BY Art Thiel 08:28PM 10/19/2019

Thiel: 14-point lead too much for Huskies to bear

As was the case in Eugene a year ago, the Huskies were a few plays short of the Ducks, including one in which UW coach Chris Petersen didn’t know the rules.

Junior WR Jordan Chin hauls in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Jason Eason to put Washington up 14-7. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Given Washington’s bumpy, 2-2 start to its Pac-12 Conference play, being ahead 28-14 at home against the 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks early in the third quarter Saturday had to make the Huskies feel large and in charge.

Which, of course, turned out to be the problem.

These 2019 Huskies have not earned the right to cockiness in a conference game. They are a middling team in a fairly soft Power 5 outfit, and can’t get away with easing against the league’s one good team.

They managed two good quarters a week earlier against Arizona. They did well for most of three periods Saturday in front of a raucous Husky Stadium sellout. But after the 35-31 loss (box) to the favored Ducks, now they get to use the rest of the regular season to learn that thingy about four quarters.

Such knowledge, however, won’t help them reach the conference title game, where they’ve been for two of the past three years. That opportunity has passed. With three conference losses, they’re out of contention.

By mid-October, which is likely a shock to coach Chris Petersen’s system. Not that he would admit it.

“We don’t (worry),” he said. “We just keep playing. I don’t worry if we win, I don’t worry if we lose, in terms of what it means for the end of the season. There is a lot of football left to play. I think we have a lot more to us. We can just keep rolling, and get these guys better.

“We are going to see things that are weird.”

He probably was referring to being out of contention. But he could just as easily have mentioned UW’s first play, weirdness that called into question whether Petersen knows the rules of the game.

Down 7-0, UW kickoff returner Chico McClatcher was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, nullifying a big return. The Huskies had dialed up a rarely used shenanigans play where two returners are deep, but one (McClatcher) was nearly invisible while he laid flat in the purple-painted end zone in his purple jersey. The kickoff was fielded by another returner, who lateraled to McClatcher after the coverage team committed the other way.

It took a couple of minutes of referee discussion to discern that a rule indeed had been implemented to ban such trickeration. Petersen obviously didn’t know it, and didn’t admit post-game to not knowing it.

“We got about four different explanations from the refs,” he said tensely. “They said, ‘You can’t do that’, ‘You can’t fall down before they kick it’, ‘You can’t lay down if you have the same color jersey as the end zone.’

“It is what it is. Last year, the rules were that you can’t lay down before they kick it. He laid down after the ball was kicked. We practiced that. That is what we were told last year.”

Until a whistle-blower produces a transcript of whatever went on between Petersen and the rulesmakers, the call will stand, and Petersen was embarrassed on ABC national TV.

The play wasn’t decisive, merely illustrative of how out-of-kilter the season has seemed. And it wasn’t the only play that irked Petersen. The other one was a more conventional bellyache, and this time he was right.

In their final possession and play of the game, the Huskies faced a fourth-and-3 at the Oregon 35-yard line with a minute left. QB Jacob Eason threw a little low and wide to freshman WR Puka Nacua, but the pass fell incomplete at least in large part because an Oregon defender was on Nacua’s back, pushing him.

Pass interference went uncalled.

“What did it look like to you guys? You had a better look at it,” Petersen asked reporters, who murmured assent. “I think we know.”

A penalty wouldn’t have guaranteed a win, but the Huskies would have enjoyed a fresh set of downs from the 20. The way Eason was throwing, the purple chances were decent.

He completed 23 of 30 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns, out-throwing a bit his more regarded counterpart — and likely draft-mate in the NFL’s first round in April — senior Justin Herbert (24 of 38, 280 yards, four TDs). In a showcase that drew about 15 NFL scouts, neither hurt their cause.

The Huskies weren’t bad either.

In between the first-play bewilderment and the last-play injustice, the Huskies did a lot of good things. For much of the time, they were stout, aggressive and even clever. But just as last year in Eugene when they lost 30-27 in overtime, they were a few plays short of the Ducks.

Lamenting back-to-back, three-and-out series in the fourth quarter that opened the door to Oregon’s comeback, Petersen offered no specifics about changes by Oregon’s defense or failures by Washington’s offense that produced no points over the final 19 minutes.

“Sometimes,” he said, “it comes down to will power.”

That candor speaks to much about the 2019 Huskies. It is what is lacking.

Not that their weren’t some plausible excuses Saturday. Their top receiver, Aaron Fuller, sat out with a sore ankle, even though he tried to play. The Huskies were also missing two of their top three running backs, Sean McGrew joining Richard Newton on the sidelines.

That left RB Salvon Ahmed to bear the burden, which he did well — 127 yards on 18 carries.

Despite giving up 434 yards of total offense, the defense had numerous stretches of quality play, particularly in pass coverage that often left Herbert bereft of options.

But it was not enough to overcome Oregon, which has won 14 of the past 16 over the Huskies and, barring collapse, seems to have locked up the surprisingly weak North Division title. In the standins, the Huskies trail Oregon State.

It’s enough to make the purple people want to lay down in the end zone.

CB Elijah Molden pursues Ducks RB C.J. Vardell. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest


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YourThoughts

  • ll9956

    As to the non-called PI on the Huskies’ last play, the question is whether CP will make a stink with the Pac-12. He certainly should, but probably won’t. If he does, the answer will almost certainly be that occasional bad calls are inevitable and unavoidable. i imagine it is extremely unlikely there will be any consequences for the officials, like not being invited to work during the post-season.

    • art thiel

      Punishing referees during the season for missed calls only makes things worse. The ref is fearful of making errors so he holds the flag.

      • ll9956

        Seems to me that if there is doubt in an official’s mind he should throw the flag and let the play be reviewed. If the review finds there is no foul, the call can be reversed.

        • Bruce McDermott

          Except the current system does not allow for reversals of penalty calls on pass interference flags. The NFL is doing that for this season, but college football is not. In this case, the defender knew he had done it–watch him drop his arms as Nacua was falling and the ball had passed him…

          • art thiel

            Trust Bruce on this.

    • Foxhunter

      What should be more alarming is the 3 70+ yard drives that the Ducks had in the 2nd half. The game shouldn’t of been allowed to be decided on a PI call that while giving the pups another set of downs was no guaranty of a win.

      • art thiel

        Spot on about the big drives. Huskies have neither the Vita/Gaines NT nor a top-notch LB.

    • Glen Park

      That call could’ve gone either way but looking closer at the play the two players feet were tangled up with incidental contact so the no-call was warranted. Besides, complaining about a no-call is a loser’s lament. Great teams don’t allow a game to be decided at the last minute by a referee.

      • art thiel

        It was a PI, but it was close. Most refs in most sports most of the time have a human reflex to avoid being the game-decider unless the foul was egregious.

  • jafabian

    The Huskies had more spirit than last week, just not for the second half. The defense is good but terribly inconsistent. At this point the Dawgs might need some help if they want a Bowl game. The Apple Cup could be the difference in which Washington football team gets an invite.

    • art thiel

      Down year, relatively, for both schools. The points equal the most a Jimmy Lake D has given up.

      • jafabian

        At least for the Huskies they’ve been in it until the closing minutes. They can make the argument that they could easily be undefeated right now. Despite playing in the greatest setting this one is on the defense. Especially when the offense put 31 points on the board.

        • gregoryjames

          They can make an argument, but it would be based in fantasy. The Huskies are a mediocre team and their actual record bears that out.

          • jafabian

            I’m not saying the Huskies are that good but rather their opponents weren’t. UW was heavily favored against Cal and Stanford and we know how they squandered a 2 TD lead yesterday.

          • Husky73

            They are 5-3 after losing the most prolific passer and runner in the program’s history, and nine defensive starters. They’ll finish with a winning season and a bowl game. Fans act like they are Rice.

          • 1coolguy

            There you go again, Browning, the one-season wonder, or did you forget he was throwing to Ross, Pettit and Dissly, ALL NFL STARTERS? He was VERY average the other 3 years, and I fault CP for LOUSY QB recruiting, resulting in no competition for the job.

      • hokieduck

        Down year for the Ducks? One loss to a top ten SEC opponent in the first game of the year? The Ducks are seven games in and still improving. If they win out, a big challenge, they most likely will not make the CFP. But a Rose Bowl is hardly a “down year”, sir.

        • art thiel

          Down year for UW, WSU. I was referring to the Apple Cup. Feel free to unbunch the green/yellow bloomers.

      • Glen Park

        Oregon is 6-1 and 9 seconds away from being 7-0. Down year? It’s obvious you’re not paying attention.

        • art thiel

          No, you’re not paying attention to the reference.

      • 1coolguy

        Losing 9 starters isn’t what a team outside of the top 5 can ever afford.

  • 3 Lions

    Lack of “will power” at home, against Oregon, up by 14 with a chance to save the season. WTF?

    • art thiel

      Not sure the lamp is lit with these guys.

      • 1coolguy

        Those 9 starters gone included ones from CP’s first 1 & 2, who remembered they were recruited to rebuild a very average program, beset by a coaching turnstile we all hope does not repeat itself.
        The “new” guys appear to not have much of a chip (if that’s a correct adjective here) and therefore don’t have the same attitude.
        BBK and Gaines gone are prime examples of underdogs outperforming in order to help the team.

        • art thiel

          More accurately, those two were performing to get pro careers, and have done so. But it’s true that this group lacks the competitive edge of predecessors.

  • hokieduck

    Sorry. I am not trying to show up the day after and crow or troll the Dawgs; however, Thiel calling that bump in coverage egregious “pushing” is ridiculous. In denigrates the game that was played.

    The call could (and did in the booth, although it was called “iffy”) go either way. In the last 45 seconds of a hard fought rivalry game, I ask you, do you really *want* the zebras throwing flags on minimal contact? Only if you are the aggrieved party, I would imagine.

    This was a hard-nosed football game, played in wet, cold conditions, under intense rivalry pressure. Neither team played offensively to their potential. The game was easily the worst I have seen Herbert play since his freshman year takeover of the offense early-mid season. It was a shame that your RBs and Fuller in particular were absent, but then so was Jacob Breeland, mid-season Mackey Award top three and top Oregon target up until now. Still Eason played well and the Dawgs took a good lead into middle of the third and fourth quarters.

    This game turned on what has become the incredible jump that the Oregon defense has made this year under Andy Avalos (former Chip Petersen assistant at Boise). They did not get rattled or back down under the intense pressure of a rivalry game in extremely hostile environs. The Ducks had the heart/QB of the defense, Troy Dye, break his thumb in the first series and play the remainder of the game in a cast, and lost their star nickel/punt returner early in the second half. The kid who allegedly “pushed” Puca Nakua was a true freshman in because of those injuries. Had the pass been caught, and I assert it should have been regardless, the Dawgs would have had only 45 seconds and the red zone to cross to have made a difference in the result.

    Finally, all the whining about Petersen is infantile and not very smart. I personally have never liked him, not because he is not a great coach (he is), but because I have always found him to have teams with, especially defensive, players who played dirty … late hits and injuries seemed to follow his games in regular otherwise unexplained abundance. But you have one of the best minds in college football as a HC. Your coordinators may be lacking (and I admit I *loved* Andy Avalos besting the Mouth so decisively and *loved* watching him go nuke on the sidelines on the teevee in front of the national audience).

    But you all seem to need to grow up a bit. Yes, I get that this is a *very* disappointing season for the fanbase of a much-respected/nationally respected program like UW, but it is a down year. You lost most of your defense last season, for example. But I, for one, a long time Ducks fan, *love* the intensity and hatred of our rivalry, even when I stew for the year after a loss. It is what football is all about. I grew up in the South where football is a religion and the intensity of this rivalry comes the closest to those great ones back there.

    So, see you next year in Autzen, whimpering little puppies (OK that *was* trolling). Go Ducks.

    • Husky73

      A fair post. I really dislike Nike University and their toxic fan base. Some schools are bad losers, and Whoregon is a bad winner. But, Washington pooped the bed with a 14 point lead in the third quarter. Utah, Colorado, the Beavs and the Apple Cup lay ahead. 8-4 or 7-5 are likely and a trip to the Whatever Bowl. Next year, they open with Michigan…..

      • 1coolguy

        You put it best before Art, it will be the Cheeze-it Bowl.

      • art thiel

        Good old-fashioned name-calling. Now we’re getting somewhere.

    • art thiel

      Grow up? That’s your best advice? This is sports. If we wanted to grow up, why would we sit in the wet for four hours to cheer laundry?

      Regarding dirty play by Petersen’s players, that’s a new one. The only national image of his regime is connected with cupcakes.

      • 1coolguy

        Agreed Art

    • rosetta_stoned

      TL:Dr

  • 1coolguy

    You are not going to win many games against a solid team by giving up 35 points.
    This season is over, so they may as well begin playing some backups more, most notably at QB, as Eason will never want to play another season under Hamdan.

    • Husky73

      Saying the season is over is vacuous. This is college football. They have four more games to play in the fall, and a bowl game at the start of winter. Once again the instantaneous “all or nothing” mindset of the 21st century rears its head.

      • 1coolguy

        Given your adoration at the foot of your DIY Browning Altar, your comments are not relevant for any thinking person.
        Oh, and YES, the season is OVER. Cheeze-it Bowl here we come, and even so, I’m sure you will somehow find Silver in that lining.

        • Husky73

          Using your logic (or lack of), we should have packed in roughly 80 seasons by mid October.

        • Effzee

          Browning? All-time UW passing leader and winningest QB in program history? That Browning? The one who took us to the College Football Playoffs and a Rose Bowl? The Browning who ran Hamden’s idiotic offense better than Eason does? Is that who you mean?

          The one thing that you’ve been right on in all these years of posting is that if Jake Eason is indeed one-and-done then we should go ahead and get Sirmon some playing time. Wasting a mediocre season on a one-and-done QB and then starting over again at QB next year is EXACTLY what this program doesn’t need. If Eason bolts after the season, this experiment will have been a monumental fail and his name will barely be remembered as an “Oh that’s right, he played for us,” just like Markelle Fultz.

          • 1coolguy

            Browning the UFA? Oh, yeah, a guy that was the result of superior players he was fortunate enough to play with. His ONE fine season, statistically, was when he threw to THREE (3) NFL starters, or did you forget?
            When Eason goes in the 1st round, I’m sure you will find fault.

          • Effzee

            …. Oh, right. Because NFL scouts are all geniuses, and having a strong arm and being drafted in the first round means you’re automatically an awesome QB. Like Jake Locker. And Jeff George. And Paxton Lynch. And Jamarcus Russell. And Ryan Leaf. And Marcus Mariotta. And Dan McGwire. And Vince Young. Shall I go on?

            This is college football, or did you forget? We are talking about a college football player playing for his college football team, and that college football team’s success. Eason’s NFL draft status is utterly irrelevant to the question of the Husky football program and this season, except for that his presence is a frustrating waste of time if he leaves.

          • Husky73

            I wish I’d said that.

        • Effzee

          Did you forget that half of the bowls Don James took us to (7 of 14) were in seasons with three or more losses? I hope you didn’t have the gall to find any “silver linings” in those seasons.

      • art thiel

        I’m worried that the Huskies have already blown Neuheisel’s Northwest championship.

        • 1coolguy

          They have Art, they have

          • Effzee

            Waiting for you to suggest bringing back Neuheisel…

        • Husky73

          Oooh, that one hurt, leaving a bruise.

    • art thiel

      Au contraire. This is no time to begin burning eligibility years on a non-title season.

      • 1coolguy

        Art, did you forget the 4 games they can play and retain their eligibility?

        • Effzee

          Using your logic (or lack of), every season Don James coached that ended in three or more losses was “over” whenever that third loss happened? Did you forget that half of the bowls Don James took us to (7 of 14) were in seasons with three or more losses?

          • 1coolguy

            It was a completely different era, or are you caught in a time warp?

          • Effzee

            Who do you think would win? The 1991 Undefeated Dawgs, or one of Saban’s recent dominant National Champs?

          • 1coolguy

            Toss-up, with the slight edge to the Dawgs. Why?
            All other things being equal, 1/ If Hobert goes down, Brunell steps in, so advantage in 2nd team QB’s UW. 2/ Sark is a very good OC, Gilby was an EXCELLENT OC, so edge UW.
            Dawgs in a very close game.

          • Effzee

            I thought you’d say that. So. Being a “completely different era” only matters when you say it does. Got it.

        • art thiel

          I’m aware of the four-game eligibility rule, but Petersen has numerous freshmen who are beyond four games. Decisions remain for others in a non-title year. Wouldn’t it have been good for BBK to have redshirted his first year and be the senior leader of this group?

  • woofer

    “Sometimes,” he said, “it comes down to will power.”

    Sometimes it comes down to who has the psychological makeup to keep the foot floored on the gas pedal all game long, game after game, and survive. CP was very comfortable as a successful Mountain West coach, which meant going all out about three times a year and coasting in between. He happily stayed in Boise far longer than the minimum required to get invited to a more competitive big-time program. He finally decided he needed a bigger challenge, but this was a guy who was pretty comfortable with a career in the high minor leagues. It is not clear that he has truly and fully embraced the fanatical madness required for continued success at the top level.

    What other hypothesis can explain the dismal effort against Stanford? The Huskies got emotionally cranked up for USC and played well, then went totally flat against a lesser conference opponent. The schedule said Stanford, but in his heart CP was preparing for New Mexico.

    In order to flourish in the season-long mad house of top level Division1 football competition you need either to be a full-on adrenaline junkie like Dabo or some sort of detached organizational and strategic genius. If you are in between, the wear and tear can prove exhausting.

    Urban Meyer still loves to coach college football, and he is pretty good at it, but his body can’t deal with the constant stress. Mike Price, like CP, found success coaching in the by-ways of Idaho and was able to make the modest jump to the upper level fringe in Pullman. Then his success earned him an invitation to the center ring in Tuscaloosa, where his synapses overloaded and fried in a matter of weeks. He didn’t even last in the SEC pressure cooker until the opening of fall practice.

    • art thiel

      The mid-major criticism was also applied to Don James. He seems to have worked. Lots of great coaches came from smaller programs.

      Petersen is having a down year talent-wise. He feels more pressure to deliver because two QBs bailed for Eason’s one-and-done year.

      • woofer

        Sure, most good coaches come up the ladder through the mid-majors. The point was that the jump from there to top tier is a huge one and not all are psychologically suited for the task. I sincerely hope CP makes it, but there are signs of discomfort. I agree that it’s too early to accurately judge where his upper limit lies.

        • Effzee

          I echo this. This is why I’ve been saying that he looks about 5-10% in over his head. Not a lot, but just enough to make a tangible difference. He looks like he’s scrambling to wrangle a runaway bull.

        • art thiel

          Petersen has done far more good than bad. This is his first bad patch. Let’s hold off on the trigger.

      • Effzee

        Hold on a sec. Who is to blame for there not being a single QB in the program ready to go after Browning, making Eason necessary!? Browning was a four year starter fergodsakes! FOUR. YEARS. Isn’t Petersen hailed as some kind of offense and QB genius? Eason is only here for a one-and-done because Petersen failed to have a guy ready. Is that because of the coaching, or the recruiting?

        • art thiel

          Petersen screwed up the QB succession by committing to Yankoff and Sirmon in the same class. The cascading effects have been noteworthy.

  • rosetta_stoned

    If I see another $(*#()@)#$) trick play ….
    Just. Stop.

    • Effzee

      This. Its driving me mad. It makes me not want to watch, because I can feel the stupid coming.

      • art thiel

        But if a gadget works, all you’ll have is a pile of leaves and a sore butt from kicking yourself.

        • Effzee

          So you see the conundrum.

    • art thiel

      A blanket indictment of all gadgets shortens the playbook too much. But confining the wildcat to Newton’s availability is very reasonable.

  • busterbluth

    I swear if I see them line up for the wildcat again in a crucial situation I’m going to have a stroke. That play is so damn predictable, and to do it in the 4th quarter using your 4th and 5th string running backs is just plain idiotic. I don’t know if it’s Pete’s or Hamdan’s brainchild but it has to go.

    • Effzee

      Obviously. That and any sort of pass caught on the sidelines at or behind the line of scrimmage. These are just wasted downs. Even when you actually get a bubble screen to work for more than a two yard gain, hitting on 1 in 50 of them is not enough to keep going to it. I get the concept, but its ineffective and gutless.

      • art thiel

        Bubble screens work if WRs and TEs can deliver downfield blocks. Not seeing much of that.

        • Effzee

          Agreed. And it seems that I rarely see those blocks delivered. I don’t follow the stats but I can tell which way it leans because when one works, I always think “It worked! It’s a miracle!” If it worked more often, there wouldn’t be such a notable contrast. I bet in the film room, it’s the same thing. They’re like “See?? Right there! See how everyone blocked absolutely perfectly, and everyone was in the exact perfect position? All we have to do now is do that every single time! Go Huskies!” Utlimatley, though, it just seems like an indirect plan of attack that works less often than it doesn’t. Seems like a wasted down most of the time, to me.

    • art thiel

      Once committed to the formation, the defense’s job is half done. No need to cover receivers.

      • busterbluth

        Exactly. Which is why it’s so vexing to see them keep attempting it. Taking your best player off of the field is never a good idea.