BOULDER, Colo. — That might have been the Huskies’ most impressive performance of the season. It was a feat that few teams in a Power 5 conference would have been able to replicate.
Somehow — despite more than doubling Colorado’s yardage, despite converting 14 third downs to the Buffaloes’ two, despite crossing their opponent’s 40 eight out of 12 drives — somehow, they found a way to lose.
Washington has dropped seven of its 11 games this season but there was something unique about this 20-17 defeat. It wasn’t the usual can’t-stop-the-run or can’t-move-the-ball type disappointment, where UW’s weaknesses were broadcast to anyone watching. This loss wasn’t because of the challenge the Buffaloes presented to the Huskies, it was because of the charity the Huskies presented to the Buffaloes.
“You gotta score some points and you can’t turn the ball over,” Huskies interim coach Bob Gregory said. “That was the tale of the game — four turnovers in critical situations. That’s tough.”
Tough is about as tempered a description a coach could have given after that game. Maddening, infuriating or exasperating would have been more precise.
After all, look at these numbers: The Huskies had 426 yards to Colorado’s 183. They had 388 passing yards to Colorado’s 112. They had 22 first downs to CU’s 9, 84 plays to CU’s 52, and averaged 5.1 yards per play vs. CU’s 3.5.
So how did they lose?
Mishap No. 1: Trailing by three points in the first quarter, Washington drove it down to Colorado’s 3, then, on first-and-goal, quarterback Dylan Morris fumbled the snap. Buffaloes linebacker Jack Lamb scooped it up and ran it 88 yards to the end zone.
Mishap No. 2: After tying the game 10-10, Washington drove to Colorado’s 28. A holding penalty followed, then a Morris interception after what appeared to be confusion at the line of scrimmage.
Mishap No. 3: With the game still tied at 10-10 in the third quarter, the Huskies drove to Colorado’s 18. Then they were called for offsides, then Morris took an 8-yard sack, which forced Peyton Henry to try a 49-yard field goal. He missed.
Mishap No. 4: With the game still tied at 10-10, the Huskies again lost the ball on the snap, which Colorado recovered on Washington’s 7. The Buffaloes ended up making a field goal.
Mishap No. 5: Down three in the fourth quarter, the Huskies drove to Colorado’s 28. Then Morris tossed a ball intended for Jalen McMillan that was picked off in the end zone.
How many points can a football team leave on the field? For the Huskies (4-7, 3-5 in the Pac-12), Saturday was the baseball equivalent of stranding 20 base runners. But this wasn’t just poor execution by the players — it was questionable game management by Gregory.
For the second straight week, Morris had the offense humming on Washington’s first two drives. And for the second straight week, Gregory subbed in a quarterback for the next two possessions. In last week’s five-point loss to Arizona State, the backup QB was Sam Huard. In Saturday’s loss, it was Patrick O’Brien.
Gregory said that was the plan for the whole week and he wasn’t going to deviate.
Even if Morris is playing well?
“Yeah. Stay with it,” Gregory said.
What had to be particularly frustrating for the Huskies was that Saturday was their most complete defensive game of the season. They kept Colorado’s offense out of the end zone until its final drive, in which the Buffaloes (4-7, 3-5) advanced 90 yards to take a 10-point lead.
The end result is Washington — whose head coach (Jimmy Lake) and offensive coordinator (John Donovan) were fired earlier in the month — becoming ineligible for a bowl game for the first time since 2009.
“It’s disappointing. I know everyone wants to play that extra game, play the game they love,” Huskies defensive back Kyler Gordon said. “It kinda sucks.”
Or maybe it’s merciful. It’s hard to think too many fans would have been jacked up for a bowl game with this group. It’s been one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent memory. Might be better if it wraps up as soon as possible.
All that’s left now for the Huskies is Washington State in the Apple Cup on Friday. It’s a game UW has won for the past seven years.
Gordon said Saturday that he plans on keeping the trophy in Seattle. Would be the first time in a while the Huskies kept something. Most of this season has been defined by what they’ve given away.