HONOLULU – With a Hawaiian lei draped around his neck as he stood on the Aloha Stadium field, John Timu’s evaluation of the Washington Huskies’ 17-16 victory over Hawaii on Saturday was understandably tempered.
The senior linebacker was happy the Huskies won. That fact aside, he also spoke an inescapable truth, one each of his teammates would do well to heed as they prepare for their home opener this Saturday against Eastern Washington.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Timu said. “Offense, defense, special teams. A lot of work to be done. All we can do now is improve.”
There is plenty of room to do so. The Huskies (1-0) weren’t particularly impressive in any area of the game, though their defense performed admirably in the second half despite being put in adverse circumstances by a UW offense that punted on each of its first eight second-half possessions.
“Certainly, as a team, we didn’t play nearly like we think we can play,” coach Chris Petersen said after his first game with UW. “I think it’s going to be a big wake-up call.”
It’s the offense that most needs awakening. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Lindquist, in his first career start, completed just 10 of 26 passes and missed a few throws to open receivers that likely would have yielded big gains. And aside from Lavon Coleman’s six carries for 37 yards on the final drive, the Huskies’ running game – behind a veteran, experienced offensive line – struggled to establish itself.
“If we knew exactly what it was, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Lindquist said of the offensive struggles in the second half. “So that’s something we’ll kind of look at and see where we can improve.”
It’s unclear whether Lindquist will remain the Huskies’ starting quarterback when they face the Eagles on Saturday. Petersen said after Saturday’s game that he hopes to make a decision early in the week, and that “we’re going to do this thing the right way. We’re going to look at this with a fine-toothed comb and figure out what the best is, and we’ll go that direction.”
That would seem to imply that third-year sophomore Cyler Miles, who was suspended for the Hawaii game, will be given strong consideration.
Lindquist looked relatively comfortable in the first half, when he completed 7-of-11 passes for 134 yards and a fantastic 91-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver John Ross. But there was nothing to feel good about in the second half, when Lindquist completed 3-of-15 as the offense failed to put together any meaningful drives.
“We couldn’t throw it at all in the second half,” Petersen said. “So we’ll analyze that, Everybody will always want to put it on the quarterback. It’s not going to always be him.
“I thought first half, Jeff did a pretty solid job. The second half, things aren’t going so well and he hasn’t played in a long time and that’s hard. When it’s all good, it’s good. But when it’s not, it can be confusing and hard. It’s been a long time. It’s good for him to have to go through some of those things and we’ve got to get better at these situations.”
There were miscues in the Huskies’ young secondary, too – some growing pains are to be expected with three new starters, including true freshman Budda Baker – and that might be of most concern entering Saturday’s game against an Eastern Washington team ranked No. 2 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll.
The Eagles are led by dynamic quarterback Vernon Adams, who threw for 4,994 yards and 55 touchdowns last season and rushed for another 605 yards. And he’s led an EWU offense this season that has outscored its first two opponents 97-44.
In other words: the Huskies probably can’t play like they did against Hawaii and expect to win.
“I just felt like our whole team played too tight,” Petersen said. “We got off to a bad start, and we were playing not to lose. Our defense would get into a rhythm, do some good things, and our offense wouldn’t do anything and it just started to snowball a little bit … We’ve got to have a much more aggressive mindset – ‘hey, we’re supposed to win, and we’re supposed to do this, and we’re not winning,’ and everybody tightens up and now we don’t play how we can play.”
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple