BY Art Thiel 12:26AM 11/08/2015

Thiel: Huskies beat selves instead of Utah

After four turnovers and a muffed punt, the Huskies gave Utah so many chances that it finally broke Washington’s splendid defense in a 34-23 defeat that puts a bowl bid in serious jeopardy.

Utah’s 6-7 senior quarterback Travis Wilson scored two rushing touchdowns in Utah’s win over Washington Saturday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

After a raggedy, damp evening of almost perpetual catch-up Saturday night at Husky Stadium, Washington’s well-regarded defense, best in the Pac-12 Conference, sagged. Eased. Broke.

“We just kinda went through the motions,” said LB  Keishawn Bierria. “We lost our edge. That’s on me, Travis (Feeney), the older guys on the defense.”

True as it may have been, they were stuck trying to win the pot after their bumbling offensive teammates, even more bumbling officials, and decidedly less-bumbling Utah Utes left them holding a pair of deuces.

After recovering from a 24-point second quarter by the Utes, who exploited a numbing cavalcade of Huskies errors, the defense stoned the nation’s 13th-ranked team. But midway through the fourth quarter leading 24-23, the Utes finally began stringing together first downs.

With 3:29 remaining, Utah’s impressive 6-foot-7 senior QB, Travis Wilson, shoved himself into the end zone from two yards out for the decisive score in a 34-23 triumph that will leave the purple crowd muttering for the rest of the season.

That season could end up short — as in, bowl-free. The 4-5 Huskies must win two of the final three games at Arizona State, at Oregon State and at home for the Apple Cup and revived Washington State, to be bowl-eligible.

Doesn’t look good.

A week after filleting Arizona 49-3, the Huskies regressed, as young teams are wont to do. Even though the defense was left to save the night — without their best player, DB Budda Baker, out for the final three quarters with what appeared to be a concussion — responsibility for the circumstance fell to others, in purple and in stripes.

“I was really hoping we’d go out there and swing toe-to-toe with these guys,” said a crestfallen UW coach Chris Petersen. “For us to do that, we couldn’t give them anything easy.”

But they gave as if UW was a gridiron Gates Foundation.

Three fumbles lost (two by RB Dwayne Washington, one that turned into a 54-yard scoop-and-score), an interception of QB Jake Browning that was turned into an eight-yard Utah TD drive, and a snap muffed by punter Korey Durkee that provided a short field for a Utes drive to their first TD and a road-team lift that subdued the 61,420 that were said to be in-house customers.

Whew. The game was Utah’s first appearance in Husky Stadium in 36 years. For a place so generous to them, they will not want to let pass another three-plus decades before a return.

“It was like it’s been all season,” Petersen said. “Really good flashes, and some really bad football — turnovers, dropped balls, even our tackling at times wasn’t good as we like.”

The failed tackling was noticeable on the game-deciding drive — 60 yards, all runs, six by senior RB Devontae Booker, who finished with 150 yards on 34 carries, and three by Wilson, whose 10 carries for 42 yards may have been just as damaging for their timing. You know, sorta like another Wilson in town.

But what most chapped the crowd and players were two UW touchdowns called back via penalties and a third call that was most egregious. Trailing 24-23 in the final period, Browning had a 21-yard completion to TE Josh Perkins at midfield nullified by an offensive pass interference call on him.

Stadium replays showed incidental contact between Perkins and his defender, igniting a firestorm of boos that lingered for the rest of the game. The negated gain, plus the 15-yard penalty, took 36 yards away from Washington and eventually forced a punt that preceded Utah’s game-clinching drive.

Pac-12 officiating has been inundated with criticism for years. Several conference games this year have turned on erroneous calls. No one seems to be offering solutions. The problem grows to the point of requiring intervention by the National Guard.

“You saw what I saw,” Petersen said, biting his tongue. “Yeah.”

But nothing can be done to fix Saturday’s callbacks and screw-ups.

“It’s crushing,” he said. “That was huge. Having two touchdowns called back and then giving them another one on offense, those are really hard to overcome — especially when you’re playing someone that’s really pretty good.”

A roster of 52 freshmen (true and redshirt), 24 sophomores and 13 seniors is not capable of holding off a senior-laden bunch like the Utes.

“Anytime you get touchdowns called back, it’s really hard to come back from,” said sophomore WR Brayden Lenius, who was called for a holding penalty that nullified one TD.  “We just gotta get better and learn from our mistakes.”

The crash course begins immediately, because getting to a bowl game shouldn’t be that hard — there’s 42 bowls and 84 berths for a sport that has only 127 teams.

Until President Obama declares Pac-12 officiating a disaster area in order to deploy the National Guard, the Huskies have no choices but to shed the diapers and put on the big boy pants.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    Penalties and turnovers. The bane of young teams. But once Jake, Miles, Chico et al get a year under their belts and more importantly John Ross returns this team will be much improved. Hopefully playing in January. They’ve been in all their games and keep going at it until the game is over. Much like how the Seahawks were when Pete Carroll first joined them. Easily could have won this game and this was against the 12th ranked team in the nation. If only the Dawgs could have had the Cougs refs!

