this season against a Pac-12 team.
And it would have resembled that ideal even more closely if they could have simply played pitch-and-catch a little better with relatively open receivers.
2. Another 100-yard rushing performance for Myles Gaskin.
The freshman tailback finished with 108 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown, though his performance likely has a bittersweet feel to it because 100 of those yards came on his first 10 carries and he wasn’t able to find any running room in the second half.
But again, you saw his potential, particularly on his 53-yard run that setup UW’s first touchdown. The cut he made at the second level was pretty impressive.
As for the second half, Petersen said he didn’t think ASU changed anything defensively, but that UW simply didn’t win enough individual battles to open any holes suitable for running the ball.
3. Could zero margin for error be a good thing?
Not really sure I agree with this one, but because positives from this game are at a premium, and because Petersen raised the idea afterward, let’s at least entertain the thought.
He was asked about the team now having no margin for error to qualify for a bowl game, with a 4-6 overall record and games remaining at Oregon State and against Washington State. This was his response: “I’m looking at it like it’s a good thing. No margin for error now. All chips in, and it’s pressure on, and that’s how it is. There’s no leeway. And so I like it. I think maybe that’s what we need, maybe that extra boost, maybe help us through practice a little bit in terms of … it’s going to have to come in practice. we’re going to have to have a sense of urgency in practice to make these little detailed catches and throws and protection. The pocket needs to be a little bit better, cutting guys off in the run game and all those different things. We’ve got to wrap up all the time, not most of the time.”
He’s used the term “sense of urgency” in reference to practice before – like after UW’s 49-3 win over Arizona two weeks ago – so he obviously hopes that will return and help the Huskies in their preparation for OSU.
Again, not sure how much stock to put in that. But we strive to provide three positives, so …
1. What else? That collapse.
Not sure I’ve seen anything quite like that before.
It’s not that the Huskies have never blown a lead – they led by 18 points in the fourth quarter of the 2012 Apple Cup before losing in overtime, for example – but I don’t know that I can recall a game in which UW so thoroughly dominated for an entire half before completely falling apart in the final 30 minutes.
The collapse was at least partially due to the points the Huskies left on the field in the first half, because if they had taken a 24-0 or 31-0 lead instead of 17-0 – which they certainly could have – it’s possible that ASU might have packed it in mentally.
But the Sun Devils were able to kick a field goal before halftime to cut the lead to two scores, and entered the second half with the knowledge that a touchdown would make it a one-score game despite how poorly they had played to that point.
It’s not like the Huskies completely shut down offensively – they did have 11 first downs in the second half and finished the game with 547 yards of total offense, a season high – but they continued their failure to capitalize on scoring opportunities (more on that below), and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said they didn’t wrap up ballcarriers nearly as well, either.
Neither Petersen, Kwiatkowski or offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith seemed to think ASU changed its strategy on either side of the ball. Each of the UW coaches simply lamented lack of execution. Which makes the Huskies’ total collapse all the more puzzling.
2. Lack of plays made by playmakers
Out of everything Petersen said after the game, I think this resonated most: “It’s frustrating, because you feel like everything’s got to be just perfect for us to move the ball, like 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. The guys can go up and take the ball away, I think we had one of those today, or break a tackle, throw a slant route, and away we go, those types of things. A couple weeks ago we had a little bit of that against Arizona.”
That’s been an issue for the Huskies all season, and it’s something Petersen has mentioned before. It does seem most of the time that if a pass isn’t thrown perfectly, or if a receiver isn’t wide open, the ball isn’t going to be caught.
There were several examples of that in the first quarter alone, such as Browning’s throw to Jaydon Mickens in the end zone, and two Browning passes on consecutive plays to Dante Pettis in the end zone.
None of those throws were so accurate that they qualified as true “drops” by the receivers, but they were the kind of passes that you see good receivers haul in all the time.
Similarly, Browning missed a few open receivers, the most costly of which was his overthrow of tight end Joshua Perkins on a fourth-down pass in the second quarter that surely would have been a touchdown if he’d put it on the money.
All of that goes back to Petersen’s point: the Huskies aren’t good enough yet to make plays for themselves in any circumstance that isn’t perfect.
3. Who will UW beat first – Oregon or Arizona State?
Is there a more unexplainable losing streak in college football than UW’s now 10-game drought against Arizona State? The Huskies’ 12-year losing streak against Oregon gets a lot of attention, but the Ducks have at least been a nationally-ranked team and a Pac-12 powerhouse for most of that span. ASU has been mostly decent, but certainly not so great year in and year out that the Huskies shouldn’t be able to beat them at least once.
Yet here they are, still waiting for their first win over the Sun Devils since 2001. They last beat Oregon in 2003. Which streak will end first?
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple