If you went to bed at a reasonable hour Saturday night, you might not believe the final score:
After trailing 17-13 at halftime, the Huskies responded with 38 second-half points. They gained 316 total yards in the final 30 minutes and scored touchdowns on five of seven second-half drives. Jacob Eason completed 8 of 10 pass attempts and threw for 178 yards and two scores. Salvon Ahmed ran for three touchdowns. Like Andy Dufresne, the UW offense crawled out of a stinking sewage pipe and emerged unscathed on the other side.
But was this a legitimate offensive breakthrough, or a mirage in the merciless desert?
We’ll find out against Oregon this week.
But until then, here are three things we learned from Washington’s win over Arizona.
UW still needs to find red-zone answers.
Without redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton, who missed the game with a left-foot injury, Washington’s wildcat package was nowhere to be seen Saturday. UW’s red-zone offense continued to suffer in the first half, producing a pair of field goals on two trips inside the Arizona 10-yard line.
Those field goals were also the result of some head-scratching decisions. On third-and-10 from the 15-yard line, Eason targeted Aaron Fuller on a shallow crossing route well short of the sticks. And two drives later, Washington took over after a muffed punt at the 8-yard line and attempted to run up the middle on third-and-goal from the 5.
Granted, the situation looked a whole lot sunnier in the second half. The Huskies scored touchdowns on four of five red-zone trips. Ahmed accounted for three of those scores, and redshirt freshman walk-on tight end Jack Westover finally (joking) got in on the action with a 3-yard touchdown of his own.
But we need to see more than a second-half fix. Through seven games this season, Washington is converting 53.13% of its red-zone trips into touchdowns, which ranks 103rd nationally and ninth in the Pac-12.
As for Oregon? The Ducks defense leads the nation by a mile, allowing opposing offenses to reach the end zone on just 14.29% of their red-zone marches.
Something’s got to give Saturday.
And more than likely, Newton won’t be there to will his way across the goal line.
“We don’t have to take that (wildcat package out of the offense),” coach Chris Petersen said. “There’s always game plan things and what you’re going to carry each week, and you don’t want to have too much. But Rich, since the start of the season, has been a big part of our offense in short yardage, and he was starting to grow in other areas.
“So it’s hard to not have him in there. But Sean ran tough and Salvon did some good things. So that was good to see.”
Jimmy Lake out-schemed another Pac-12 offense.
You’ve heard this, and read this, before. But Washington’s second-year defensive coordinator did it again.
On Saturday, dynamic Arizona dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate ran for minus-28 yards, with a long of 11. He was sacked four times. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and he lost a fumble that was also returned for a Husky score.
The week before, for comparison’s sake, Tate completed 31 of 41 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-30 win at Colorado.
So what did the UW defense do to disrupt him?
“They did a nice job with their front four and linebackers,” said Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. “They had some safety blitzes we hadn’t seen that we had a hard time blocking, and have to give them credit for that. We got outplayed, outcoached, and that’s something we have to handle.”
For the majority of four quarters, the UW defense handled the Wildcats.
This team didn’t quit.
And you better believe it could have. Washington limped into the locker room having played six consecutive ugly quarters. The crowd inside Arizona Stadium was energized. It was unreasonably late. Chris Petersen had won just one of four games played in the state of Arizona while at Washington. BannerSociety.com director of programming Brian Floyd tweeted, “Washington looks like they want to go to bed,” and he was right.
There is an alternate reality in which Washington packs it up, coasts to a second consecutive loss, then sleepwalks into certain death against Oregon and Utah with an overwhelmingly mediocre 4-3 record. There is a reality in which Eason backpedals and spins into sacks and tosses up unforgivable interceptions. There is a reality in which the Washington defense inevitably wilts against Tate and Arizona’s unyielding offensive tempo.
That’s just not the reality we live in.
“The whole first half was very, very frustrating on offense, and everybody was frustrated at halftime, coming in,” Petersen said. “So I’m proud of those guys and how they responded, how they answered, how we came out and kind of did what we thought (we could do). We could move the ball and score points. But I think our defense was really, really good.”
Washington played its best football of the season in the second half, and that’s a testament to the players in that program, as well as the program itself.
The Huskies have been a far cry from perfect this season. Their defense is inconsistent; their passing game too often sputters; their tackling can be suspect, and they struggle on third down.
They haven’t always won … but they still haven’t quit.
“I think we just came together as an offense (at halftime) and realized what we needed to do and kind of manned up,” Ahmed said. “(We knew) we had to get this done and we had to come out of here with a win.”