If two bad kicking-game calls by officials hadn’t gone against the Huskies, they might have found themselves in position to upset No. 11-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln Saturday.
STEVE: Look at the final score — Nebraska 51, Washington 38 — and it appears UW received almost exactly the dousing predicted (17 points) by the oddsmakers. But I can’t help but think that without a couple of botched calls by the officials, the outcome might have been different.
ART: All of Lincoln, all of America, all of the ships at sea that tuned in saw the two kicking-interference calls that turned the game. Not saying the Huskies would have won with the correct calls, but the gig was tough enough without overcoming what has to be termed clinical, terminal stupidity.
STEVE: The officials should be brought up on charges. Can’t imagine how they missed the first one, when Cort Dennison was called for interfering with a fair catch. He never touched the Nebraska player. If the ball had gone to the Huskies right there, at the 25-yard line, they would have had a chance to break a 14-14 tie and take the halftime lead. They were never the same after that. A second botched call early in the third quarter, when UW was penalized for bowling over a Nebraska punt returner WHO HADN’T EVEN SIGNALED FOR A FAIR CATCH, led to another Nebraska score. And, of course, when UW butterfingered the subsequent kickoff return that Nebraska recovered at the Washington 1-yard line, that was pretty much it.
ART: The officials’ failure to see that Nebraska punt returner Tim Marlowe was bumped by a teammate, not a Washington player, created nearly the same degree of shock that was felt in Super Bowl XL, when Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was called for an illegal block when he was attempting to tackle the player who intercepted his pass — an inability to interpret the obvious. Aside from any rooting interest, the irksome thing is it spoiled an unexpectedly even game to that point.
STEVE: In his first remarks after the game, UW coach Steve Sarkisian mentioned that after the second botched call, the Huskies “lost their composure.” During this “missing composure” period, Nebraska scored 17 points.
ART: The back-to-back hosings, on similar plays, would have a way of collapsing hearts and minds, but that letdown was critical. The Huskies obviously regained their wits in time to score twice in the fourth quarter, but Nebraska eased off the throttle by then. In any event, overcoming a three-score advantage in the second half is nearly impossible.
STEVE: Especially at a place like Nebraska.
ART: The miscalls overshadowed so much that the Huskies did well: 400 yards against the Cornhuskers defense, a heroic game by injured quarterback Keith Price, the toughest 100-plus yards Chris Polk has ever earned, and despite giving up 51 points, the defense that didn’t let QB Taylor Martinez go wild.
STEVE: The bad part: UW allowed Nebraska to rush for 300 yards. Going into the game, the recipe for a UW win was to contain the running game and force Martinez to throw, as they did in the Holiday Bow.l UW couldn’t contain that running game. I don’t know which is worse: Nebraska gaining 300 yards on the ground or Ron Artest becoming Metta World Peace.
ART: I have an analogy more odious: Making road trips to Pullman and Stillwater, OK., in the same Pac-16 season.
STEVE: That’s probably more odious. What’s your assessment of Keith Price after three games? The TV crew went nearly gaga over him in spite of a number of underthrown balls and bad decisions he made while trying, as football types like to say, to “make plays.” But this much is true, and somewhat amazing: He’s thrown 11 TD passes in three games. Jake Locker didn’t get his 11th until UW’s seventh game last year.
ART: Price is a more effective passer than Locker at the same stages of their careers, and Price may be better, period. His fourth-quarter pass to James Johnson that went for a 52-yard touchdown was damn near majestic. His mistakes largely seem a function of inexperience rather than lack of talent. Price’s big disappointment was late in the third quarter when UW turned the ball over on downs inside the Nebraska 20. But it’s hard to tell how much he was limited by injuries — he came in with a sore right knee, and then hurt the other leg in the second half. His tough-guy chops are unquestioned, but coach Steve Sarkisian’s wisdom in leaving him in the game with the outcome fairly clear will be known Saturday, when Washington opens Pac-10 play against Cal.
STEVE: I like Price a lot, and I like this Washington offense. To me, it’s remarkable that only three years ago the Huskies went 0-12 and today they can go into a place like Lincoln against a ranked opponent and have a chance to win if the officials don’t Barney Fife their assignments (last time UW beat a ranked opponent on the road was in 2010 when the Huskies knocked off No. 10 USC in Los Angeles; before that, they hadn’t beaten a ranked foe on the road since 2003, when they beat No. 18 Oregon State in Corvallis.) Sarkisian really has advanced UW football considerably in the time he’s been here.
ART: The Huskies’ biggest shortcoming Saturday was a strength in the first two games — special teams. Sarkisian talked up the improved depth that was supposed to salvage the kicking game. But poor punting, weak return coverage and the fumbled kickoff by freshman Bishop Sankey was where the UW lost the game. Then again, if the main reason Washington lost on the road to Nebraska is special teams, rather than being overwhelmed on offense or defense, that’s a big sign of progress.
STEVE: I would add to that Washington also needs to figure out how to avoid the big play, which the Huskies have yet to demonstrate they can do. The Huskies already have given up 10 of 40 or more yards in three games, including a 40-yard kickoff return and a 50-yard pass completion by Nebraska in the first 14 seconds of the game that set up the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown.
ART: Surrendering big plays is always an 11-man responsibility, but for several years, the least talented part of the Huskies’ roster has been the secondary. There was no excuse for the opening drive mis-coverage. One redemptive aspect was in his first start, junior safety Justin Glenn, replacing injured Nate Fellner, had 15 tackles. But when your safety is the leading tackler . . .
STEVE: It means that a linebacker isn’t, which should be the case. So wrap this up with a final thought.
ART: From the 56-21 defeat to the Cornhuskers in Seattle a year ago, to being a handful of misplays and miscalls from fourth-quarter competitiveness in Lincoln, is a fairly impressive statement. Huskies fans need to hope that Sarkisian didn’t keep an injured Price in the game too long to stymie that progress.