PASADENA, Calif. – It wasn’t the abject humiliation of Tempe, but for Washington, moral victories and hard-fought losses long ago ceased to suffice.
On a night when the Huskies desperately desired to send a message, they did, indeed. And it was this: The ever-elusive “next step” is not going to be taken this year.
Not when, in a game that could have gone so far to erase the misery of that devastating three-game losing streak, and re-establish their upward trajectory, the Huskies dug a huge early hole via their own turnovers.
Not when they buried themselves with 11 penalties, of which coach Steve Sarkisian said afterward, “We’ve got to coach better. It’s not acceptable. We can’t go out and have 11 penalties. And big ones. … It had too big an impact on the game.”
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Not when, in search of that defining road win, every tantalizing comeback was sabotaged by some ill-timed mistake. And not when UCLA could unleash what already has become the best secret weapon in the conference – secret no longer, of course – in Myles Jack, the Bruins’ steamroller of a linebacker-turned-running back.
You want to talk messages? Jack sent one out loud and clear with his dazzling four-touchdown night, the first three of which were followed by the freshman’s unsubtle gesturing in the direction of the Husky bench. The Bellevue High School product finally clammed up after getting an unsportsmanlike conduct call, but the point – whatever it was – had been made.
Bruins coach Jim Mora had the satisfaction of beating his alma mater in a game that continued the Bruins’ ascendancy in the Pac-12 under his watch.
The Bruins sent one final message after the game when senior safety Stan McKay proposed to his girlfriend at the 50-yard line.
“Now she is his fiancée,’’ Mora said. “That’s a pretty special moment.”
So, to review, the Bruins kicked butt, took names and got engaged. The Huskies, to their credit, didn’t let a 27-7 deficit and the loss of quarterback Keith Price bury them, fighting back to 27-24 early in the third quarter.
But it’s time for the Huskies to move beyond the valiant fight, and Sarkisian knows it. Before he began his postgame comments, the coach gave a strangulated sigh that exuded exasperation.
“That was a frustrating game for us,’’ he said. “It was a frustrating, frustrating game. Obviously, you spot a team of that caliber 14 points right off the bat and give them that field position, it’s hard to battle back.”
The Huskies lost a touchdown and interception because of penalties. They had a successful fake punt, only to get a field goal blocked later in the drive. At a critical juncture in the fourth quarter, they failed to convert on fourth-and-two, with Sarkisian opting for a pass by backup quarterback Cyler Miles rather than giving it to his workhorse, Bishop Sankey.
That was their death knell, with the Bruins getting a 40-yard touchdown on their first play, moving UCLA’s lead to 17.
“Right now, I wouldn’t have done it,’’ Sarkisian said of his decision to go for it. “At the time it felt like, man, it was 10-point game, we’re an aggressive group and we’ve always been aggressive. I felt like this was our one chance to make it a one-score game, whether a touchdown or field goal. That had been our whole talk: Make it a one-score game and see if we could win it.”
And so now the Huskies are left with their diminishing goals, facing another tough road game in Corvallis in eight days. They can still break out of their seven-victory rut, but possessing a lineup dotted with impact players – add Damore’ea Stringfellow to the list after a breakout game – more was rightly expected.
“We came here to win. When you feel going into a game you feel good about your opportunity to win, and you don’t, and it doesn’t go as planned, and you have some chances to maybe make it a one-score game and you don’t do it, it’s really frustrating.”
Sarkisian was asked if he still felt confident of his team’s ability to take that next step.
“Without a doubt,’’ he said.
They had a chance to evaporate that doubt on Friday, however. It didn’t happen, again.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry