BY Art Thiel 09:05PM 11/23/2012

Thiel: 18 flags later, Huskies in mood most foul

Blowing an 18-point lead in the final 11 minutes, the Huskies’ 31-28 defeat helped revive a Cougars’ program that couldn’t help itself. And 18 penalties?! What the . . .

Keith Price had a bad Apple Cup, getting sacked three times and losing the ball twice on turnovers. / Greg Davis Photography

In Apple Cup Church, this one will be celebrated with hymns and genuflections when Cougars come to worship. When the Huskies come, they will slink into the dark confessional booth and say, “Father, we were really dumb.”

Ahead 28-10 with 11 minutes left, the Huskies, West Side big-timers that they were with the 7-4 record and four-game win streak, seemed certain they knew the Washington State Cougars, 14-point underdogs and winless in conference, were dead.

Why not? Their own coach, Mike Leach, earlier in the year called them zombies and empty corpses.

That’s one thing about college football: You can be partly dead. Not completely dead.

You know. Like the Huskies are now, and for will be quite some time.

“It’s not going to go away quick,” said Huskies defensive back Justin Glenn, the Huskies safety, among the many benumbed wearing purple.

Hard to know whether the fact of the 31-28 overtime loss in Pullman Friday afternoon was worse than the manner. But once the school-record-tying 18 penalties are considered, it can be said with some certainty that the epic embarrassment was self-inflicted.

“Really disappointing,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who lost for the first time in four Apple Cups. “We have a locker room that’s very down. We wanted this game for a lot of reasons. The (four-game win) streak. The rivalry. The (finale) for seniors.

“It will take more than 24 hours to get over this.  This one hurts.”

The Cougars had lost eight in a row, were winless in the Pac-12, mired in controversy that prompted an investigation into Leach’s handling of players, and statistically one of the worst teams in the country. They were missing their best player on defense (LB Travis Long, knee) and arguably their two best players on offense (WR Marquess Wilson, quit; Connor Halliday, concussion) and yet ran off 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and OT to shock the Huskies, as only a low-rent operation can when it whips the crew that fancies itself penthouse-worthy.

Relative to the expectations built with the hire of Leach, who was very successful over 10 years at Texas Tech, the Cougars season was a colossal flop. Until about 4:30 Friday afternoon at Martin Stadium, in front of 30,544 witnesses, when it became a stupendous success. Meanwhile, the momentum Sarkisian built with four consecutive conference wins came to such a hard stop the Huskies were bruised from hitting the inside of the windshield.

That’s how rivalries work.

The Huskies are 7-5 and will go to a bowl, albeit the bottom-tier variety, probably to the Kraft Bowl in San Francisco or the New Mexico Bowl, although with potentially four 7-5 teams, the Pac-12’s seven bowl tie-ups may not have room for Washington. The 3-9 Cougars are going nowhere, but now it won’t feel like it. The Huskies let the Cougars feel like they are going somewhere, which ultimately will be, from Washington’s perspective, the biggest mistake made on a day of cascading mistakes: They turned around the Cougars program fortunes when even the Cougars themselves could not.

“I’m sick, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said on KJR radio. “Our team is sick. When you don’t finish at the end of games and the other team does, that’s what happens.”

On offense, defense and special teams, the Huskies had critical misfires followed by calamitous gaffes. The 129 yards in penalties festers like leprosy on the stats page. But it was a defensive letdown that probably provoked the biggest gag reflex in Sarkisian — as well as the biggest exultation for WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel, who deserves to have a statue of his guts somewhere on the Martin Stadium tarmac.

Down 28-17 early in the fourth quarter, Tuel dropped back on third down and was immediately beseiged, as was typical for a team that gave up the third-most sacks in the nation entering the game.

Hit, spun around and knocked off balance, Tuel somehow escaped to throw a 29-yard pass to Isiah Myers, which set up a touchdown drive and two-point conversion that cut the lead to 28-25 with 7:26 left. A potential sack of 15 yards or more ended up a huge WSU play because the defense didn’t finish.

“We had him sacked, a loss of 20, (Tuel) makes a heck of a play, and it looked like we kinda stopped,” Sarkisian said. “They hit the big gainer got crowd going again.”

After a Washington 3-and-out, the Cougars drove down to kick the game-tying, 45-yard field goal with 1:59 left. Two minutes later, when the Huskies’ Travis Coons missed the game-winning 36-yard attempt (wide right, for Huskies fans who remember similar pain from kicker Chuck Nelson in the 1982 Apple Cup loss), the Huskies moved into overtime and committed their third epic misdeed of the late going.

On the first play, quarterback Keith Price, who for some reason was attempting to pass against one of the nation’s worst rush defenses, was in mid-sack by Logan Mayes,when he lofted the worst pass of his career, a weak floater that fell into the hands of lumbering D-lineman Toni Pole, who preposterously took it 65 yards before being dragged down at the 5-yard line by Cody Bruns.

