Last time the Washington Huskies met Utah 11 months ago, they won the Pac-12 championship, 10-3, without benefit of an offensive touchdown. So if the Huskies, aided by the presence of highly regarded QB Jacob Eason, knew early Saturday morning ahead of the rematch that they were about to put up 28 points and gain 369 yards against the still-formidable Utes defense, they would have demanded to know where to sign up for that worthy feat.
However, any reliance on comparative history would betray them.
Eason, it turns out, has more Jake Browning in him than anyone realized, at least on Saturday’s otherwise glorious afternoon at Husky Stadium. And his teammates collectively have a little less talent in them too, less than anyone has seen since coach Chris Petersen’s first couple of years at Montlake.
Just as they fell to Oregon 35-31 with a second-half collapse a week ahead of the bye, they failed after the bye in the second half against Utah. The 33-28 loss (box) to the ninth-ranked Utes (8-1, 5-1) was abetted by two third-quarter interceptions of Eason, including a 39-yard pick-six by CB Jaylon Johnson, plus a first-half lost fumble that led to Utah’s first three points.
The swoon that has left the 5-4 Huskies with four conference losses by November’s first weekend is hardly all on Eason. But by default, he’s the talent that has to carry his largely mediocre teammates. He’s not quite up for the rescue.
“I don’t know,” said Petersen about the back-to-back fades. “These are good teams
for a reason — they pour it on when it matters. They are playing better than us in the fourth quarter.
“It was self-inflicted wounds. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Eason also lacked any incisive wisdom, at least any he’d like to share publicly.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” he said. “Part of that is on me, being smart with the ball. I’ll take the blame there, and learn from it.”
In the other locker room, problems were few. The afternoon was a breakthrough milestone for the Utah program. In his 15th year at Utah — the third-longest active, single-school coaching tenure in NCAA football — Kyle Whittingham has eaten a lot of purple dirt. The Utes were 1-12 against UW, including the title loss and a 21-7 regular-season defeat in Salt Lake City last season.
“It’s up there for me,” he said of the road victory. “I’d have to go back and look at them, but it’s up there. It’s very, very satisfying, especially under the circumstances.”
Petersen was very unsatisfied, but suggested that the worthiness of the opponents should be taken into account.
“The last two weeks, we have played top-10 teams,” he said. “Those are excellent
football teams. We are not a top-10 team, but we are right there. With a few more plays, we could be a pretty good team.”
— Utah Athletics (@utahathletics) November 2, 2019
One of those plays was a curious failed choice, a turnover on downs, that was not the fault of the players, even if the result was a critical drop that turned the game’s emotional current.
Ahead 14-10 after dominating the Utes, Washington faced a 4th-and-1 at the Utah 45-yard line with 1:15 left in the half. Coming out of a timeout, Petersen decided against a dive by Eason and instead chose a pass play that began with Hunter Bryant, who moved into third place in UW’s list of receiving yards by tight ends (six for 106, 1,126 for career), in motion to the right.
Under center, Eason dropped straight back, backpedaling under pressure, and lofted a soft, catchable ball. It was directed not to Bryant but to TE Devin Culp. A 6-3, 262-pound redshirt freshman from Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, he may be a star of the future. But his moment was now, and he had yet to catch a pass for Washington. He didn’t catch this one, either.
Asked whether Culp was the primary, Petersen immediately said yes, without elaboration.
Eason, when asked if Bryant was the first choice, had another view.
“Yeah, off the jump,” he said of Bryant. “I don’t know if the (defender) was coming downhill or not. I went through my progression to the next option (Culp). I tried to give him a chance.”
Going to a rookie for the game’s biggest play to that point had a bad outcome. Even though just 1:09 was left, senior QB Tyler Huntley took the turnover on downs and moved Utah smartly over 41 yards in eight plays for a field goal at 0:00 to cut the lead to one and establish that Utah’s offense had found itself after the slow start.
Huntley passed for 240 yards in the second half to finish 29 of 34 for 284 yards, and converted on 10 of 17 third and fourth downs. He was the better QB Saturday, as Eason’s game deteriorated when the UW went pass-only. He was 17 of 35 in the second half and finished 29 of 52 for 316 yards and the three turnovers.
He had his moments, including four touchdown passes, two to Bryant. The missed chance to get the ball to Bryant before the half was among the “few more plays” that Petersen referenced.
Dismal as was the outcome for UW, the Huskies have a short week before playing Friday night in Corvallis against an Oregon State team (4-4, 3-2) team that manhandled Arizona 56-38 Saturday with 572 yards of offense.
The Beavers are improved, but not a top-10 team. A Washington loss Friday blows away the Huskies’ final fig leaf that they are “a few more plays” from being a good team.