Chris Petersen’s debut as Washington coach barely averted an embarrassment, with two big plays salvaging a harrowing 17-16 win at Hawaii Saturday night.
The debut game of the Chris Petersen era at the University of Washington will be little noted nor long remembered, but the fine print in the box score says it does count as a win. Not a triumph, but a 17-16 non-conference win Saturday night over a Hawaii team that was 4-20 over the previous two seasons.
Behind 10-0, the Huskies scored 17 unanswered points in a 10-minute span of the first half, then fell into a prolonged slumber in the second half. But the defense, battered for 97 plays and 424 yards on a warm, humid night in Honolulu, nevertheless held the Warriors to two second-half field goals to avert a major splat.
Petersen was grieved over the sluggish offense, particularly the passing game, in which sophomore quarterback Jeff Lindquist, who won a six-month contest to start, was 10 for 26 for 162 yards.
“Our whole offense played not to lose,” he told KOMO radio. “That’s a bad thing. You feel it in your stomach.
“Jeff was a little rattled. Nobody was making any plays. We’ll look back on this in a month and won’t be bitter, but the thing that irritates me is we can play better.”
Absent recent stars Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the offense appeared lost at times. And as predictably shaky as was Lindquist, both lines, teeming with veterans, were knocked around by their supposed lessers from the Mountain West Conference.
“They pushed us around too much; they really did,” Petersen said. “We’re fortunate to get out of here with a W. We got a long way to go.”
Were it not for two plays, both dazzlers, the Huskies’ journey would be far longer than the 2,600-mile flight home.
Late in the first quarter after the Warriors stunned Washington with consuming drives to a touchdown and a field goal on the first two possessions, the Huskies, at the Hawaii 20-yard line, ran a reverse with WR John Ross taking a flip from RB Deontae Cooper. Ross, one of the fastest players in college ball, swept past startled defenders for a touchdown.
On their next possession, the Warriors pushed the Huskies all the way to their nine-yard line. On fourth down, Hawaii coach Norm Chow, a legendary assistant coach in college ball in his first top job, tried his own trickeration.
Marcus Kemp was the receiver on a reverse, only he was ordered to throw. Despite an open receiver, Kemp, under abrupt pressure from Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters, who had a splendid game, fluttered the ball two yards short.
Taking over on downs, the Huskies struck on their first play. Lindquist heaved the ball 55 yards to a streaking Ross, who caught the ball in stride, well ahead of defenders, and scored easily. The 91-yarder was the second-longest TD pass play in school history, exceeded only by a 98-yard hookup between Marcel Reece and Jake Locker in 2007.
Aside from a 36-yard field goal from Cameron Van Winkle with 4:23 left in the half, that was it for the offense until the last possession of the game. Washington punted eight times in a row until the defense forced Hawaii to punt with 2:40 left.
Inexplicably, the Huskies O-line made holes for RB Lavon Coleman, who hit on rushes of 11, 13 and 12 yards to run out the clock. A freshman from Lompoc, CA., Coleman may have emerged as the No. 1 back.
Coleman’s 17 carries for 78 yards led seven Washington ballcarriers, who collectively gained 174 yards.
As for the No. 1 QB, that remains an open question. Cyler Miles returns to eligibility next week after a one-game suspension. Petersen was mum about how things will play out for the home opener Saturday against Eastern Washington, but he was eager to get to work.
“There’s lots of frustration right now,” he said. “I’m so anxious to put that tape on and pick this whole thing apart.”
He’ll have plenty to do, on both sides. The defense didn’t force a turnover and allowed Warriors RB Joey Iosefa, a 245-pounder, to go for 143 yards on 30 carries. QB Ikaika Woolsey was 23 for 42 for 207 yards. But when the field shortened, the defense stiffened, particularly with the big man in the middle, DT Danny Shelton, who had 10 tackles.
And now, Petersen gets to manage a quarterback controversy. And he thought his opener was hard.