This should have been a shining moment for coach Chris Petersen’s Huskies. Instead, it became a series of costly teachable moments.
TEMPE, Ariz. — This was going to be a column about breakthroughs, about potential being realized, about the young Huskies finding their way out of the wilderness.
For one glorious half, this was going to be a feel-good piece about a Washington football team that went fearlessly into its former desert wasteland, conquered the demons and showed that the growing pains of a new regime are in the past.
But then reality hit, and hit hard. What was shaping up as a rousing, invigorating victory for Washington instead disintegrated into a demoralizing 27-17 loss to Arizona State.
What could have been one of Chris Petersen’s shining moments since taking over the Husky program last year turned instead into perhaps his most frustrating defeat. He has 12 losses now in two years at Washington, matching his total in eight years at Boise State.
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“They’re all really frustrating,’’ Petersen countered, and then launched into another plaintive soliloquy about the long road to consistency.
“It comes down to, we’ve got to execute better,’’ he said. “They keep playing hard, but that’s not going to be enough. Now it comes to getting over the hump to be able to execute and make plays. When they do that, we’ll spark ourselves, we’ll get energized, we’ll play with emotion down the stretch.”
Ten games into the season, those sentiments are getting old, however. Even a team as young as the Huskies should be beyond some of the breakdowns and mistakes that keep tripping them.
Afterward, players and coaches kept talking, in quiet tones, about how they have to learn to finish. But they’re running out of time to incorporate all the teachable moments that keep mounting — dropped balls, missed tackles, inopportune passes — into an effective closing strategy.
Now the Huskies have pushed themselves to the absolute brink. At 4-6, it will take two victories in their final two games to become bowl eligible. That means beating a weak Oregon State team in Corvallis, and then taking down increasingly dangerous Washington State in the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium.
“I’m looking at it as this is a good thing,’’ Petersen said. “No margin for error now. All chips in. There’s pressure on, and that’s how it is. There’s no leeway. I like it. I think maybe that’s what we need. Maybe that extra boost.”
Petersen said the Huskies must dial up a sense of urgency in practice to attend to the detail work that leads to success. Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski made the same point a bit more colorfully.
“You’ve got to keep frickin’ working to get better, and you’ve got to keep plugging away,’’ Kwiatkowski said. “There’s no magic frickin’ thing where you just wave a wand. Everybody has to get better as individuals, as coaches. They’ve got to want to come practice to get better. That’s all you can do. Everybody should feel this way because it was right there. We’ve got to finish.’’
For a half, the Huskies played with all the spark, energy and emotion Petersen was seeking, building a 17-0 lead. Quarterback Jake Browning was throwing with precision and poise, and running back Myles Gaskin racked up explosive runs, one in particular a 53-yard work of art.
It wasn’t hard to let one’s mind drift off and ponder a prosperous Husky future featuring those two true freshmen. And the Husky defense, a bright spot all season, was dominating Arizona State, limiting the Sun Devils to a late field goal.
It appeared, for all the world, like a team coming of age before our very eyes.
“Everything was flowing together,’’ said linebacker Azeem Victor.
“We were wrapping up in the first half, having a great time,’’ added safety Budda Baker.
Meanwhile, Arizona State looked lost, even flustered. It seemed a rout was in the works, though the Huskies ominously left points on the field by not converting on numerous promising drives.
But it was the Sun Devils — whose own fourth-quarter meltdowns had become an unwelcome storyline — who summoned the intensity that carried them to 27 unanswered points and a stirring victory.
The Huskies went from playing with confidence and rhythm to looking uncertain and disjointed. The contrast was jarring. It was a collapse, plain and simple.
“We know what type of team we could be, and we show flashes of it all year,’’ said senior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens. “It’s just we have to be consistent.”
One of the prevailing images of this game will be the Huskies dropping passes early in the game that could have helped put it away, and Browning throwing three interceptions in the fourth quarter when they were trying desperately to come back. Gaskin, who at one point in the second quarter had 100 yards on 10 carries, added just 13 more yards on eight carries.
“If everything’s not lined up just right, we have a hard time making plays,’’ Petersen said. “It’s frustrating, because you feel like everything has to be just perfect for us to move the ball, and sustain things. All the boxes have to be checked.”
Right now for the Huskies, too many boxes are still unfilled.
|Tale of two halves|
|UW built a 17-0 lead late in the first half. The second half, however, was a different story:|
|First half||Category||Second half|
|341||Total net yards||206|
|132||Net rushing yards||10|