BY Art Thiel 12:49AM 01/03/2015

Thiel: First-half debacle smashes Huskies’ bowl

Saying he was “disappointed in himself,” coach Chris Petersen took responsibility for the Huskies’ 24-0 halftime deficit that led to a 30-22 Cactus bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Chris Petersen said he was “disappointed in himself” after the Huskies fell behind 24-0 Friday night against underdog Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

As with most college bowl games but three, there was no tangible meaning to the Cactus Bowl game Friday night in Tempe, AZ., that matched middling teams from the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences. But for the infant stewardship of Huskies coach Chris Petersen, a good outcome would have helped bury the player suspensions, dubious playcalling and ineffective play against serious opposition that pickled his first year.

Instead, bad outcome.

Against a six-point underdog starting a freshman quarterback, the Huskies defense, offense and coaching staff utterly failed to show up against a 6-6 Oklahoma State team that had lost five of its final six games and suspended one of its best players after an ugly assault charge against his pregnant girlfriend.

The second-half rally was nice for Huskies fans in an announced crowd of 35,409 searching for a little dignity on a 45-degree night — the coldest Cactus Bowl in the event’s 26-year history — but was inspired only by the imminence of regional/national shame. The 30-22 result, even with a shot to tie in final minute, doesn’t paper over the fact that the Huskies began as if they didn’t take themselves or their opponents seriously, and found themselves down 24-0 at the half.

That’s a disturbing mark against Petersen, his staff and the senior leadership because it cast doubt on the apparent uptick in the final third of the season that finished 8-5 — now 8-6 with an anvil.

“We were just getting our teeth kicked in on offense from the very start,” said a chagrined Petersen. “I’m honestly very disappointed in the first half. I’m disappointed in myself.  Thought the guys practiced hard. I thought we had a good week here.

“The thing I was so excited about: Our guys, the last month of football, they kind of figured out how to flip that switch, the mental focus and energy. For whatever reason, we didn’t have it the first half.  The second half, they did. But it was too little, too late.

“I feel really bad for our seniors to have to go out this way. But we will learn from it. I won’t let this happen again.”

A day earlier, Petersen had talked about how meaningful a bowl game win would be for the program. Now?

“Yeah, we’re going to have to use that as a chip on our shoulder, without question,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do. The guys know that. You know, it will be a tough, hard process going through that.

“But we’re going to use it as a positive in terms of how we need to play, what we need to do to be able to compete.”

By the end of the season, the presumption was that message already had been imparted. Instead, Washington’s vaunted defense, with three All-America selections, gave up 177 yards in the first quarter. The offense didn’t get a first down until three minutes were gone in the second quarter.

The Huskies forced the Cowboys into two turnovers in the first half, including a spectacular, one-handed leaping interception by freshman safety Budda Baker and a 40-yard return, but could do nothing with the good field position. Meanwhile, OSU had twin 84-yard drives pickled with explosive plays that shredded a supposedly formidable Washington defense.

As well as the Huskies rebounded in the second half, including a well-executed end-around play by WR Jaydon Mickens for a 31-yard touchdown to break the drought, a 24-point deficit was way too deep a hole.

On OSU’s final possession, the fading defense was caught unaware by the insertion of 300-pound DL James Castleman in the offensive backfield. He already scored a touchdown on a one-yard run, but this time caught a short pass — a career first — on third down in the flat that the big man turned into bring-down-the-house, 48-yard plunge deep into Washington territory. A potential three-and-out was converted into the game’s decisive play.

Even though the drive was thwarted by a miss on a 27-yard field goal by PK Ben Grogan, less than a minute was left on the clock and the Huskies were out of timeouts. The final desperation pass of QB Cyler Miles, who finished with 25 completions in 38 attempts for 268 yards, was picked off, and the embarrassment was complete.

Miles seemed to regress to the erratic decision-maker of the early season, although in the second-half comeback nailed 12 consecutive passes. The final game of his redshirt sophomore year, which began with a suspension following a Feb. 2 campus altercation, didn’t do much to clear up his fate for next season with heralded prep sensation Jake Browning in the mix.

Petersen offered less than a glowing endorsement for Miles’ senior year.

“I think Cyler did progress as the season went on,” he said. “Took a lot of snaps, a lot of reps, learned a lot of things. But I think every position in this program, we’ve got to have competition. We got to get better there.

“We got to improve there, and I think we will.”

