BY Art Thiel 08:49PM 11/17/2014

Thiel: UW’s Petersen firm: ‘I’d do the same thing’

Huskies coach said he looked at final sequence against Arizona “105 times” and still would have done it the way he did it. Good luck explaining to to parents of recruits.

Remember when Chris Petersen figured out how to beat Hawaii’s Norm Chow by one point? He may not remember either. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Misdirection is a vital part of offensive design in football. The defense has to think one way, and the offense that thinks another usually wins the day. So perhaps Chris Petersen won Huskies’ weekly presser.

The game Saturday at Arizona? No. Still lost. Can’t turn back the, um, clock. Then again, perhaps any expression that involves clocks should be avoided in Montlake.

“I’ve looked at (the final 90 seconds) about 105 times, second-guessing it,” Petersen said Monday. “If I had to do it again right today, I’d do the same thing.”

When many, if not most, media members expected Petersen to fall on his sword over the debacle in the desert that allowed 14th-ranked Arizona to beat the Huskies 27-26 on a field goal with no time left, Petersen defended his strategy that provoked a storm of criticism.

He was convinced that running the ball at least once in the Huskies’ final possession, rather than a victory formation of three kneel-downs that may have left a few seconds on the clock, was the lesser risk.

Unfortunately for him, the running play he called resulted in the first career fumble by fifth-year senior Deontae Cooper. With 1:23 left, Arizona pounced on the ball at the Washington 45-yard line and turned it seven plays later into a 47-yard field goal by Casey Skowron, flipping a signature win into a scarring loss that won’t be forgotten around Montlake until Lake Washington rises 50 feet from global melt.

Why take the risk of a fumble?

“It didn’t,” said Petersen, “cross my mind.”

In a nutshell, that summarizes Petersen’s error, even though he gave a lengthy rationale for avoiding the risk of giving up possession with time left on the clock.

“What I didn’t want to do was take three knees and then have to punt,” he said. “We didn’t know exactly how many seconds would be left. I didn’t want to do that thing where you’re running around back there (attempting to kill the clock), then all of a sudden there’s one second left and they’re in field-goal range.

“So the strategy was, hey, we’re going to run one more play (with Cooper) and then we can re-look at the clock to see if we can get it all the way down to take a knee. Then the ball comes out.”

Hypothetically, given the way either the quarterback or, on fourth down, the punter could burn a few seconds before downing the ball, the risk of surrendering possession seems slight compared to what happened.

But as Petersen pointed out, had Arizona blocked the punt or returned it into field goal range for a successful kick, the same questions would rage “coming the other way.”

Petersen was adamant that the percentages calculated on “the chart,” the standard coach’s reference guide created before the season to estimate best outcomes considering down, distance and time, was accurate and inviolate.

“The one thing I really want you guys to know is, all of it was very calculated,” he said, seeking to dispel the notion of guesswork. “So you might not agree with the strategy, but we’ve got our charts (in) our game plans and (coaches) are looking at it upstairs.

“We’ve got four minutes and some seconds and we convert two first downs. Looking at the chart (at 1:33 remaining), we felt like we still had a handful of seconds left before we could really kneel and kill it.”

On another episode, Petersen was willing to admit that a chance was missed when the Huskies, with a timeout in hand, failed to use it to stop Arizona’s field goal drive at 30 seconds instead of :03, which would have allowed for a kickoff return by John Ross or a couple of scrimmage plays for a Hail Mary pass, currently the rage in the Pac-12.

“I didn’t think (Skowron) was going to make it,” Petersen said. “And my hat’s off to him. He did a nice job kicking in that game. They’ve had a little bit of struggles.”

What was wrong with calling a timeout with about 30 seconds left?

“I guess we could’ve done that, yeah,” Petersen said.

In the bigger picture, Petersen’s dubious clock management was the last and most vivid thing that obscured a preposterously long list of unforced errors — dropped balls, bad snaps, senseless penalties — that obscured the best Huskies’ game of the season.

In a sentence, the Huskies deserved to win the game as richly as they deserved to lose it.

That confounding outcome ruined a chance for a win on the road against a quality conference foe, which would have meant much to the program. Now, Petersen and his staff get to answer questions on the recruiting trail about whether telling time is a degree program at Washington.

If you need another head scratcher — and by now, the scalps of Huskies fans must look like the tee boxes at Jefferson Park after kiddies’ day — Petersen praised the “different” level of passion and effort that produced the many positive aspects of the game.

Why now, in the 11th game of the season, is it mustered?

“I don’t know; I really don’t know,” he said. “That’s a great question, and it’s something that we’ve really been talking about. As a coach, I don’t think you can just talk about things. You’ve got to go do them. You’ve got to work on them. You’ve got to practice it.

“Bringing emotional energy and passion and those things, those sometimes are hard to replicate and practice. But I do think we’ve been making strides and it showed up this weekend.”

