Behold, a Washington Huskies football nightmare:
A defense without Marcus Peters, the team’s best defensive back, dismissed earlier this week because he couldn’t get along well enough with coach Chris Petersen and his staff.
A defense without all-time UW sacks leader Hau’oli Kikaha, stuck on the sidelines battling a stinger he suffered in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the 18th-ranked UCLA Bruins at Husky Stadium.
And a defense without star linebacker Shaq Thompson, at least for parts of Saturday’s 44-30 loss to UCLA, because Thompson is also the team’s best running back and the Huskies badly needed to play him some on offense, some on defense and some on special teams.
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For fun, throw in a 14-0 first-quarter deficit and a 31-10 halftime margin against a Bruins team with an NFL prospect at quarterback and a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield.
“The first half,” Petersen said, “was extremely disappointing. UCLA is good and they’re going to bring their A-game, and we certainly did not bring ours.”
The truth is that the Huskies (6-4, 2-4 Pac-12) probably aren’t good enough to beat UCLA at full strength. On Saturday, they had no chance.
The slow start doomed the Huskies. So, too, did the absence of Peters, which meant a defensive backfield consisting of three true freshmen starters. And without Kikaha, the Huskies had little pass rush against Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, who gash-gash-gashed his way to a 29 for 36 passing performance for 302 yards, two touchdowns and another two scores rushing.
The Huskies have now lost three consecutive home games, each to teams that are or were ranked in the nation’s top 25, and have another such matchup next week at Arizona.
“We’ve got to find a way to come out with the same fire we come out (with) when we’re down,” said third-year sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 155 yards and manned a passing game Petersen described as “painful.”
They at least tried to rally. After Hundley scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown and threw a 57-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Kenneth Walker — beat on the play was freshman cornerback Naijiel Hale, starting in place of Peters — the Huskies settled for a red-zone field goal and eventually scored their first touchdown on a Miles rush from six yards out.
Thompson did his thing in the first quarter, carrying seven times for 41 yards. He finished with 100 yards on 16 carries, eight each in the first and second halves, and recorded four tackles on defense and special teams.
“We’ll kind of go back and look at that more closely, and where we need him the most,” Petersen said. “I think he does a heck of a job, competes hard, physical guy, runs hard, and it’s hard not having him out there all the time on defense as well.”
But the Bruins (8-2, 5-2) brought the hammer down on UW’s young, beleaguered defense after UW cut the lead to 14-10.
Hundley capped a 65-yard drive with another touchdown run.
The Huskies punted.
Myles Jack, Bellevue High product and one-who-got-away from UW and its booing fans, bounced off freshman safety Budda Baker, juked Hale with a spin move, then scooted 28 yards up the left sideline for his fifth rushing touchdown against the Huskies in two career games.
The Huskies punted.
UCLA, again, did not. This time, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn tacked on a field goal as the first half expired, allowing a three-touchdown deficit to enbrace the Huskies as they entered the locker room.
Washington at least found a little offense in the second half. Sophomore John Ross III, who played almost exclusively at cornerback after moving from receiver, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and that helped the Huskies outscore UCLA 20-13 in the second half.
“Once we got embarrassed a little there and went to the locker room and kind of adjusted ourselves a little bit, we can do some things,” Petersen said.
Just not enough things. The Huskies didn’t trim the margin any further than 14 points after the second quarter.
“We just started slow again,” tailback Deontae Cooper said. “We started slow last week against Colorado. We came out in the second half and we started getting things going, but it was too late at that point.”
And far, far too little.