It could have been Jimmy Lake’s crowning moment as Washington’s head coach. Instead, it turned into a demoralizing loss that encapsulated many of the elements that have made this Husky season a still-unfolding disappointment (or disaster, depending on how charitable you feel) — with a few unique and embarrassing twists.
The questions will come flooding forth once more after the Huskies’ 26-16 loss at Husky Stadium that featured an unseemly sideline incident involving Lake and one of his players during the game, and a near-fight between Oregon and Washington players afterward.
The Huskies seem to have a limitless capacity to bring unwanted attention upon themselves, and this game was perhaps the most glaring example, given the heightened scrutiny of a rivalry game. And it started earlier in the week when Lake said that Oregon’s “academic prowess” wasn’t at the same standard as Washington’s — a needless needle to further fire up an opponent that already had considerable motivation.
The Ducks’ athletic prowess certainly was demonstrably superior on Saturday, as they outgained the Huskies 427-166 and thoroughly dominated Washington over the final three quarters. And it was hard not to notice that for a bunch of smart guys, the Huskies didn’t always make the wisest decisions.
Of all the takeaways from this game, which effectively ended Washington’s hope of sneaking to a Pac-12 North title, the primary one is that the Husky offense, which has been moribund for most of the season, isn’t going to magically rehabilitate. We’re hearing the same laments after each game about lack of execution. We’re seeing the same unimaginative play-calling week after week.
It’s almost certainly going to cost offensive coordinator John Donovan his job at the end of the season, if not sooner. This game was there to be taken by Washington, but it couldn’t capitalize on the early magic when it was presented with myriad golden opportunities to do so.
It started off so brightly for the Huskies on a foreboding night, with a page torn right out of the upset handbook. There was a near pick-six on Oregon’s first possession leading to an easy Husky touchdown, There was a safety later in the quarter that had the Husky Stadium crowd in the frenzy.
Something special was brewing, it seemed. But the Huskies frittered it away with a series of first-half possessions that fizzled and died — many of them having begun in excellent field possession. And eventually, Oregon broke through what had been a near-heroic Husky defensive effort, took the lead, and then used their ground game to pummel Washington into submission.
“That was so frustrating. So frustrating,” Lake said. “You have a team like that on the ropes in our stadium. And all those big plays that we’re making, those defensive stops that we’re making. Extremely frustrating. If we’re able to convert some of that momentum into touchdowns, field goals, or just move the ball and get first downs, we’re going to be able to wear our opponent down.
“That changed the whole makeup of the game. And that’s what we’ve got to work towards. We’ve got to move the chains and score points, especially when we’re feeling that energy and juice from our crowd. And we’re making plays on the other side of the ball.”
It’s a little late to be working toward those outcomes, however, when the Pac-12 title that Lake said was the Huskies’ ultimate goal has already slipped away.
Part of the issue was the elements, as the trademark Seattle trifecta — wind, rain and cold — descended upon Husky Stadium. Part was the predictable play calling we’ve come to expect. And part was poor execution and/or decision making by the Huskies, as when quarterback Dylan Morris threw into triple coverage of Jalen McMillan, resulting in an Oregon interception.
The upshot was that Lake once more was left to justify a Husky offense that has been far less than the sum of its parts. By the time Lake made the dubious decision to punt with just 1:59 remaining in the game, down by eight points and stymied at their own 10-yard line, it was academic. The snap went awry, leading to a safety and the Huskies never getting the ball back, as Lake hoped.
“It’s all on the coaches,’’ Lake said of the offense’s struggles. “The execution starts with me. You can put 100% on the coaches. You can write that. That’s all us. It’s all on us. We’ve got to put our guys in position to go out there and execute and make plays. And so in my opening statements, when I said execution, I’m talking about myself and our staff.”
Lake was also left to address the first-half incident in which he was seen aggressively pushing back redshirt freshman linebacker Ruperake Fuavai on the sideline, while making contact with the player’s face mask.
“The guys were chipping back and forth,’’ Lake said. “And one of our players was close up in the Oregon defender’s face. And I went in to separate them and push him back. After that, we settled down a little bit. And that was our deal all week long, that you’ve got to have poise. We knew this was going to be a very heated matchup. And there would be a lot of trash talking.
Asked if he regretted striking Fuavai, Lake replied, “I didn’t strike him. I separated him.”
Lake and his counterpart, Mario Cristobal, also were called upon to do some separating when both sides got heated on the field after the game ended. Calm was eventually restored without any major incidents. Lake said it was a continuation of the chippiness that had gone on all night.
“It’s 18 to 22-year-olds, and they’re talking trash back and forth,’’ he said. “I didn’t hear what they’re saying. But our staff and their staff did a good job of separating the guys before anything seriously escalated.”
The game ended with Oregon on Washington’s 1, mercifully choosing to run out the clock rather than run up the score. That hardly eased the sting that will linger for the Huskies for a long, long time.