On a Saturday wherein sixth-ranked Oregon fell to 5-5 Arizona State and Washington State gave up 29 points in less than 10 fourth-quarter minutes and still won, the Pac-12 Conference events on a cold, dry evening in Boulder, CO, may be little noted nor long remembered.
But that’s only if you don’t wear purple.
Huskies fans can only hope the banging and clattering around the rest of the league drown out the giant sucking sounds Washington made in losing 20-14 to Colorado (box). Arguably the conference’s worst team entering the game, the Buffaloes appeared to allow the Huskies to win the argument.
For the third time this season (after Cal and Stanford), the Huskies (6-5) lost to an underdog conference foe (5-6) by offering up a feckless offense and a fading defense. This outcome was made acutely odious by the fact that they were coming off their second bye in a month and had not lost to Colorado since a bowl game in 1996, a streak of nine consecutive wins that included all seven matchups since the Buffs entered the league.
“I just know we have more to us than that,” coach Chis Petersen said. “It’s real frustrating. When you come in and score 14 points, that’s not going to be good enough to win in this league.
“We got off to such a poor start offensively in he first half. We put our defense in too much of a back-to-the-wall mentality.”
Before the game came news that Ralphie, the most entertaining live mascot in college football, was unavailable because the buffalo had become too fat. The Huskies played as if they didn’t want Ralphie to languish alone in humiliation.
In the first half, the Huskies had one possession that went 25 yards in seven plays, four drives that were three-and-out, and a red-zone interception by QB Jason Eason — the fifth in his past seven quarters — that was a soul-crusher for an obviously emotionally fragile team.
“That was a huge turnaround,” Petersen said of UW’s second possession that reached the Colorado 11-yard line when Eason forced a throw that LB Nate Landman picked and returned 21 yards. “That hurts. We felt like we had gotten momentum going.”
Mediocre as was Eason’s game — 21 completions in 34 attempts for 206 yards, and a rating of 39.9 — it was spectacular when compared to the rushing attack.
The Huskies managed 32 net yards in 32 carries, although that included a minus-29 from Eason’s five sacks. The Buffs had a conference-low nine sacks entering the game.
Missing RG Jaxson Kirkland, a 25-game starter, who left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a serious leg injury, the offense was virtually shattered by a Colorado defense that had given up 30 or more points in each of its first nine games.
The Buffs, who ended a five-game losing streak last week with a 16-13 win over Stanford, were 10th in scoring defense, 11h in opponent yards per carry, passing defense and opponent pass efficiency, yet shut out the Huskies in the first half.
The first two possessions of the second half produced scoring drives of 75 yards each to show Washington had slowed its rigor mortis. Then in the fourth quarter, the Huskies had what should have been their big break — a 52-yard punt return by Aaron Fuller to the Colorado 37.
Instead, they went backward, due to another of Eason’s often ghastly retreats, resulting in a 13-yard sack and a three-and-out punt. They never held the ball again, the Buffs driving from their own 1-yard line into the Huskies’ red zone in five slow-motion minutes. They out-gained he Huskies 430 yards to 238, including 257-91 in the first half.
“That was painful because we got the momentum play we needed, then got nothing done,” Petersen said of the possession after Fuller’s return. “We had chances. We made some good plays, threw some good balls, made tough catches. We’re just not consistent enough.”
Meanwhile in Pullman, Washington State won another preposterous game, this one 54-53 over Oregon State (box) after Cougars QB Anthony Gordon completed 50 of 70 passes for 606 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. His 45 touchdown passes broke the Pac-12’s single-season record shared by Jake Browning and Jared Goff.
That made Cougars bowl-eligible for a record fifth year in a row, with a 6-5 record that matches Washington’s heading into the annual Apple Cup disputation Friday (1 p.m., FOX) at Husky Stadium that concludes a regular season disappointing for both sides.
The short week around the Thanksgiving holiday provides Washington little in the way of time for repairs. But time is not the Huskies’ issue — they had a bye prior to heading to Boulder.
They have a shortage of Pac-12 level talent and coaching, the latter of which may be altered by a change at offensive coordinator, where Bush Hamdan seems to have no answers for Eason’s wanderings and the equally surprising futility of an experienced line.
The best thing for us is to go right back to work,” Petersen said of the short week. “It’s a big game important to a lot of people, and this team as well. We’ll go at it right away.”
Since the Huskies have won six Apple Cups in a row and are at home, logic suggests that the Huskies should win. But logic, as we have seen this season, is a characteristic down low on the list of invitees to the Pac-12 party, well behind bewilderment, tomfoolery, hijinks, mayhem and officiating incompetence, all scored with Benny Hill’s theme music.
Only three teams have records better than 6-5, and it may be Utah that carries the conference’s tattered flag to the College Football Playoff Arguments Committee. The wizards will begin debate by dusting off an atlas to determine Utah’s location.