Don’t expect Chris Petersen and Bush Hamdan to burn their bag of tricks.
Even if it does occasionally betray them.
That was certainly the case with 12:51 left in the fourth quarter Saturday, when Washington held a somewhat uncomfortable 28-14 lead over USC. The Huskies took over at midfield, with an opportunity to squash the clock and put the score permanently out of reach.
Instead, the momentum immediately shifted.
On first-and-10, Petersen and Hamdan dialed up a double reverse, which failed to fool the USC defense. The Trojans blitzed, blew the play up, forced an inaccurate Hunter Bryant lateral and recovered the ensuing fumble.
Thankfully for Husky fans, Washington’s defense cleaned up the mess and USC punted three plays later.
It could have been a catastrophe.
Instead, it was an unfortunate footnote that won’t affect UW’s play-calling strategy in the future.
“Let me just say this: there’s going to be calls that don’t go right,” Petersen said during his weekly news conference Monday. “We’re going to try stuff. It’s not going to always go right. That’s just how it is. Everybody seemed to like the little two-point play (to Chico McClatcher in the third quarter) that was a little tricky. When it works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, you’ve got egg on your face.
“We’re going to always try stuff. That’s just how it is, and sometimes they’re going to guess right and time (a blitz against) us. Sometimes we’re going to get out of it. Sometimes we’re going to check (out of the play), and it is what it is. Our defense swelled up, and it’s all good.
“There’s plays every game where both sides, all coordinators, would like to have back. But like I said before, that one’s on me. We were going to roll with it, and they hit us with the perfect blitz.”
Petersen acknowledged that, given the immediate pressure USC applied, Bryant should not have attempted the pitch, though he could hardly blame him for making a split-second decision.
But Petersen and Co. have been known for a willingness to employ trick plays in the past. One play, positive or negative, won’t permanently shift their philosophy.
“We’re going to continue to take chances. We just are,” Petersen said. “We’ve got a lot of reverses, a lot of stuff that’s worked over the years — double passes, all those things. It’s all good when they work, and when they don’t everybody wants to second-guess them. That’s just what we’re going to keep doing.”
One step back, two steps forward for Ahmed
You never want your starting running back to miss a game with an injury.
But, somewhat surprisingly, there can actually be some positive side effects.
Take Saturday, for example. UW running back Salvon Ahmed returned to the lineup after sitting out the victory the previous week at Brigham Young with a leg injury. He bounced back from a first-quarter fumble into the end zone to compile a career-high 153 rushing yards and 9 yards a carry — with the highlight being a game-breaking, turf-blazing, 89-yard third-quarter touchdown run.
On that run, in the approximately 11 seconds it took to dash from the UW 11-yard line to the opposite end zone, Ahmed showcased the trademark explosiveness that makes the junior tailback unique.
“I think he had that one game-changing run, and I thought he did a good job other than that,” Petersen said. “But that’s the nice thing about him. If you get some space out there you never know what can happen, depending on how everybody else fits the run. I think he’s doing a good job and it was just a unique injury he had.
“We just had to make sure he was rested and ready to go and got some swelling out of his leg, and it really happened like we hoped it would. So he didn’t miss much; it might have made him better, got his legs fresh.”
The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder’s legs have looked plenty fresh early this season. Ahmed has rushed for 399 yards and a career-high 6.5 yards per carry with three touchdowns in four games.
Harris’ abbreviated dance break
While Ahmed was pulling away from the pack in his 89-yard touchdown run, senior center Nick Harris was standing near the sideline, busting out a series of celebratory dance moves.
Petersen, meanwhile, was not pleased.
Not because Harris was dancing. (The 6-foot-1, 302-pound senior does that a lot.) He was perturbed, let’s say, because Harris failed to notice that UW intended to attempt a two-point conversion, and the Huskies ultimately had to take a timeout because of it.
“He likes to dance,” Petersen said. “He was not paying attention to what was going on in the game, feeling pretty good about himself, and cost us a timeout. Not just him, but our whole team was not paying attention. Cost us a timeout. Frustrating.
“So we’ve got to do a better job across the board of just being organized on those things.”
Which doesn’t mean, by the way, that Petersen is attempting to totally douse his players’ understandable enthusiasm.
“You’ve just got to stay locked in, right?” he said “Heck yeah, we’ve got to celebrate. Celebrate on the way down, get lined up for two points.
“As coaches, we knew that we were going to go for it. But sometimes you don’t want to distract the kids with that, because who knows what happens in that series (before the touchdown)? We’ve got to do a better job of quickly communicating. It’s on all of us to get organized in those situations.”
- Junior quarterback Jacob Eason threw for only 180 yards Saturday, completing 16 of 26 passes. But Petersen said Monday that Eason “made some good throws and there was one in there we could have gotten a big (gain out) of, but I thought he played solid.” He added that USC was doing some schematic things defensively to prevent more downfield shots.
- Trey Adams was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and as a result, Petersen said that the fifth-year senior left tackle is “a little more buff today than he was yesterday.” The standard punishment for said penalty inside Petersen’s program is 500 pushups. And how long does that typically take? “Depends,” Petersen said. “Small guys can seem to knock them out a lot faster than the big guys. It can be painful for those big guys.”
- Freshman nickelback Asa Turner played an extended role in the first half, being credited for two tackles and a tackle for loss. It’s possible that with Turner’s length — 6-3, 187 — he could be an asset in the slot against Stanford’s physical receivers. “We’ll see,” Petersen said. “He did a nice job with the snaps he got last game and I think he’s growing each week as well. He’s another young guy that’s been impressive.”
- Washington’s road game at Arizona on Oct. 12 will kick off at 8 p.m. and air on FS1. Petersen emphasized that the late start is less than ideal for student-athletes. “I think it has a big effect (on the players),” he said. “I think it has a really big effect. You feel it the next day. You feel it the day after. Kids got to get up and go to school now, practice hard, all those things. They feel it.”
- Despite the fact true freshman Tim Horn typically handles the team’s starting kickoffs, the Huskies sent sophomore Peyton Henry out for a kickoff in the third quarter Saturday. The goal was for Henry to attempt a short kick to surprise USC and perhaps force a fumble. Petersen said Monday that Henry’s unexpected cameo was not due to an injury to Horn. “(Henry) was our kickoff guy last year,” he said. “He can do a lot of different things like that — cross kick and sky kick and kick it deep. Tim’s obviously been handling those kickoff duties, doing a nice job. (But we) put Peyton in to kind of have some fun.”