The Huskies must win three of their last five games to get the minimum 6-6 record to be bowl eligible
Washington cornerback Adam Long, covering a receiver on the other side of the field, could do little but wish for luck as Chris McGaha settled under the ball in the end zone.
“I was just hoping he would drop it or something,” Long said.
Instead, when McGaha caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Danny Sullivan with five seconds left in Saturday’s game, what dropped was not only the hearts and stomachs of the Huskies, but also their postseason hopes.
A win over Arizona State would have left UW two games away from bowl eligibility and set up a showdown for first place in the Pac-10 Saturday with rival Oregon.
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Now, after a loss as shocking as it was sudden, UW is 3-4 overall and in seventh place in the conference at 2-2, needing to win three of the last five to get the minimum 6-6 record needed for a bowl game.
“It’s really frustrating because we are still a very young football team and we’re a team that week to week we have been in so many of these tight games and battles where every play counts, every play is worth its weight in gold for us,” said first-year coach Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian’s biggest frustration is that he thought the ending was eminently preventable.
First, UW punted from its 19-yard line with 22 seconds left and the score tied 17-17 after Sarkisian decided to call a deep pass to James Johnson that fell incomplete on third-and-one.
Washington had run the ball on its first two plays, but Sarkisian thought if the Huskies didn’t make a first down, ASU would use its final timeout, so he decided to gamble that the Devils might be caught sleeping. They weren’t as Johnson was double-covered.
“We thought we had something set up [that] we had been working on all game,” Sarkisian said, adding that if UW had gotten a first down “we could have taken a shot or two.”
Then came the McGaha TD.
“We were in three-deep coverage … dropping eight guys into coverage sitting back,” he said. “We thought we had the deep ball taken care of and had our guys deployed underneath to where if they threw something underneath, we could tackle them so they couldn’t just dump it down and get a bunch of yards and get into field-goal range. So you’re kind of in the middle there. But we thought we had our deep ball covered there and unfortunately we didn’t.”
Sarkisian said his initial take was that a UW defender “jumped a route, a crossing route, and left the middle of the field wide open.” McGaha was initially bumped by strong safety Victor Aiyewa but then left free to run. Free safety Nate Williams, meanwhile chased after another ASU receiver, T.J. Simpson, which left him unable to cover McGaha (though Simpson also appeared to be open on the play, as well).
The Huskies also had trouble mounting a consistent running game, getting 99 yards on 27 carries, the second-lowest total of the season (lowest was USC with 56 on 33).
The Huskies also lost three turnovers, missed a field goal and committed 12 penalties for a season-high 124 yards.
Now the Huskies must sweep their three remaining home games or win at least one on the road at UCLA or Oregon State to get to the magic six wins.
• Quarterback Jake Locker took a hard hit to his back on the play where he threw incomplete on third down to Johnson. “He had a little sore back coming in and took a shot on the third-down play on his back again, so we’ll see,” Sarkisian said. Locker downplayed it, however, saying simply, “I’m fine.”
• Tailback Chris Polk sat out for a while with a sore shoulder, as he also did the previous week. It’s the same left shoulder on which Polk had surgery last season, though he said it’s a different injury and he doesn’t anticipate missing games.
• Long got his first start at cornerback in place of Quinton Richardson and appears to have won that job for now.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org