Rarely in one game have the Washington Huskies given their fans so many reasons to celebrate and so many reasons to regurgitate. If any one of a couple of dozen plays and non-plays, officiating calls and non-calls, flipped Saturday in Tucson, UW would have had that rarest of seasonal jewels — a road win against a ranked conference opponent.
Nothing flipped — except the fans — and the Huskies are 6-5 because they let a mostly dominated Arizona team play poorly and win, 27-26, for which truly can be said that nearly everyone in purple had a hand in the demise. Including the head coach, Chris Petersen.
While much attention will go, deservedly, to the failure to run out the clock with a 26-24 lead in the final minute, when RB Deontae Cooper fumbled the ball to Arizona that set up the winning field goal, as well as the “icing” timeout that nullified a missed field goal, the most egregious coaching error came when the the Huskies were unprepared for a fake field goal attempt that resulted in a touchdown.
Ahead 17-7 with two minutes left in the half, the Huskies stopped Arizona on third down at the Washington 18. On fourth and four, the Wildcats set up for a field goal in a situation ripe for a fake. Sure enough, a direct snap to punter Chris Skowron resulted in an 18-yard run around right end that left him untouched for the score.
Someone on a coaching staff known for gadget plays and high risks fell deep asleep on a situation that they themselves would know well. Credit to Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez, but the special-teams gaffe provided a break that cascaded through the rest of the game.
Washington squandered 504 yards of total offense on 90 plays, including a breakthrough game for RB Dwayne Washington (148 yards in 19 carries and two TDs). A week after Petersen described the passing game as “painful,” UW saw a 20-of-29 passing day from Cyler Miles for 223 yards and no picks.
The defense also performed well, confining explosive Arizona to 3 of 15 third-down conversions, while allowing only three drives of more than 60 yards.
But a missed field goal that struck an upright, a blown snap on a PAT kick, 13 penalties for 111 yards, and six fumbles, three of which were lost, created debacle from achievement.
“It’s a tough locker room right now,” Petersen told KOMO radio. “I’m proud of these guys. They played hard.”
While some might argue that playing hard is the mandatory minimum, playing smart was far more elusive. Penalties consistently sustained Wildcats drives while backing up the Huskies’ offense.
Speaking of smartness, or lack thereof, Petersen defended two of his most controversial actions.
Washington began its final possession with 4:25 left in the game. After Miles rushed for a first down at the 1:30 mark, it seemed that Washington could kneel for three possessions to win. But Petersen said that he was told from the coaches’ booth that since Arizona had one timeout left, the Huskies would need a first down to avoid punting the ball back to the Wildcats.
“I haven’t looked at it back, but that’s the information I got (from) upstairs,” said Petersen. Then the worst happened — Cooper turned the ball over with 1:23 left at the UW 45-yard line. After a first down, the Wildcats carefully inched toward what would be a shot at the game-winning field goal, a 47-yarder with three seconds left.
Petersen said he didn’t want to call a timeout so late that Skowron would be allowed what amounted to a practice kick on a dead-ball situation. But that’s what happened — and Skowron indeed missed the kick that didn’t count.
“I will say this,” Petersen said in the interview room, a little agitated. “I don’t want to call timeout and let him kick it, and I told the (officials) that I was going to call timeout. And I called it twice before they called it. So it is what it is.
“That’s on me. I should’ve made sure it was not going to get snapped, and should’ve made that perfectly clear.”
Asked whether he was not heard, he said, “I don’t know. I guess not. Standing right there. I told him I was going to do it.”
It may have been another blunder by another Pac-12 officiating crew, most of whom seem to believe the rule book is a language other than English. But Petersen’s dubious late-game management was merely the end chronologically. So many other physical and mental errors littered the path to Skowron’s successful kick that the Wildcats seemed almost fated to pull it out.
The loss was particularly crushing since Petersen noticed something unusual Saturday.
“We had a different spirit, a different passion,” he said. “If they do that during the week, we’ll improve and be a better football team. We deserved to win, but that doesn’t mean we always will win.”
Good for Huskies fans to hear that, 11 games in, the emotion finally is dialed in. They can only hope that smarts follow.