Washington coach Chris Petersen confident young offense will learn, improve

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Hands on his hips, Chris Petersen hardly flinched when Washington’s last offensive snap ended in the same way too many of the Huskies’ drives ended Saturday.

Jake Browning’s last throw in his first Pac-12 game resulted with yet another turnover, his third of the day, securing for California a 30-24 victory and its first triumph at Husky Stadium in 10 years. Browning jogged to the sideline, head shaking, where stood Petersen, hands clapping.

The coach then tapped the quarterback on the helmet, a quiet moment of encouragement after a strange and frustrating game for a UW offense that, raw as it is, is bound to make these mistakes.

And, yes, mistakes abound. There’s not much more analysis needed beyond that: The Huskies (2-2) lost their Pac-12 opener because they failed too often at Football 101. They committed five turnovers, the most ever for a Petersen-coached team. They missed tackles, too many to count at first glance. And they couldn’t protect their freshman QB, who spent much of the game scrambling, flailing and forcing passes.

“You turn the ball over a ridiculous amount of times (and have) a lot of penalties, you’re not going to play with anybody,” Browning said. “That’s on me. … It was bad.”

It was an especially bad start for the UW offense, which managed to run just 15 plays in the first half — three of which ended in a turnover — and trailed 20-7 at half.

The Huskies stayed close in the second half, thanks in large part to a gutsy defensive effort.

California running back Vic Enwere ran through and around many attempted tackles, but UW stood up at key moments — stuffing the Bears (4-0) on four consecutive plays from the 1-yard line in the first half, and then igniting UW’s second-half comeback bid with Sidney Jones’ 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

“Our defense competed really, really hard,” Petersen said.

Despite all the turnovers, and despite an offense that again featured three freshmen on the line, Browning and the UW offense had chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

In the midst of a promising drive, with UW trailing 27-21, Browning had running back Dwayne Washington open on a wheel route near the Cal 10-yard line. The pass was just overthrown of a diving Washington, the ball bouncing off his fingertips.

On the next play, the back-breaker: Washington fumbled a handoff and Cal recovered at its own 30. Five minutes later, Cal’s Matt Anderson kicked his third field goal to extend the Bears’ lead to 30-21 with 5:34 left to play.

Washington got a 36-yard field goal from Cameron Van Winkle to close to 30-24 with 3:57 left. And after the Huskies forced Cal into a three-and-out, UW got the ball back one more time at its 28-yard line, 2:51 left to find the end zone.

Browning was flushed out of the pocket on first down, scrambling for a 1-yard gain. He was flushed on second down, running out of bounds on the UW sideline to stop the clock, but losing 2 yards in the process.

Third-and-long, Browning was hurried again, and he forced a throw toward Jaydon Mickens that was intercepted by Cal’s Damariay Drew with 1:57 remaining. The Bears then ran out the clock.

In the end, UW’s offense wasn’t on the field enough (running a mere 55 plays and possessing the ball for just more than 20 minutes), which left a UW defense — playing without star safety Budda Baker (ankle) — to defend Jared Goff and Cal’s balanced offense for nearly 40 minutes. Goff threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bears’ 92 plays were the most UW has defended since the 2014 opener at Hawaii (97).

“That,” Petersen said, “is a recipe for disaster.”

And yet, in this rebuilding season, the Huskies can perhaps point to their second-half rally Saturday as something to build upon.

“We’re not going to back down from anybody, (even) if we’re down by 80,” Browning said of UW’s fourth-quarter mentality. “Just keep battling and see where it takes you.”

The Huskies have a bye next weekend, followed by the first of four daunting October games — starting Oct. 8 at USC — that will no doubt stress and strain the young Huskies in new ways.

They’ll have to grow up in a hurry.

“I know these kids, and I think we’re going to get better,” Peter­sen said. “I think in some ways the results might show slower, just because of who we’re playing, but I think we’re going to know what we’re doing better and we’re going to keep competing.”

More one-sided than score indicates
The Golden Bears were dominant in time of possession, and the Huskies committed five turnovers, the most ever by a Chris Petersen-coached team.
UW Category California
15 First downs 28
55 Total plays 92
259 Total yards 481
20:11 Time of possession 39:49
5 Turnovers 2