The unenviable task of the interim coach is to convince players that matters are not as bad as they are. So he tries things to elevate. To motivate. To distract. To ignore. To minimize.
Huskies interim head coach Bob Gregory’s tactic Tuesday at Washington’s weekly press briefing was to wear a black T-shirt with yellow letters that read: PLAY WITH JOY.
Turned out it wasn’t quite as effective as fictional soccer coach Ted Lasso’s “Believe.” But what the hell. If the competitive circumstance in non-fictional sports has deteriorated sufficiently to resort to slogans, it doesn’t much matter what the T-shirt says.
The hindsight from Saturday afternoon in Boulder suggests, however, that another command, SNAP THE BALL CORRECTLY, might have inspired better results.
The Huskies twice failed at the most fundamental aspect of offensive football, leading directly to 10 Colorado points and a 20-17 Buffaloes victory (box) that was a surprisingly close second, in terms of galling ineptitude, to the 13-7 loss to lower-tier Montana in the season opener.
Since it was game 11 instead of game 1, the outcomes suggest that over the course of the season, almost no progress occurred. There is no plainer explainer as to why Jimmy Lake and John Donovan were fired, and why the same fate awaits most of the remaining staff, including Gregory.
In big-time college ball, if you can’t get better quickly, you must get out of the way.
The Huskies have one more game to get better, the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium at 5 p.m. Friday. A win over Washington State (6-5 after beating Arizona 44-18 Friday) would certainly be gratifying. But there will be no subsequent bowl game thereafter, because at 4-7, the Huskies can’t meet the six-win minimum.
Given two external facts — there are more bowl games these days than sequins on an Elton John outfit, and the Huskies play nine games in the mediocre Pac-12 Conference — the unworthiness for a bid is a stunner for a team that was ranked 20th in the Associated Press pre-season poll.
“It’s disappointing because everybody wants to play that extra game, play the game they love,” Huskies DB Kyler Gordon told reporters after the game. “It kind of sucks.”
The result assured Washington of its first losing season since 2009, the initial year of coach Steve Sarkisian that was 5-7. That low-water mark was reached despite Washington’s flat-out dominance, out-gaining the Buffs 426 yards to 183, and permitting only two third-down conversions (one by penalty) in 13 attempts.
Even Buffs coach Karl Dorrell was in disbelief.
“It’s interesting to look at the stat sheet,” he said. “You would say, ‘How did they win that game?'”
As is usual in such cases, the answer was turnovers.
QB Dylan Morris had two interceptions and fumbled away a low shotgun snap in the first quarter that was scooped and scored by LB Jack Lamb with an 88-yard return. The final was a fourth-quarter shotgun snap from C Jake Wattenberg that struck his own leg and was recovered at the Huskies 7-yard line, which Colorado turned into the winning margin via field goal.
The Huskies offense had a few excuses, missing starters TE Cade Otton, RB Sean McGrew and WR Terrell Bynum, presumably due to injuries. But their presences wouldn’t have influenced the snaps. Besides, at this point in the season, every team has lost key players.
The mistakes helped ruin the best game of the year for the maligned defense, which held the Buffs to 71 yards rushing (2.6 ypc) and a single offensive touchdown. But as has frequently been the case this season, the defense tired late and began breaking down just enough for the Buffs to sneak away with their fourth win of the season.
“I’m not sure our guys (on defense) could have done much more, other than get a turnover,” Gregory said. “When there’s four turnovers on the other side of the ball, that makes it hard on us.”
In the search for a new head coach, the UW athletics department undoubtedly has a long list of requirements. They might want to move higher up on the list the box marked: Teaches fundamentals.