Admittedly, my head is still pounding this morning – sort of a constant ringing. Might be one (or more) of the following:
1, A head cold is coming on.
2, The Washington State Cougars, my alma mater, can force that many turnovers and still get manhandled by a Pacific-10 Conference team.
3, The Huskies are the most unusual, unpredictable, UNREAL football bunch I've seen, or covered, in a long, long time, possibly ever.
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I can take a few Tylenol cold tablets to deal with "A" and "B." Haven't figured out the "C" solution.
The numbers from last night's 36-33 UW victory over Arizona don't look good, but they don't tell the whole story, either. The ones that clearly jump out:
• Total yards: Arizona 461, UW 256.
• Total plays: Arizona 83, UW 47.
• First downs: Arizona 26, UW 14.
• Red-zone trips: Arizona had eight; UW had one.
• Time of possession: Arizona 39:19, UW 20:41.
Let's make something clear up front – the Huskies were outplayed in this game. Arizona's defense, for the most part, dictated tempo and the action. And the Wildcats' offense kept chewing up yardage, and the clock.
Today, let's examine a little bit of the UW defense.
By now, everyone knows how decimated the unit has been my injuries, particularly in the secondary. True freshman Nate Fellner made his first career start at free safety. Junior Victor Aiyewa made his second career start at strong safety. Adam Long saw his first significant time at cornerback, rotating in for Quinton Richardson and also part of the team's nickel package.
The No. 1 priority for the Huskies was evident: Slow down the Pac-10's best rushing attack. They often had eight players in the box (near the line of scrimmage), bringing Aiyewa up for support.
And they were fairly successful, holding Arizona to 77 yards on the ground (it was also aided by Nic Grigsby's second-quarter exit with a leg injury).
The No. 2 priority was limiting the Wildcats' big-play capability. Their receivers had a distinct advantage in speed and athleticism over the UW defensive backs.
By my count, Arizona had five plays of 20 or more yards – its best coming on Nick Foles' 29-yard completion to Juron Criner in the first quarter. In the big picture of giving up 384 passing yards (and 461 total), that's not too shabby, given the circumstances.
Sonny Dykes, Arizona's high-profile and innovative offensive coordinator, and the one that really has put "Air Zona" on the map nationally, had the luxury of attacking the middle of the UW's defense with deeper routes because he had Grigsby and company still in the fold.
But that philosophy changed drastically in the second half. The Wildcats attacked the fringe on both sides with a steady diet of bubble screens (and the occasional end-around by Travis Cobb).
"We were limited in the secondary coming into the game. It was pretty evident with Nate Williams being out and Justin Glenn being out. So we had a hard time getting into some nickel and dime packages," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We ended up having to play base defense versus them and they were going to four-(receiver) wide sets. They knew we were in zone defense. We obviously couldn't play man-to-man with (linebacker) on wideouts. It presented a huge challenge for us to be able to deploy everybody to cover down on everything."
By my unofficial count, 17 of Foles' 31 second-half attempts were of that variety, targeting receivers David Roberts, Terrell Turner, David Douglas and Delashaun Dean.
"Never (seen that many)," Richardson said, shaking his head afterward. "It kept happening, so they kept going back to it. We really couldn't stop it."
Dykes' reasons were pretty astute. One, in essence, the short-passing game replaced the run game. Two, his athletes on the outside were superior to the UW's, so why not attack them? And finally, three Huskies' defensive backs had not seen a lot of game action.
"They were basically daring us to make tackles," Long said. "That is what it came down to."
And that is where the statistics are a bit misleading. Yeah, the UW surrendered a lot of yards, gave up its share of first downs and had trouble getting the ball in the hands of its offense.
But the Huskies tackled well. And they didn't allow the knockout touchdown.
"Our run defense was so solid, they were trying to get guys out of the box. We let them have those little bubble screens," Fellner said. "Sometimes they went for more than 10 yards, but our game plan was … to eliminate the big plays, and we pretty much did so."
Now to the final stages, and where I thought Dykes made a mistake. After the UW scored on Jake Locker's 25-yard pass to Kavario Middleton to cut it to 33-28 with 2:55 to go, the Wildcats never gave the UW defense anything else to think about but the bubble screen.
Or at least that is what the Huskies had on their mind when linebacker Mason Foster and Aiyewa jumped the bubble-screen route on the Wildcats' first drive from their own 37.
The maneuver made Foles hesitate enough to make a bad throw to Dean down the right seam a few yards up. The ball hit Dean's left foot and bounced right in the arms of Foster, who was standing a few yards behind. Foster returned it 37 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"Honestly that was Mason being a great athlete. That is what that was," said Long, who was on the same sideline the pass was thrown. "They kept running the bubble screens, so I'm sure football awareness kind of kicked in. He jumped that route and made a perfect play."
Other stuff from Saturday:
• The injury to left guard Gregory Christine was pretty gruesome. Just like safety Justin Glenn did last week against Notre Dame, Christine broke the fibula in his right leg with 31 seconds to go in the first half. His season is finished, and Nick Wood and/or Mykenna Ikehara will likely take his place in the starting lineup.
Running back Chris Polk (shoulder) exited the game on the UW's second drive, but returned. Defensive tackle Cameron Elisara and linebacker E.J. Savannah suffered shoulder stingers, but Sarkisian said they should be fine for this week's game at Arizona State.
• When Polk went out, Sarkisian turned to Locker more in the ground game. The junior from Ferndale had season-highs in carries (11) and yards (92), including his 56-yard TD scamper in the first quarter.
"I couldn't get a good gauge on Chris. We had Demitrius Bronson in there, who is a true freshman playing for us. We did have a stretch in there where I thought to myself, 'Let's just let (No. 10) maneuver us down the field, whether it was with his feet or throwing the ball,'" Sarkisian said. "And there were some things in coverage that allowed us to do that."
• Sarkisian also addressed the team's 3-3 record, as opposed to being 2-4 and on the verge of being knocked out of bowl contention.
"We're now 2-1 in our conference. That's a huge step, because if you go to 1-2, it gets hard. There hasn't been a time I can remember when (a team) that lost two games and made it to the Rose Bowl," Sarkisian said. "It's big in the sense that we had just lost two ballgames and last week was an emotional, gut-wrenching loss. For our kids to come back and get this win keeps us revitalized and keeps us upbeat about what we're doing and why we do the things we do."
• Middleton, the sophomore out of Lakes High School, put the Huskies in position with his acrobatic 25-yard TD catch just inside the right pylon with just under three minutes remaining.
"Actually we had run that play a couple plays before. Jermaine (Kearse) got open (but it went incomplete)," Middleton said "We told them to call it again. They called it again. Jermaine cleared it out, and I was wide open."
Middleton said after the score, he was sitting on the bench to "keep my hamstring" warm since it tightened up during the game.
"Next thing you know, I saw Mason on the big screen running toward the end zone," Middleton said, "so I had to get up, and ran down there."