As Washington State fans flooded the Martin Stadium playing field after the Cougars’ 31-28 overtime Apple Cup victory over Washington on Friday, Danny Shelton trudged toward the tunnel leading to the visitors’ locker room and then turned around. The UW defensive tackle had a score to settle with the opponents, or their fans, or maybe just the world in general.
Although Shelton was restrained by teammates, his tantrum was appropriate: On an afternoon the Huskies exhibited little self-control while the game was in limbo, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at least one player lost his poise after the game was over.
How does a bowl-bound team blow an 18-point lead to a team whose most newsworthy achievement of the 2012 season was avoiding mutiny? How does Washington allow the largest comeback in Apple Cup history?
Washington allowed it by committing seven penalties during the fourth quarter, culminating a game in which the Huskies were penalized 18 times for 129 yards. A few of the flags were borderline, and one was confusing, but the officials called 18 penalties, and not all of them were ticky-tack.
“Eighteen,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, “is a ridiculous number of penalties.”
Ridiculous is one word, but there are others. “Historic,” for instance. The 18 penalties called on the Huskies tied a school record set in 1976.
More revealing than the number of penalties were the variety of them. After the Huskies seemed to have the game under control – they took a 28-10 lead with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter – two pass-interference calls contributed to the WSU touchdown drive that cut the margin to 28-17.
The Cougars got even more help during their ensuing possession, when defensive end Andrew Hudson was flagged for roughing the passer, and linebacker Shaq Thompson was flagged for a facemask tackle, and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters were flagged for pass interference.
“When you give up three 15-yard penalties on the same drive,” said defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, “it’s hard to keep the other team from scoring.”
Actually, the Huskies gave up four major penalties on that drive – three of them inside their 10-yard line.
“I don’t think we’re trusting our technique,” continued Wilcox. “On third down, you can’t get called for pass interference. You can’t hit ’em late. Those things kill you.”
Trufant denied his technique was at fault.
“I felt I was covering great, honestly,” said the senior from Wilson High School. “But sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel had a different perspective on the Black Friday distinguished by yellow flags.
“They were holding the heck out of our receivers – it was the only way they could stop them,” Tuel said during a postgame radio interview. “You see guys being (held) out there, I just threw to them because I knew we had at least 15 yards.”
The defensive backfield, it should be pointed out, wasn’t the only Huskies unit that drew the attention of the officials. On the first snap of Washington’s second possession, center Drew Schaefer was called for holding. Moments later, special-teams player Thomas Tutogi made a false start.
A pattern was established, and it would extend late into the fourth quarter, when the Huskies, in position for a potential winning field goal, faced a third-and-1 play at the WSU 15. But as they lined up, left tackle Micah Hatchie stumbled, pushing the ball back to the 20.
Sarkisian apparently thought that penalty was called on quarterback Keith Price, but the coach can be forgiven his confusion. When your team accumulates more flags than first downs, it’s difficult to keep track.
“If the officials call them, they’re penalties,” Sarkisian went on. “I can argue until I’m blue in the face, but they have the power to make calls.”
Blue in the face? Considering the trouble his team has had adhering to basic rules, Sarkisian’s facial hue ought to be red. The Huskies were flagged 106 times this season, most in Washington history.
It’s one thing to jump offside, or make the occasional false start in September, when consistently crisp execution is more a concept than a reality. But in the Apple Cup, the 12th game on the schedule?
Maybe Sarkisian’s first word on the topic Friday was the best word.