A loss at Arizona State (3-3, 2-1) for Washington (6-1, 3-1) is hardly a shock. The Huskies haven’t won in Tempe since 2001, when some of the current players were toddlers. What was shocking Saturday night was one of the nation’s most efficient offenses playing so inefficiently, a startling replication of the same case a night earlier in eighth-ranked Washington State’s 37-3 loss at Cal.
A late touchdown averted fifth-ranked Washington’s first shutout in seven years, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the first defeat of a season that otherwise had a straight road to another appearance in the College Football Playoffs.
The 13-7 loss (box) was perpetrated largely by a Sun Devils defense that had two weeks to concoct a series of blitzes and stunts that confused UW’s experienced line and sent QB Jake Browning into seemingly perpetual panic runs. Five of them ended in sacks, several of which were huge despite facing pressures from four linemen or less.
After the Huskies’ failures in their first pressurized game of the season, coach Chris Petersen sounded bewildered.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “It’s probably one of the more frustrating nights I’ve had on offense in a long, long time.”
One element was no mystery: Two missed field goals by Van Soderberg. The redshirt freshman replaced fifth-year senior Tristan Vizcaino, who had become inexplicably shaky. Then Soderberg wobbled in his footsteps, missing in the second and fourth quarters to put more pressure on the offense.
“I knew (field goals) would be a deciding factor, but I thought we’d make those field goals too,” he said. “We were pretty much like clockwork in practice. and we couldn’t get it done.
“It’s going to come up again.”
Averaging a conference-leading 432 yards of total offense a game, the Huskies managed 230, failing to get a second first down until the third quarter. The Huskies cleared few holes for the running game, the three backs accumulating 115 yards on 21 carries, most of that on the final drive to the touchdown that consumed 3:32 over 14 plays and 71 yards.
The most significant failure was pass protection. But even when Browning (17 for 30 for a career-low 139 yards) had a pocket, he often was off, or his receivers had drops. Even the coaches messed up, burning two timeouts in the second half because of misalignments.
“It was really frustrating that we had to use a couple timeouts on offense because we weren’t organized enough,” Petersen said. “Sometimes playing hard is not going to be good enough. If we don’t play to our standards we’ll get beat. And we did.”
Oddly enough, the Huskies were not sloppy — they had no turnovers and only three penalties. And the defense was its usual stout self. After a game-opening touchdown drive of 63 yards, the Sun Devils had only 121 for the rest of the game until the final possession, when they managed to burn the final 5:32 with two third-down conversions that kept the ball away from UW for a shot at a game-winning drive.
“I felt bad for the defense,” Petersen said. “They were stout.”
But the offense could not string together two good plays in a row until the final drive. But Petersen said overconfidence was not a factor.
“Trust me, we came in here knowing Arizona State was going to play good,” he said. “For whatever reason, we got nothing going on offense. Then we started pressing a little bit. When we did do something. we couldn’t capitalize on it.”
That happened early in the fourth quarter when freshman RB Salvon Ahmed took a reverse 50 yards for an apparent touchdown, only to have it negated by a holding call.
“When Savon hit the reverse, that was the break we needed,” he said. “I thought, here we go.”
Instead, they went nowhere.
Although the loss likely ends a return to the CFP, the Huskies still have many worthwhile things to play for. But as they enter the bye week ahead of an Oct. 29 home game against UCLA, they also know something else — they have been exposed.
Huskies lose two starters
The Huskies had two significant injuries. LT Trey Adams hurt a knee in the third quarter and did not return. CB Jordan Miller, second on the defense with nine tackles, had a leg injury on ASU’s final big pass play that put the game out of reach. An air cast was put on Miller’s right leg and he was taken from the field on a cart.