The Huskies have two games left — at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Oregon State and 7:30 p.m. (that’s right; 7:30 p.m.) Nov. 29 at Washington State — to keep striding. But figuring out this team are mysteries that take time to solve, and time management is not something that appears in the Montlake skill set.


  • mtd9904

    Call him intransigent but guys like Peterson don’t get where they are by second-guessing themselves.

    • eYeDEF

      Here’s the problem with your theory; he did second guess himself, then 3rd guessed himself, 5th guessed, etc … all the way up to 105th guessed. Yet he still couldn’t come up with the right answer. It was just a matter of simple math.

      And he never seriously considered the possibility of a fumble on the last hand off? REALLY?

      HOooh boy, how can anyone not question his coaching competence when he fundamentally got his chart so wrong? His explanation as to why he’d do it over is absurd. What punt? Your punter never even has to punt. He just runs back and slides at the 20 untouched. Way less risky than handing it off and allowing defenders to molest the ball carrier. Peterson can’t learn from his mistakes if he adamantly refuses to acknowledge them. He could learn from Dan Hawkins too before he starts to ape him.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Exactly. His failure to acknowledge at least possible error is ominous. And his admission that he “never thought” of the possibility of a fumble is simply frightening. That is what he is paid to DO–calculate odds on the spot and make a reasonable choice based on that calculation. But if he never thought of the possibility of a fumble by a guy running into a box of at least 9 defenders whose ONLY mission would be to strip the ball, he couldn’t possibly calculate the odds rationally. So, he is either lying now, or he froze up then, and retreated to the comfort of his “chart”. Charts cannot substitute for calm, rational thought, even in times of stress. That’s what a coach is THERE for!!

        • art thiel

          Petersen is a creature of routine and consistency, believing it fundamental to maintaining order among 105 mostly wild-ass young men. I get that. But the chart is merely a table of probabilities, not the Talmud. He’s not threatened with doom if he goes against it. But after 105 re-considerations, he doesn’t see the other side of the argument? That is the disturbing part.

      • art thiel

        There’s a fine line between sticking to principles and being stubborn. He crossed it.

      • mtd9904

        I’m not saying I agree with his call, just that IMO, guys at his level can’t be second-guessing themselves publicly too much.

        • eYeDEF

          But my point is that he did second guess himself publicly. He admitted to doing so 105 times to be exact, yet he still came up with wrong answer. Whatever reasons you might think that a head coach “can’t be second guessing themselves publicly”, maybe you think it’s too damaging for him to do so because it undermines public confidence in his ability to do his job, what he did was far, far worse. He not only publicly second guessed himself, but demonstrated he was too stubborn to come to the right conclusion and admit to a mistake that everyone recognizes he made. Whatever PR hit you think public second guessing causes a coach, he just made that mistake times 1000.

    • art thiel

      Fair point, and I’m not suggesting he’s failing as a coach, but his reluctance to even acknowledge a 50/50 proposition exposes a blind spot in his view.

  • poulsbogary

    Something about these “charts” . . .
    All we see nowadays is coaches, I’m talking head coaches, with their faces buried inthose laminated pretty colored two sided charts. It seems to me if they would just look up every once in awhile to see what is actually happening on the field, then they could do their job better. Being a COACH.

    • art thiel

      You probably couldn’t tell from TV, but those are menus from Denny’s. Be glad Petersen didn’t order up a grand slam breakfast.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    A tough pill to swallow indeed.It took a 47 yard FG at home to snatch the win from those canine jaws. Coach allowed himself to get caught up pondering whether a running play was necessary to secure the hard fought win and expected the best to happen in launching said play in the gut decision.You can’t castigate him for that.
    That said it should have been a Husky victory. I hope he gets this out of his system and gets to look back on this season some 5 years from now to lament to the degree of difficulty he went through in getting acclimated to the Pac12….all in a rear view mirror style reflection. Judging from his history bigger things should be on the horizon.
    Finish strong Huskies.

    • art thiel

      Second-guessing is a long-held tradition in sports, because anyone who knows the rules of a kid’s game can do it.

      That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or right, but part of the calculation when a coach makes a tough call. If he said it was 50/50 people may have cut him a little slack. But the 105 times remark calls his decision-making into question.

      • Eric K

        The thing that I worry about most with Petersen is will he be too loyal to his assistants. Besides the Player talent I think the biggest difference in the Pac 12 vs Mt West is the budgets for assitants. Sark was willing to fire his friend and go poach one of the top young D coordinators in the country. Wittingham at Utah has had to upgrade his O coordinators multiple times. Jonathan Smith may be an up and coming coaching prospect but is he ready to be an O coordinator in the Pac 12? Head coach in the Pac 12 is no longer an entry level job even at places like WSU and I’d say coordinator isn’t anymore either. The budget is there for former head coaches who were great OCs who maybe got promoted too far, Jeff Tedford for example, Kiffin seems to be working out for Bama

  • Tian Biao

    I watched the game, and I made the exact same calculation Peterson did. At 40 seconds a play, on second down, and about 1:45 on the clock (as I remember), would have left at least 25 seconds on the clock for Arizona. Punting is dangerous too, remember. So I think Peterson did the right thing. It went wrong, but that’s not his fault.

