After another anemic performance in the air at Oregon, the UW offense lamented its seasonlong struggle to make big plays with the passing game.
The Oregon Ducks, who spent the week reading about how they often let teams hang around for a while before turning it on in the second half, didn’t bother with that Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
En route to a 52-21 win over the Washington Huskies, the Ducks scored 35 points in less than 15 minutes of game time, starting in the middle of the first quarter to turn the game into a quick rout.
“It got sideways on us fast,” lamented UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
And when it did, the game further exposed what is suddenly becoming a serious issue for the Huskies — their passing game.
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UW quarterback Keith Price completed 19 of 31 passes, but for just 145 yards as the Huskies were again unable to throw the ball downfield very often. UW hasn’t passed for more than 222 yards in a game and ranks last in the Pac-12 in both passing offense (184.20 yards per game) and passing efficiency.
“We didn’t play catch good enough tonight, offensively,” Sarkisian said. “A couple of drops, obviously a glaring one down there near the goal line. A couple missed throws, a couple of missed reads. So we’ve got to try to clean up this passing game to marry up with the running game.”
Indeed, the one real positive for the Huskies was rushing for 208 yards, led by sophomore Bishop Sankey’s 104 yards. It was Sankey’s third straight game with more than 100 yards.
“I was very encouraged (by the running game),” Sarkisian said. “I think that’s why I’m so frustrated right now. I thought we had a good plan and played one of our better games up front from an offensive line standpoint.”
So far, however, running the ball well has failed to translate into success for a passing game that is missing the graduated Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, as well as the injured James Johnson (and Kevin Smith doesn’t appear quite up to form after sustaining a knee injury late last season).
UW had just one gain of more than 16 yards against Oregon, that coming on a 28-yarder to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second quarter.
That continued a seasonlong trend — UW’s longest pass play this year is 40 yards to Seferian-Jenkins against Portland State. The longest to a receiver is 35 by Kasen Williams, twice against Stanford.
“We are just dinking and dunking right now, that’s the main thing,” Price said. “We haven’t taken a lot of shots down field, so hopefully we can get it going next week (against USC).”
Price noted the struggles in pass protection as a reason for the lack of big throws.
“A lot of guys been getting a lot of pressure,” he said. “We just need to get the ball out quick right now.”
Price acknowledged he didn’t help matters Saturday with a few poor throws, including one that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Price set a UW record last season for passing efficiency at 161.9, but after Saturday’s game his efficiency is 111.76, last in the Pac-12.
“Obviously I haven’t been playing the way that I want to play and it’s very humbling,” Price said, “and I just need to go back to the basics and the fundamentals of things — three-step drop, get the ball out, make the reads, seeing the safety rotations, and going back to the way that I play football.”
Williams said the receiving corps also has to help Price out more.
UW hasn’t established consistent threats outside of Williams and Seferian-Jenkins as no one else on the team has more than seven catches for the season. And at Oregon, Price played the second half without Seferian-Jenkins after the sophomore suffered a foot injury in the second quarter — it’s unclear if the injury will cause him to miss any time.
“I think our receivers and our playmakers are just as good as last year,” Williams said. “I think that we are just a younger crew, so we are taking a little bit more time to develop. But I think we are going to get there.”
Sarkisian said there was no time to wallow, not with No. 11-rated USC coming to town Saturday.
“It’s tough when you get blown out like that,” Price said. “But obviously we have to bounce back.”