Bruns’ noble act merely postponed the inevitable. OT rules mandated that the Cougars take the ball on a fresh possession at the 25. After picking up 15 yards, Andrew Furney kicked the game winner from 27 yards.

Delirium ensued. The crimson-clad poured down on the field to complete the mockery of the Huskies and the revival of the Cougars.

The Huskies, who committed 66 penalties over the last six games and had a record 106 for the season, may have been the most wildly inconsistent team in the BCS. Fortunately for them, they get an extra 15 practices provided by the bowl to sort out how they can be so foolish at times.

“Next week is supposed to be a recruiting week for me, but I’m staying off the road with other coaches to do some self-scouting,” Sarkisian said, “partly to figure out how and why these penalties are occurring. Are we asking our guys too do too much? That could be part of the problem.

“Whatever it is, we’re going to address it.”

Partisanship aside, this is the kind of game that makes college football such an entertainment value that billions are paid to telecast this theater nationally, and why football programs tend to run their universities.

But if you’re a Husky partisan, the amusement was minimal. A nationally televised choke against the cross-state rival is not, as Sarkisian said early in the year, taking the next step.


  • OffTheLows

    People will talk a lot about UW penalties in this game but the yellow flags in the Pac 12 have been a disturbing issue beyond this game or one team in the conference. Of the 20 most penalized teams heading into this weekend in the 120 team FBS, 6 were from the Pac 12:

    I think Larry Scott really needs to answer to this. The delays and frustration over Jay “Glasses Ref” Stricherz and his compatriots has been too much to bare this season. People don’t go to the games or tune in to watch the zebras. Kudos to Jim Mora for calling them out the other weekend, in Pullman ironically.

    • rod handler

      Perhaps more coincidentally than ironically.

    • art thiel

      The money has gotten better in the Pac-12; officiating hasn’t.

    • SnowItch

      Years ago, I officiated High School Football. I live in the Washington D.C. area and they had a National Conference for sports officials. I sat in on a number of round-table discussions where representatives from various levels (NFL, College, High School) and Conferences gave opinions on various film “out-takes”. The PAC refs were consistently out-of-step with every other official at the tables. They consistently (and vigorously) insisted on adhering to the technicality of enforcing the rules as opposed to the other officials who emphasized the importance of only making the calls that directly negatively impacted a play. One of the NFL officials (I believe it was Johnny Greer) called out the PAC official that the fans were there to watch the players, not the officials. I had hoped that it would have changed under Scott (still may), but the tradition is well imbedded in the culture of the PAC-12, and I don’t see it changing.

      • art thiel

        Snowitch, thanks for sharing the observation. I’ve heard the point you made once before. It’s typically denied by the conference and the officials. But it makes for two different games. Much like when the AL and NL maintained separate strike zones. As Jim Mora might put it, not acceptable.

  • Tom Langen

    I’m a dawg, through and through, but all I got to say is nice win Cougs. That one is going to sting for a long time. Game won with a lot of heart. Something lacking all over the field with purple on it.

    A lack of discipline on the field and general disorganization within the game plan are major issues for the UW. So major, maybe it shouldn’t just be Sark evaluating his performance this week. Not saying can him by any means, but there are legit questions regarding the direction of this program right now. Most of these are the kinds of mistakes made by mediocre leadership.

    • RadioGuy

      You’re spot on. When you’re picking up 18 penalties in your twelfth game of the season, that indicates a near-total breakdown of discipline. Freezing your own kicker and his fellow special teamers prior to attempting a game-winning field goal with five seconds left is not exactly the best game management, either.

      But, hey, I hear Albuquerque is really nice in December, when the average low temperature is 24 degrees (but it’s a DRY cold).

      • art thiel

        Also remember that of the 20 most penalized teams in the country, 8 are from the Pac-12. More than any other league, this one calls it tighter on contact plays and late hits than any.

        • RadioGuy

          And yet the Cougars only drew eight flags for 69 yards while the Dawgs had 18 for 129. Even so, the biggest play of the game may have been Price’s interception throw…what in the world was he thinking on that play?
          Hey, I’ll go back to rooting for the Huskies in whatever bowl game they’re playing in (I save my deepest loathing for the Oregon Duck$), but they really let this one get away from them.

          • art thiel

            Price said he was checking down to his safety read in Sankey, which needed a soft toss but was pulled down at the critiical moment. Another case of Price and his season-long problem: Trying to do too much.

    • art thiel

      Keep in mind Tom that only seven seniors played much this year, not many more juniors. This team heavily loaded with underclassmen; last count was that 32 players had their first college game experience this year. Not an excuse, but a factor.

      • Tom Langen

        I understand the inexperience issue, and you can throw depth/injuries out there as a factor as well. I still think there’s an overall lack of…..something… the organizational level with the way this team plays.

  • nomadictendencies

    UNLV is a BCS school last time I checked. They don’t play in a AQ conference, but they are a BCS school.

    • RadioGuy

      The Mountain West is an FBS conference but not a part of the BCS unless one of its schools either finishes in the top 12 rankings OR is in the top 16 while ranking higher than an automatically-qualifying conference champion.
      That’s happened four times since the NCAA went “alphabet soup” on us, but neither of the schools (Utah and TCU) who qualified for BCS bowls are still in the MWC.

  • Pat

    Wow. What an absolutely awful excuse for a journalist. Thiel gives WSU absolutely zero credit for coming back, instead laying everything at the feet of Washington mistakes. Yeah, because Washington scored all those 4th quarter points for WSU. Meanwhile, he neglects to mention that WSU handed Washington 21 points with three turnovers inside the WSU 20. Then he completely screws up the sequence on Tuel’s amazing escape. That play went to Myers for a gain of 29. The pass to Simone was a completely different play. Finally, he takes an indirect shot at WSU by questioning why Washington threw a pass in OT, instead of running against WSU’s bad run defense. Uh, Art? Maybe it was because WSU had virtually shut down Washington on the ground all day, making them earn every inch, and not allowing a run longer than nine yards. This is all after he says at Leach called his team empty corpses, which anyone with a brain knows is not true. No wonder I don’t read anything on this site (was linked by the Spokesman).

    • Ron

      I used to read his articles to get Mariners news down here in Southern California. I stopped and now I remember why.

      • Tian Biao

        oh dear me, it looks like big bad Art may have offended a couple of Cougar fans. My, but they have such thin skins.

        • art thiel

          It’s not just Cougars fans, Tian. Every fan wants his or her passion and team validated. So even though I was offering a column on consequences to UW, let me underscore the obvious — well done, Cougars.

      • art thiel

        Ron, if you enjoy cheerleading in your sports coverage, you probably made a good choice.

    • art thiel

      Pat, Myers/Simone play corrected. My bad. Thanks.
      As far as determining greater responsibility for the outcome, I saw Washington’s unforced errors, primarily penalties, as more decisive than the errors forced upon by them by WSU’s actions.

      On the first play of OT, the way the O-line was fading in pass protection, UW should have run the ball, no question, because of lower risk. The circumstances called for a priority of mistake-avoidance.

      And as far as the empty corpse remark, it’s apparent there are lots of media outlets you weren’t reading.

  • Big

    Art, embrace the game for what it was. a hard fought game won by the Cougs. I assume you were at the game? Critical analysis of the officiating is best left for the replay booth. The Cougs earned the win and Husky mistakes were made under pressure of the Air Raid and the relentless attacking Cougar Defense.

    Go Cougs

    • Tom

      Relentless defense, but the Huskies still scored 28 points which was better than their average I think this year. An 18 to 6 penalty discrepancy against the visiting team is hard to ignore though. If the roles were reversed penalty wise the Cougs would be raising holy hell.

      That said, all credit to the Cougs credit for the victory as coming back from 18 says a hell of out a lot about resolve, which the Huskies seemed not to have when it counted. It was a good defensive game plan to stop the run and force Price to have to beat them, which he hasn’t been able to do due all season. Being on the run due to a very suspect young, injury depleted, o-line and just bone headed decisions has cost him this year.

      Husky mistakes combined with some tight calls, (one very questionable false start penalty), also kept those hopes very alive down the stretch. But, the Dawgs had to play the hand your dealt and didn’t.

      Congrats to the Cougs

      • art thiel

        Tom, that’s all true. Cougs made the most of what the Huskies handed them, which is all you can ask of a team, and more than anyone had a right to expect from a 2-9 team. They didn’t quit at 28-10. So much for the claim that Leach lost the team.

        • “So much for the claim that Leach lost the team.” – therein lies the most important victory with this game.

      • Big

        Tom, I didn’t think the Coug D under preformed giving up the points when given the O turn overs in the red zone or near. The run wasn’t a big factor for the Dawgs and the Dawgs win when they run the ball well with Bishop S. The Air Raid put alot of pressure on the secondary. Too many dropped balls by the Cougs kept the score down. Oh, the head bob thing is old school time to move on and earn the play. I expect the Dawgs will be ready to play come bowl game day, I’ll be watching. GO Cougs

    • art thiel

      As I wrote to Pat, it was more a case of unforced errors by Washington (mostly penalties), which doesn’t mean the Cougars didn’t deserve to win. But UW made so many errors of commission and omission that avoidance of almost any one would have preserved the win.

