You could go the optimistic route and say this is a young team that lost copious stars and is showing potential.
You could point to the nine new defensive starters and backfield turnover and say, “Hey, what did you expect?”
But this is a Chris Petersen-coached Washington team, where youth and inexperience are obstacles, not excuses. And if you had to summarize the 2019 Huskies so far, three words would suffice.
They can’t finish.
Saturday was the latest example of why UW should temporarily change its nickname to the Hares. Like they did against Cal and Oregon, the Huskies outplayed ninth-ranked Utah in the first half before their lead fizzled away.
Quarterback Jacob Eason’s third-quarter interceptions were Exhibits A and B in the case of how Washington lost. But Utah’s 33-28 victory spoke to a larger theme — when tension rises, these Huskies fall.
“We have to play better in the fourth quarter for sure. These teams are good teams for a reason. They pour it on when it matters. They are playing better than us in the fourth quarter,” Petersen said. “It was just self-inflicted wounds. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s Day 1 stuff.”
Penalties, turnovers, and penalties after turnovers were among the gashes Petersen described. Washington gave, but couldn’t capitalize when it tooketh away.
The gifts included an Eason fumble in the first quarter (which led to a field goal), an interception thrown into triple coverage (when UW was in field-goal range) and a pick-six that occurred when Washington was ahead 21-13 late in the third quarter. But the Huskies also forced two fumbles that yielded zero points.
The first came early in the third quarter, when the Huskies (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) followed with consecutive false starts and a three-and-out. The second came later in the period, when the Huskies followed with the aforementioned pick-six.
That’s what has to make this loss particularly frustrating for UW fans — the Huskies should have won this thing. Then again, the whole “should have won” thing is becoming a trend.
In their Pac-12 opener, the Huskies took a two-point lead on Cal when Peyton Henry nailed a 49-yard field goal with 2:05 to go. But the Golden Bears erased his heroics when they responded with a game-winning kick nine plays later.
Against Oregon two weeks ago, the Huskies led 28-14 early in the third quarter and 31-21 late in the same period. But they went scoreless in the final frame as quarterback Justin Herbert led the Ducks to the 35-31 win.
Saturday’s game felt eerily similar.
After getting four first-half sacks against a team that entered the game sixth in the nation in sacks allowed, the Huskies couldn’t bring down Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley in the final two quarters. The Utes (8-1, 5-1) also made key third-down conversions in their final two scoring drives, getting firsts off a third-and-three, a third-and-12, a third-and-eight and a third-and-six.
The Seahawks have developed a reputation this season for coming back whenever they are faced with a fourth-quarter deficit. The Huskies have developed a far less flattering reputation when holding a fourth-quarter lead.
After the game, Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake acknowledged the anguish of defeat but pointed to the positives. He mentioned how these Huskies have over 55 freshmen (including redshirts), and have played admirably against quality foes.
Oregon and Utah are top-10 programs, and the Huskies are young.
“But that’s no excuse,” Lake said. “We’re learning some tough lessons right now.”
A year or two ago, upcoming games against Oregon State and Colorado would have seemed like comforting opportunities to beef up the win column. This season, however, it seems no result is guaranteed for Washington.
UW fans would like to think a loss like Saturday’s would cause their team to come back stronger. But this year, the Huskies have been a lot better at allowing comebacks than performing them.