Petersen needs also to improve. He was asked whether he will review how he prepared the team emotionally during the bowl week.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to really look at and analyze.  I think probably the most important thing I need to do is, those last two days leading up to the game . . . really, you know, somehow stress that energy, that focus, that toughness factor, how this game needs to start.

“It wouldn’t be something they don’t know, but it’s got to start with me. I have to bring that to the table so they can grasp that.”

The Pac-12, with the Oregon Ducks’ national championship game remaining Jan. 12, has a 6-2 bowl record to lead all conferences. But on a cold night in the desert, the Huskies did nothing big leave a big scratch on the conference image.

Not to mention a big question mark over the head of Petersen.


  • skeezix

    Miles is a Junior next year,not a Senior Art…that is, if he is here at all….

    • art thiel

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • Tian Biao

    yeah, that was a real surprise. no passion, lousy tackling, poor quarterback play . . . also, it looked like Petersen got out-couched, like OK state was ready for everything UW did. Altogether disappointing. Having said that, OK state deserved to win, they were well-prepared and ready to play.

    • art thiel

      You’re right — little that UW did on offense surprised OSU. Thompson was wearing a cast on his left hand after thumb surgery, but that was the only visible excuse for such poor tackling teamwide.

  • Talkjoc

    CP’s shine is wearing off FAST! Hope year two shows a VAST improvement, especially at QB and the ability to tackle…..anyone. How can a middle Pac-12 team be bored and not show up? Hate this “we’re too good thinking”. THAT’S coaching. Thank goodness Dawg fans there’s Basketball, Oh, wait, lost to Stone Pony and Cal. GO SEAHAWKS !!

    • Wheaton’s Pick

      The Huskies will struggle breaking out of the bottom half of the Pac 12. There are seven teams better than the dawgs: Oregon, USC, UCLA, ASU, UA, Stanford and Utah.

      • art thiel

        There’s only one that counts — Oregon. They don’t seem to be falling off.

    • art thiel

      The lack of passion for these guys was odd. The seniors knew they were done and the game was meaningless to them. But that still doesn’t seem a good explanation.

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  • ReebHerb

    As a student, sitting in the stands for a 1-9 Jim Owens season was bad. However, my greatest Husky disappointment remains Chuck Boling’s bouncing ball jacking us up for the sure fire hiring of Don Coryell. Sigh. Never happened and he wouldn’t have stayed long but….

    The Ducks are fun to watch and it is good for PAC12 teams that big city lights aren’t the most important item in recruiting.

    • art thiel

      Chuck Boling. Wow. There’s a flashback.

      You’re a rare Husky fan who says something nice about the Ducks.

  • Matt712

    The huskies look like a team whose players do not love their coach, and vice versa.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure there’s a few who didn’t like the new coach, but I don’t think “like” is a factor in the results. A lot of players didn’t like Don James at the time.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Sorry. Wasn’t sold on the hiring of Peterson in the first place, and this season did nothing to dispel my suspicions.

    There is way too much talent on that roster to lose the games they did and the way they did.

    • art thiel

      I still think he’s a good coach, but this transition year was clumsy. Bowl outcome really set them back.

      • 1coolguy

        The game was amateur hour. For all the success CP had @ Boise and the $$$ he’s getting paid, he sure seems indecisive to me.
        Don James is turning over in his grave at this QB play. Was there ever a year with James where the QB didn’t go to the NFL?
        CP may want to pull out some of DJ’s game tapes or HIRE GILBERTSON as his OC or QB coach!

  • ll9956

    I was going to rip CP for standing around like a zombie and not calling timeout during the last 3+ minutes and letting OSU run 40 seconds off the clock, but I didn’t realize the Dawgs were out of timeouts (thanks for that info, Art). Thanks to good ole espn for not posting how many timeouts each team had left (I was watching in a noisy tav, sipping cranberry juice). They also didn’t post what the various penalties were for. I’d grade them a charitable C- at best. Ah, but I digress.

    CP does get credit for making good adjustments for the second half, but as others have observed, way too little too late. As to the “fading defense [being] caught unaware by the insertion of 300-pound DL James Castleman in the offensive backfield”, that’s on Petersen. That was the time to call a timeout. Luckily it led to a missed FG.

    How the stout Husky D-line got pushed around so badly remains a mystery. They sure didn’t cover themselves with glory and did a mediocre job at best giving Miles time to throw. It will be interesting to see who starts at QB next year, but that seems eons away. OY!