    • Bruce McDermott
    • art thiel

      Tian, I think a recount will show that a knee, a timeout, and two knees would have left less than 10 seconds from 1:23 remaining. It doesn’t take much imagination to get to five seconds or even zero. A punt could have been averted with a runaround by a QB.

      That, plus the failure to force AZ to kick the FG , plus the failure to get a TO in time to stop the practice kick, do raise questions about his game management.

      • Eric K

        I see both sides of it, I think people saying you could get to zero with kneel downs are wrong, you’d need to kill a few seconds on a couple of them. You can do that by having the QB back pedal and stall a little. But now the question is do you do that with your inexperienced QB who has small hands and is prone to fumble vs hand off to your RB who has never fumbled in his career? Sure the D is trying to strip the RB but they’d really come after the QB as well. If I have Keith Price at QB sure I have him stall, but Miles?

        Where I think he messed up was not calling TO right away on AZ 4th down to guarantee at least a kick off if they make the FG

        • eYeDEF

          He didn’t even have to do that with his inexperienced quarterback. He could have done it with his punter. instead of punching you run straight back slides game over.

          Or say he did snap to his quarterback and the worst possible scenario happens and he fumbles by the time the other team recovers it’s still game over. Or say the other team miraculously recovers and has 1 second left for a Hail Mary. That still beats the odds of possibly fumbling with 1:43 left in the 4th quarter and giving the other side 1:43 to kick a field goal.

          He could have just killed the clock with the punter running straight back. That was the safest bet.

  • Mark Flynn

    So they did not want to take the chance that Arizona MIGHT have a big return on a kick, and so ran the ball. Yet, the did not call time out with 30 seconds left and instead let the clock run down, assuming that UW couldn’t/wouldn’t have a big run back on a kick if Skowron makes it. Hmm.

    • art thiel

      I saw that failure of logic too. Thanks for making the point.

  • jafabian

    I had no issue with the play and if it wasn’t fumbled this wouldn’t even an issue. No one would be going “Oh that Peterson is lucky they didn’t fumble because it could have been and they’d have lost the game.” All the talk and second guessing just shows how quickly Husky Nation can turn on a person.

    • art thiel

      Any fan base would have reacted exactly as Huskies fans have.

      Obviously, if the fumble hadn’t happened, it’s no story. But the small risk came true, and Petersen didn’t allow for it, Saturday or Monday.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Doubling down on stupid.
    Yeah. That always turns out well.

    • art thiel

      Not going with stupid, myself. Not seeing the other argument demonstrates a rigidity that belies the fluid nature of a game.

  • notaboomer

    hey huskies covered the spread so it’s all good.

  • notaboomer

    muddy waters doing the same thing for coach pete:

    • art thiel

      Funny guy, nota.

  • Illuminati Doomsday

    When Peterson answered the question, he said there was 4 minutes left and the chart said we needed two more first downs. Did he even look at the chart at 1:45? Hugh Millen went over it on KJR yesterday and says there would be 3 seconds left on 4th down (worst case scenario). So, they might have to snap the ball on 4th down. The clock stops on change of possession, so the QB or punter may have to toss the the ball as far downfield as possible to kill the game.
    I still kind of like Peterson, but he is being a lunkhead about this final series.

  • ll9956

    Thanks for reporting on Petersen’s comments, Art. I’m still sick about this outcome. I just hope the players, who are 18-22 year-olds, can get over this easier than some of us old duffers. It’s apparent that Petersen did a lot of agonizing between Saturday and Monday over this decision (105 look-backs). I find it disturbing that he wasn’t able to acknowledge that there is another side of the argument other than his that might have merit.

    Despite this horrible outcome, it seems that the Dawgs did show improvement on both sides of the ball. It would be satisfying to see the team come back next week with a gigantic chip on their shoulders and win decisively over, if not completely blow away, OSU.

  • Shaun

    It’s entirely possible that Coach Pete is committed to protecting his assistant coaches. By admitting that he’d do something different on that 1st down Cooper call then he’s also in a sense throwing Jonathan Smith under the bus. He was given input from his OC and the chart. Sure, he could have gauged that input and adjusted it like a head coach should. However, in admitting that he should have done that then he is essentially blaming his assistant coach. Perhaps the post game and press conference interviews are nothing more than Coach Pete taking the blame for the decision and protecting his assistant coaches.

  • Big

    I pity the man. CP is not the Dawg Father.