    • art thiel

      A year’s experience is crucial. Lots of things to like about Huskies.

      • Eric K

        Yeah, before the season we knew this was a learning year with a lot of young players getting experience that will pay off next year. The W-L record is about what I expected, though I figured beat Cal and lose to USC. But the actual losses have been more encouraging. I figured more games like Stanford where young guys were just overmatched. In reality that was the only game that they were completely overmatched, the rest were pretty much all winnable without youthful mistakes. Those are easier to fix with experience, plus the natural growth makes next year look very promising.

        It has been a frustrating 15 years since Tui graduated always looking to next year, but this is the first time it really feels like progress is in the sights.

  • ll9956

    Good piece Art.

    I’m wondering if the coaches grade the officials. If so, this bunch would be licking their wounds frantically. And if they had to justify their calls, undoubtedly there would be a great deal of stuttering and stammering.

    It’s hard to understand why criticism of officials by coaches is, at the most lenient, frowned upon by the Pac-12 mafia. Isn’t there somewhere a principle of freedom of speech? I recall when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops justifiably criticized a ref for blowing a critical call a few years ago. I don’t remember him being penalized for it. If the president of the United States is subject to criticism from all points of the compass, why are Pac-12 officials (and probably others) protected in a glass bubble? I realize they have a difficult job, but enough is enough.

    • Duck Stream

      Probably because these aren’t full time officials and it’s not like the players are getting paid so who cares if they blow calls.

      • art thiel

        Lots of people care, and some will advocate full-time officials. Given the money that the conferences receive from TV, it now becomes a consideration.

        • Eric K

          Yeah Hugh Millen made that point on KJR last night. Pay them $75k a year and have them spend the week watching film and so on and the quality will improve.

          The power 5 conferences are making so much money now they are spending it on lavish practice facilities and so on, they can easily fund full time refs.

          I think one reason people are more aware of the issues now is virtually every game is televised. It wasn’t that long ago that only a handful were on each week, so only people at the games saw the blunders. So the very thing that is exposing the poor quality is what can fund the improvement.

    • art thiel

      Every conference attempts to enforce bans on criticism of officiating. And they should. Can’t have coaches undercutting the institution they work for.

      Freedom of speech applies to government’s overreach of public comment. Nothing more. Think you can say anything about your boss at work?

  • ss

    “But they gave as if UW was a gridiron Gates Foundation.” – Bravo for that one, Art. Unfortunately all too accurate as the Huskies were the gift that kept on giving.

    • art thiel

      Normally the Huskies aren’t THAT sloppy. Weird night.

      • Eric K

        Washington has had fumbling issues in the past though and he did account for 2 of them. Durkee flat dropping the snap on his punt was the real head scratcher, it ain’t like he’s never punted in the rain before

  • ReebHerb

    Looks like college (and pro) defenses are doing much better defending the east west passing game. The ball is in the air too long for a sitting duck receiver especially on a rainy night. That guy in Pullman has his QB throw more northernly; down the field.

    • art thiel

      To make downfield work, a consistent pocket is required. Huskies aren’t terrible, just not top 25 consistent.

  • Eric K

    Don’t want it to sound like a sore loser, but really Utah didn’t impress me much at all. They have a good D line and can stop the run, but their secondary was letting guys run free most of the night, I think the Huskies WRs had more drops than passes defended by them. When you figure the Huskies had two TDs turned into FGs by questionable calls and a drive stalled by that absolute phantom offensive PI call the Huskies should have easily put up 35 or more points even with all the turnovers. Without the turnovers it might have looked like Arizona last week.

    Basically the Huskies self inflicted wounds and some typical Pac 12 refs were the difference. Utah’s offense is totally one dimensional, Wilson can’t do anything but throw screens and run, he’s Tebow without the annoying self righteousness and promotion. Without the short field from turnovers they would have been lucky to break 10 points. Booker is a good RB, but they can’t ride him for 80 yard drives, he really didn’t rip off many long runs until the last couple drives when the Huskies D was gassed.

    Playing conservative and waiting for a young team to make mistakes may have been a good strategy for them to win yesterday but it doesn’t look like championship caliber football, more like a formula for 7 or 8 wins. I think their record is mostly lucky timing in their schedule. If they make it to the Pac 12 championship I predict Stanford will roll them.

    • art thiel

      You’re right about the drops; just as damaging. However, Booker and Wilson are quality college players. As I wrote, the two of them ran all nine plays in the game winning drive against a good defense. Serious toughness.

      • Eric K

        Right, but that was my point about they did it late vs a tired D and with a lead. Utah’s offense is designed to do that. If the Huskies hadn’t self destructed on offense Utah would have been playing from behind.

        • art thiel

          True about Utah playing from ahead. The Huskies also could have gone for the 2 pt PAT to tie.

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