    • art thiel

      Never listen to TV bowl-game announcers. It’s tryout time for ESPN announcers because ESPN owns, literally, nearly all the no-count bowl games.

      177 yards in first Q against that defense. Embarrassing.

  • jafabian

    I don’t think there’s a question mark over Peterson. It’s his first year with the school and the Pac-12 and he inherited a team that lost Sankey, ASJ and Price, then later Stringfellow and Peters. That’s some serious talent there and not much was there to replace them. He also had an all freshman secondary except for Ross who switched at mid-season out of necessity. If the team could have been at least competitive in the first half they’d probably have won this game.

    The defense was playing to read and react and successful teams rush and attack. There was too much arm tackling. Miles isn’t good right now at reading defenses and adjusting. Having LIndquist come in at the end of the first half is very telling. Having an open competition for the QB spot is fair but to announce it after the game speaks volumes on how Peterson feels about the position. Lots to be learned from this game but overall a decent season for the Dawgs. At least Peterson did a better handshake than Jim Mora did.

  • Dan Engel

    Peterson is giving the vibe that he regrets his decision to come to Washington and his players performance reflects that. How many major college coaches forgo the extra practices during bowl season and send their players home? Not many if any. That alone speaks volumes. I think Peterson is gone after next year. Probably steps down.

    • 1coolguy

      CP didn’t use all of the practices allowed? Really?
      if so, that may be a first in D1 ball – how stupid. These practices are not only for the first team but to coach up all the players for NEXT year? REALLY? where did you read this?

      • Dan Engel

        They were talking about it on KJR last night during the post game. Softy also tweeted it out at the end of the game. They also said he let the players fly down individually. They didn’t head to the bowl as a team on a flight. I’ve never heard anything like that before. Totally nuts.

        • 1coolguy

          WOW! Unbelievable: That calls for a meeting, in person, with Woodward, ASAP. I don’t know what an AD does to discipline a coach, but to not keep the team together the entire time and use every practice is off the charts ludicrous. I simply cannot see why a coach would do that. Yes, totally NUTS!
          At this point, give me SARK – no way does he lose this game, no way.

  • 1coolguy

    Two things: CP isn’t ready for prime time. Can’t get a team up for a bowl game? Shame.
    Miles is not a D1 QB – did anyone realize the OK QB was a true FRESHMAN starting his THIRD GAME? He outplayed Miles by, yes, a mile, and I am simply stunned that Miles is the best QB the Huskies have to offer. It’s as though he is in high school still, never checking off to his #2 receiver, not staying in the pocket, running too quickly, etc.
    If I am a Husky backup QB, I transfer today so that I can start for someone and not have to watch this mess.
    The was a very sad display of football and the coaching and QB play cost the Huskies the game, period.

    • dawg fan

      Jake Browning enrolls at UW on January 5. I hope he lives up to the hype and comes out of Spring Practice as the Number 1 QB.

    • art thiel

      Definite regression for Miles. It’s mostly about poor decision-making.

      As dawg fan points out below, incoming freshman Jake Browning has the resume to suggest he can play early

      • 1coolguy

        Art – each of the UW QB’s were very highly rated in high school – as ALL of them are supposedly as good or worse than Miles, in CP’s system, I say something is wrong with the system.
        I say bring in Gilby and see what he can do for a season with the QB’s, after all, it wasn’t until DJ brought Gilby on that he won the national championship – he was the missing link.
        I can see no downside, can you?

  • shplunker

    Seemed like Senior leadership was lacking more than anything- and a carryover from Sarkisian and his recruits. Being a Coug, I can only hope that Peterson is as bad as some of the whiney Husky fans think – unfortunately, I think Peterson is the real deal and will be a force in the Pac 12 for a long time. His recruiting “late” last year, and this year already has been great.

    • art thiel

      The year was harder than he dreamed, but transitions are usually messy. And I’m surprised that Shelton, Kikaha and Thompson didn’t have more influence over the defense’s approach.

  • HuskyFanPodcast

    Hiring Petersen was one of the few good decisions UW has made in a long long time. The season was a total disappointment. I’d give Petersen a D. But anyone who thinks it was a bad hire or that he can’t coach is clueless. He’s a proven championship coach who will build UW back into a powerhouse. Problem is it will take at least a few more years.