SEATTLE – This truth was inescapable, and Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen put forth no effort trying to conceal it.
After Washington’s lackluster 45-14 victory over Georgia State, Petersen was fuming. No, he was irritated. Scratch that – he was frustrated. He was disappointed. He was all three at once, and then some, the even-keel task-master turning quotable as he fired from behind the podium.
His team won by 31 points. But the coach spoke of the performance afterward as if he just watched a 50-point loss. To a middle-school team. In the rain.
“I thought the first half,” Petersen said, “was probably about as bad of football as I’ve been around, maybe ever.”
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Indeed, it was bad, perhaps as bad as any half the Huskies have ever played, considering the caliber of opponent. Georgia State is in its fifth season with a football program. The Panthers finished 0-12 last season. They were 36-point underdogs for a reason.
In the first half, they looked more like the New England Patriots than some overmatched Sun Belt team in its second year of FBS membership. And so the Panthers led at halftime, 14-0, the Huskies running off the field to a chorus of boos from a stunned crowd of 64,608.
GSU outgained UW 271-73 in the first half. It ran the ball right at Washington’s defense, the one featuring four potential NFL draft picks. Panthers quarterback Nick Arbuckle threw two touchdown passes. The Huskies – playing without sophomore receiver John Ross, out with a leg injury – rushed for 15 yards. They failed to pick up blitzes. They were, for two full quarters, inept, uninspired and shockingly ineffective.
And afterward, they were honest.
“We took them lightly. Plain and simple,” said sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, who completed 19-of-27 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. “I’m not gonna sugarcoat nothin’. Our team took them lightly, and we can’t do that. I saw from the middle of the week, we were sloppy, and we came out kind of just ‘whatever.’ We can’t ever do that.”
“Really, we didn’t expect them to come out with a fight,” said nose tackle Danny Shelton, who led the team with 13 tackles, two for loss, including a sack. “Personally, I didn’t. Got to give them props. They came out fighting and did a great job, and kind of woke us up, and that’s what we really needed, so I appreciate them for that.”
All that aside, the Huskies (4-0) deserve credit, at least, for scoring 45 unanswered points in the second half en route to what became a blowout. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Lindquist sparked the offense by rushing three times for 35 yards and two touchdowns, taking shotgun snaps and simply bulling forward or juking his way to big gains.
The defense settled down and dominated the way a Pac-12 team should against a Sun Belt team, allowing only 42 yards in the second half. Seven of GSU’s nine second-half possessions ended in punts. One ended in a fumble. And the other ended in a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker John Timu.
Dante Pettis returned four punts for 98 yards, helping the Huskies live on Georgia State’s side of the field for much of the second half. In other words: they did what they were supposed to do. No schematic adjustments were necessary. They just had to get out of their own way.
“I liked the way the kids played the second half,” Petersen said. “It was good. It was inspiring. It was the way football should be played.”
But that first half …
“Our whole thing is are we playing as well as we can? And I think everybody in this room knows the answer to that,” Petersen said. “So that’s when you get truly frustrated. Hey, if we get beat, and we play well, and they’re just better than us, you know, you don’t like it, but you can live with it. But when you’re not living up to your potential for whatever reason, that’s just really, really sad and irritating to a coach.”
And particularly concerning with 16th-ranked Stanford visiting Husky Stadium next week for the Huskies’ Pac-12 opener.
“Did you just see what I saw?” Petersen spat. “I know we’re not ready.”
Try taking those words lightly.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple