For the first time this season, coach Steve Sarkisian was visibly upset at himself.
TEMPE, Ariz. — You know what’s wilder than a mid-October night game played in 94-degree weather?
A mid-October night game played in 94-degree weather with enough penalties (21 in all) called to make the lead official need throat lozenges, with silly and heavy-handed officiating all-around, with sillier mistakes from well-intentioned players and with dramatic momentum shifts from two shaky teams playing a critical Pac-10 swing game.
No surprise, a mid-October night game played in 94-degree weather can really make you hot.
It was a wild, tense, emotional night at Sun Devil Stadium. In the end, Arizona State beat Washington 24-17 on a 50-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds.
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Not a safety was in sight on that play. The Huskies safeties were inexplicably so far away that they would’ve needed binoculars to see what was happening.
This loss stings. It stings even worse than the heart-aching Notre Dame defeat because it was a conference game, and beyond that, a contest against a manageable foe that could’ve nudged the Huskies closer to bowl eligibility.
Instead of winning, the Huskies were left second-guessing themselves.
It started with first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, who mismanaged the clock before that long touchdown pass. The Huskies had the ball in the final minute and should’ve run out the clock. But Sarkisian called a pass play on third-and-one with 28 seconds remaining. Quarterback Jake Locker’s pass fell incomplete, and the Huskies had to punt with 22 seconds left in the game.
“Hindsight is 20/20, but if I had to do it again, I would’ve run the ball,” Sarkisian said of the third-and-one play. “That’s on me.”
For the first time this season, the coach was visibly upset at himself while speaking to the media.
“It eats at me because I felt like I could’ve managed the ballgame better,” Sarkisian said. “I try to pride myself in doing that stuff, but I didn’t do it tonight.”
And then came the most painful part of the game. Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan found wide receiver Chris McGaha wide open for a 50-yard bomb with five seconds remaining.
Asked what happened on that play, Sarkisian explained the Huskies were in three-deep zone coverage, but a safety jumped a crossing route and left the middle of the field open. As a result, Sullivan taught the Huskies their most painful lesson of the season.
“It’s excruciating,” Sarkisian said.
If the end was the most painful, the first half was the nuttiest part of this game. Sixteen penalties turned it into a disjointed mess. Each team committed eight, worth a total of 149 yards of punishment. Arizona State middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was particularly wild. He committed three personal-foul penalties before halftime. He must’ve spent the week watching replays of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis knocking Chad Ochocinco’s helmet off.
Despite Burfict’s rough ways, the Sun Devils displayed impressive defense. At times, the unit proved itself worthy of being the nation’s third-best defense, in terms of yards allowed.
The Arizona State front seven dominated the Huskies for large stretches of this game. The defensive line lived in the backfield, leaving the Huskies with no room to run and often forcing quarterback Jake Locker to rush throws off his back foot. The linebackers exploded to the ball. After the game started with promise, with Locker throwing a 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Aguilar, Arizona State adjusted and began to look too physical, too fast and too imposing for the Huskies.
Once again, the Washington defense struggled to get stops early. Arizona State immediately responded to the Huskies’ score with their own touchdown. Then, on the first play of the second quarter, the Sun Devils tried a little trickery: wide receiver Kyle Williams threw a pass to fellow wideout T.J. Simpson for a 32-yard touchdown. It was 14-7, and Arizona State would lead for the next 41 minutes.
The Sun Devils had a chance to go up 21-7 in the second quarter, but the Huskies came through with another of their patented hustlin’, lucky turnovers. This time, Williams was steps from scoring, but Huskies linebacker Mason Foster (yes, him again) tapped the ball out of Williams’ hands, and it bounced through the end zone and out of bounds, which gave the Huskies the ball on a touchback.
Washington fell behind 17-7, but typical Huskies, they battled back to tie the score, with Aguilar playing a starring role. It felt like they were angling toward another miracle finish. But on this steamy night, they left hot — angry at themselves, angry at what could have been.
“Wow, so seven games in, I feel like every week it keeps getting crazier and crazier,” said Sarkisian, whose team fell to 3-4.
And every week, it feels like recovering keeps getting harder and harder.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer