So meager was his confidence in Washington’s offense, Huskies coach Chris Petersen Saturday committed game suicide. He made two high-risk play calls that exploded on him and let 16th-ranked Stanford (3-1) sneak out of Montlake with a 20-13 win that easily could have been UW’s signature triumph of the season.
Although Petersen wouldn’t say so directly, QB Cyler Miles had such a bad game of decision-making and throwing accuracy that on two of UW’s final three possessions, the coach tried to put the ball, directly but awkwardly, into the hands of two game-breakers, WR John Ross and LB Shaq Thompson.
The Huskies came up with less than nothing.
“We have to go back to the drawing board,” Petersen said. “We have to get our quarterback some answers, for sure.
“We need to be able to run the ball better and figure out how we’re going to throw the ball down the field better.”
Other than that . . .
Even when they scored an offensive touchdown, they muffed the point-after conversion kick.
Miles was hardly alone in misdeed. His offensive line gave him spotty shelter from Stanford’s top-ranked defense, his running backs made few yards after contact, and receivers had a hard time time gaining separation.
The result was 179 yards of total offense, a year after Washington averaged 499.3. That group had QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, all of whom are playing pro ball. Their successors . . . likely will not.
Miles was 15 for 29 passing for a paltry 98 yards, the first time the Huskies have been under 100 yards since the 2010 Holiday Bowl against Nebraska. His longest completion was 25 yards, a touchdown pass to Jaydon Mickens early in the second quarter that provided false hope.
He rushed for 50 yards, which is another false positive. Several of his 14 carries were premature departures from the pocket at the first hint of pressure from the Cardinal rushers.
Surrounded in a post-game pocket by reporters, Miles stood his ground as best he could.
“Stanford has a really great front seven, but at times the pressure got to us,” he said. “I could have stayed in the pocket a couple times.”
Said offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith: “He played hard. He didn’t play perfect.”
The upshot was desperation. Tied at 13 early in the fourth quarter, a drive sustained by two Stanford penalties stalled pathetically at midfield. On fourth-and-9, Petersen bailed out of the option of having Korey Durkee, who was stellar all day, punting Stanford deep into its own territory and letting Washington’s impressive defense hold ground.
The Huskies snapped to upback Thompson, the do-everything defender. This time, he did nothing. Stanford was ready and held him to no gain. The Cardinal took over on downs and scored seven plays later what proved to be the game-winner, a five-yard naked bootleg TD by QB Kevin Hogan.
“That’s on me and not those guys,” Petersen said. “They can check out of it (to a punt). We needed to execute a bit better, but it was asking to get too many yards.
“I was trying to create something.”
The urge to create something overtook him again in the next possession. On the kickoff, Stanford had two penalties: Offsides and kicking the ball out of bounds.
The presumptive choice was to accept the out-of-bounds penalty, which provided a first down at the UW 35. Instead Petersen accepted the offsides penalty, which meant a re-kick that likely would put the ball in the hands of Ross, who already returned Washington’ opening kickoff 100 yards, only to be denied by an illegal block penalty.
As far as getting the ball to Ross, it worked. As far as getting anywhere, it didn’t. Ross was stopped at the 16, meaning a 19-yard loss of field position. Washington was out in five plays.
They got the ball once more at their own 48 with 1:49 and no timeouts remaining, and the drive reached the Stanford 28. But a sack of Miles and a penalty for intentional grounding doomed the Huskies, as Petersen feared it would.
Of his two foiled playcalls, Petersen said, “I was trying to get the ball in the hands of my playmakers.”
Put it another way, he was trying to keep it out of the hands of Miles. And remember, Miles became the starter in the season’s second game because Petersen needed to get the ball out of the hands of Jeff Lindquist, the opening-game QB starter in Hawaii who had a second half as Miles had against Stanford (8 for 20, 48 yards).
The two pieces of good news for the Huskies: The defense picked up three turnovers, scoring on one, and was sufficiently stout that it came close to winning the game on its own; and the Huskies have a bye Saturday.
“We knew we were in for tough sledding, but we thought we’d be better than that,” Petersen said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Perhaps that will include direct snaps to Ross and Thompson. Going through Miles may not be such a hot idea in Pac-12 play.