      • hawksquawk

        Pass interference isn’t an unforced penalty- it’s a desperation move when beat in space. Trufant got away with several and didn’t on others…the grabbing in the end zone calls were crystal clear- and actually good football as they saved TD’s surrendered. The holding calls were also a result of getting beat off the ball. The Coug DL dominated the front… there is nothing unforced about that.

        • art thiel

          Didn’t say it was PI’s that were unforced. It’s the delays, false starts and PFs that are controllable by a disciplined team, which the Huskies were not. Those are the giveaway fouls.

  • jafabian

    Sark got outcoached by a more experienced football coach who, coming from Texas, understands rivalry games more despite the fact Sark is in his fourth year at UW. He was offensive coordinator for only 1 year at USC and assistant head coach for three. IMO, during his tenure at UW he seems more reactionary than making teams adjust to what he’s doing.

    I don’t know just how “up” the Huskies were for the Apple Cup. Too many polite responses during the week leading up to it. Usually some quiet snark makes it way into the local media and that didn’t seem to happen much if at all this week.

    • art thiel

      In his tenure, Sark has made mistakes of inexperience, which is the risk UW took in hiring a young coach with no head coaching experience. The question of whether a coach is completely responsible for whether his team is up or down for any gamew has never been answered to my satisfaction. Most college kids most of the time have a hard time focusing over 13 weeks. That’s why the game is so unpredictable. In terms of pre-game emotional points, I think everyone overlooked how big a deal the Cougars defense made of Travis Long’s injury absence. He is such a stud and a leader that the Cougs seem to have made it nearly as a crusade. Good for them, but not a mark against Sark.

  • foulkeyu

    “They turned around the Cougars program fortunes when even the Cougars themselves could not.”

    For one thing, Art, get a proofreader. Second, the Cougars were the ones who turned around their program this day. If not for WSU’s turnovers, two of which were fluky interceptions, WSU could have won this game by at least 7-10 points. WSU outgained UW on the day, and three of UW’s TD drives were 26 yards or fewer.

    This isn’t to say WSU had a good team this year. I’m just saying that WSU deserves the credit for winning this game. They fought back from 28-10 and won. On this day, WSU outplayed UW.

    By the way, as regards the penalties, UW’s cornerbacks (especially Trufant) hold or interfere on almost every passing down. This results in some very effective coverage when it’s not called, but it’s going to be called sometimes. It finally was called a few times in the second half when Tuel made a point out of throwing to receivers who had UW defenders blanketed all over them. There were several instances in which it still wasn’t called (notably, on a third-down play to Dominique Williams near the WSU sideline in the third quarter).

    • art thiel

      Never said the Cougs didn’t deserve the win; the team that makes fewer screwups late is usually the winner.

      As far as PIs, in any game, the call is often 50-50, and it’s not worth arguing those. You have to allow for human nature. As far as DB holds, UW is very good at it, but it is also the least-called of any penalty.

  • ericdx

    Everyone might as well get over the fact that Theil the Hack is a UW apologist and will never give WSU credit without a helping of how UW was wronged, or the refs were bad, or some other tripe. That was part of the problem with the PI. Theil’s copy was better suited for use in the bird cage, than actual serious, insightful reading. I loved watching the UW players and fans either in tears, or trying to start fights in Pullman last night at the end of the game. Really, your team is going to be stupid enough to push straight through a crowd that is streaming on to the field on the student side, instead of working along the edge of the field. Savor the Crow you ate last night, UW. You richly deserved it. GO COUGS!!!!

    • art thiel

      Huskies will be thrilled to learn I’ve become a UW apologist. They’ve been demanding it for years. And speaking of years, I’ve been misspelling my name all this time. Thanks for the fix.

  • mtk

    foul, indeed. the dawgs stank. rancid.

  • lee cousins

    I watched the game on the tube, althought entertaining it was rife with mistakes not a well played football game on either side, the one thing the cougars had going for them was they played with a greater intensity, and determenation and that can make up for alot off short commings the team may have had, for me the game did not surprise me one bit.

  • hawksquawk

    The dawgs had two drives over 26 yards. The Cougs handed the ball over at the 7, 18 and 20 all for husky TD’s. The uncalled pass interferences by the uw DB’s had as much impact on the end of Coug drives, as the ones that were called to help the Cougs. The Cougar defense was better than the husky offense, all day long. That was the reason the Cougs won- when you are beat off the ball, you hold, when you are beat in the secondary you interfere… when the run is stuffed, you throw… credit where credit is due. It was Cougar errors that kept the uw in this one, not the other way around.

  • Tired Husky Fan

    I am a long time Husky fan and am tired of the lack of discipline and game management. The program has taken a large step backwards. The question of what direction is the program heading should be considered. To commit as many penalities this year is inexcuseable. How many false starts, delay of game and not enough men on the line of scrimmage is mind boggling. This is basic clock management and concentration by the players. The coaching staff is not disciplining the team!!