As expected, the Washington Huskies finished the exhibition season 4-0. But the route was less than direct, nearly losing at Hawaii, getting challenged by Eastern Washington and Saturday causing massive gastric problems in the purple constituency. For a half.
Digestive order at Husky Stadium was restored, however, in a stupendous second half, producing a score, 45-14, that looked like what was expected against second-tier Georgia State, in its fifth year as an FBS program and coming off an 0-12 season.
But the 35-point favorites were down 14-0 at the half. They were outgained 231 yards to 73. Hefty boos rolled out of the announced crowd of 64,608, who were expecting a walkover, not the walking dead.
Coach Chris Petersen — who warned Monday, “If our mindset is in the future, we’ll get hit right in the mouth” — was there with the agitated fan base.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a more pathetic first half of football from a team I’ve been associated with,” he told KOMO radio. “Sometimes, guys are hard to read. We had a good week of practice. Obviously, I’m having a hard time reading these guys.
“I never tell guys that anything less than truth (about overlooking no opponent). Hopefully, they’ll hear me more down the road.”
The Atlanta school was making the longest trip in its history and first to the West Coast, but couldn’t have looked more comfortable in the first half, while the Huskies played in a daze.
Said Petersen: “Guys were looking around at each other like they were saying, ‘Whose fault is this?'”
Behind a loose quarterback, Kyle Arbuckle, and quick linebacker, Joseph Peterson, the Panthers of the Sun Belt Conference dominated both sides of the ball. Arbuckle threw a pair of short touchdown passes in the second quarter after drives of 52 and 91 yards. The defense, ranked 117th in the nation entering the game, pitched a shutout by holding Washington to five first downs and 15 yards rushing.
The Huskies were missing WR John Ross, who dressed but was held out with a leg problem. That didn’t explain the line’s inability to protect QB Cyler Miles against a previously feeble pass rush.
“It’s easy to draw that conclusion (about the absence of Ross), but we weren’t protecting Cyler,” Petersen said. “It didn’t matter if we had Ross or Superman.”
Petersen said there wasn’t much fire and brimstone at halftime.
“It wasn’t about coaches ranting and raving,” he said. “It was about everyone getting their focus back; everyone doing their job. If everyone handles their responsibility, we’ll be fine.”
What helped emotionally were sparks from two unlikely backups — freshman WR Dante Pettis and sophomore QB Jeff Lindquist.
Pettis ignited Washington with four punt returns for 98 yards — another 35-yarder was called back for a holding penalty — and Lindquist surprised all by becoming a rusher from the shotgun formation while Miles was split out as receiver.
The most important of his 35 yards on three carries came in the second possession of the second half, after Pettis, a six-foot freshman from San Clemente, CA., ran back a punt to the Georgia State 18. One play later at the nine-yard line, Lindquist entered a game for the first time since his mostly ineffective start at Hawaii.
He took the snap, faked the jet sweep to WR Jaydon Mickens and rumbled up the middle for Washington’s first touchdown. A similar play early in the fourth quarter went for a 14-yard score and advanced the lead to 35-14.
Of Pettis, subbing for Ross, Peterson said, “Somebody needed to do something to get us excited. He was the catalyst. He showed no fear in catching the ball and he made good decisions.”
The coaches wanted to get Lindquist, 6-4 and 245 pounds, back in action.
“He’s big, strong and fast — we needed to put his skills to use,” he said. Those were really our most effective runs.”
On defense, NT Danny Shelton had another huge game — a team-high 13 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. CB Marcus Peters, who was suspended for the previous game against Illinois for a sideline tantrum, returned in a big way with two of Washington’s three interceptions, and another that was denied by a pass-interference penalty on him.
LB John Timu scored Washington’s final TD with 8:12 left when he grabbed a pass tipped by teammate FS Budda Baker and returned it 35 yards for a TD. The 45 points tied a school record for a half, and it was the most for a second half.
Ready or not, the big-time arrives Saturday with Pac-12 play and Stanford, which had a bye and thus had time to titter over Washington’s first half.
“They’ll execute at high level,” Petersen said. “If we not hitting on all cylinders, it will be ugly.”
Then Saturday did serve a purpose beyond getting Georgia State a $900,000 payday — it gave the Huskies a close-up look at ugly.
Adversity can be a great learning tool. Nothing will be handed to the dawgs in the Pac12 so the fact that they have had to work hard to secure this 4~0 record might end up being advantageous to these guys. One thing is for sure. Coach Peterson is used to having Boise squads who work their tail off to over achieve/reach for the stars to show the world they have a great program thus his perplexed demeanor and wrinkled brow at the half time break using that word pathetic.He will know much more about his new team after this upcoming Pac12 game is completed. If you cant turn up the juices for Stanford? My guess is they will in a big way. Hopefully that first half today was some crazy version of the Ali rope a dope and The Cardinal will be the one left scratching their heads at how inspired these Huskies suddenly look. Lets hope that is the case.But if they take a half off next game they def wont reach 5~0 so it is going to be very interesting indeed. As Art said the preseason is over. Done. Big boy time now.
It’s easy to forget these are hormonally dysfunctional teenagers who whipsaw to the slightest distraction, be it squirrel, skirt or taking off a weekend. I suspect they were looking and working the Stanford plan for weeks.
It is astonishing to hear a coach speak so plainly and honestly about his team. I love it.
Glad you noticed too. I wish more coaches understood that it not only will not hurt a program, it builds cred.
As rocky as it has been, this is the dawn of the Coach Petersen era. Instill a new attitude about self discipline and about taking each game seriously. If the players don’t like it, get off the bus and make room for players who want to play for Coach Pete.
For me rocky was the tenure of Tyronne Willingham. Winning ugly certainly cant be perceived as ideal but back in the dark days 4~0 would have been received with unabated glee. But you do have a valid point. National championship attitudes don’t come about in a day but I’m guessing Coach P will break his back to get these guys moving in that direction. And ditto on the “All in” thought.
Good point about the Ty years. And Petersen is entitled slack in the transition.
I wouldn’t call 4-0 rocky. Despite the grinding of gears, they had a month of exhibitions to get ready for Stanford. I imagine the Huskies attention will be available to Petersen.
An ugly win is still a win, even again Georgia State. I like that Petersen doesn’t fall back on weasel words to gloss over lack of effort and/or execution. That’s something that he and Leach seem to have in common (when Leach isn’t blowing off the press).
Husky fans should be satisfied with the 4-0 start and a winning record and a bowl bid in Year I of the Petersen Era is a reasonable goal because it’s going to take him at least a year to establish the culture and mindset he wants. Leach is in his THIRD year at Wazzu and he’s still battling the almost congenital malaise that accompanied that program for years before he arrived. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight.