SEATTLE – For Washington’s offense, the struggle is real. And really alarming.
There is no denying that now, not after the Huskies scrambled, ducked, scrambled some more and eventually fell in a 20-13 loss against the No. 16 Stanford Cardinal before 66,512 at Husky Stadium.
The Huskies, inconsistent while going 4-0 in nonconference play, showed up for their first real test of the season against the defending Pac-12 champions and looked very much like a team with four NFL draft picks on its defense.
Offensively, though – hold on a second, did Cyler Miles just get forced from the pocket again?
The third-year sophomore quarterback had the worst day of his young career, completing 15-of-29 passes for just 98 yards. It wasn’t all his fault. Stanford’s defensive front seemed to be in the backfield on every play.
“I think there might have been a couple times I could have hung in the pocket and continued to make reads instead of getting out of there,” said Miles, dejected during his postgame interview. “That’s just something I have to continue to work on.”
Miles was sacked four times. He was hurried, he was impatient, he was erratic, he was knocked around, and he more or less symbolized a Huskies offense that did so little right, coach Chris Petersen called for a fake punt on 4th-and-9 from UW’s 47-yard line, the score tied 13-13, with 7:37 left in the game.
That call, he said, is “on me. That was too much. Just trying to make some things happen.”
Asking linebacker Shaq Thompson to pick up nine yards on a fake-punt carry in the middle of the field was a little brash, to be sure. But it says plenty that Petersen thought it was worth trying. The Huskies’ offense was nearly comatose, gaining only 179 yards and averaging 2.6 yards per play against a Stanford defense that, to be fair, allowed just 13 points in its first three games.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and try to get our quarterback some answers, for sure,” Petersen said. “That usually starts in the running game. We’ve got to be able to run the ball better, and then we’ve got to figure out what we need to do to move the ball downfield throwing it a little bit.”
Stanford’s offense finally did what it needed to pull away, responding to Washington’s failed fake punt by driving 47 yards in eight plays for a 5-yard Kevin Hogan touchdown run with 4:29 to play.
UW had two possessions after that. It gained two first downs, driving to Stanford’s 28-yard line on its final possession, but face-planted when Miles was called for intentional grounding on second down. Two plays later, the game was over.
The main reason the Huskies were even in the game – in addition to the outstanding punting of Korey Durkee – was because of how well their defense played. Thompson scored one of UW’s two touchdowns on a 32-yard strip-and-score, the linebacker taking the ball from Stanford running back Remound Wright during a pileup, then running into the end zone before anyone really knew what had happened.
UW forced two other turnovers, one of them coming in the red zone when Hogan fumbled and defensive tackle Danny Shelton recovered with 12:51 left in the game. And it forced a key three-and-out with 1:59 to play to at least give the offense one more chance to score.
“We got better,” Thompson said. “We made turnovers and made stops, got three-and-outs and tried to give our offense the ball back.”
A lot of good that did. In addition to their passing woes, the Huskies rushed the ball 38 times for just 81 yards – Petersen described the second-half run game as “nonexistent” – and the thought of them scoring grew so unfathomable that, after Stanford scored its final touchdown and booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, away from dangerous returner John Ross, Petersen chose to decline that penalty, which would have put the ball at UW’s 35-yard line.
Stanford (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) was offsides on the kick, a 5-yard penalty that gave the Huskies the option to have the Cardinal kick it again. So they did. And they kicked it to Ross. And Ross was tackled at the 16-yard line, 19 yards shy of where UW would have had the ball if Petersen had just accepted the kick-out-of-bounds penalty.
“We were trying to create something,” Petersen said. “Trying to get the ball in our playmaker’s hands and see if he can create something.”
They didn’t do a great job of that the rest of the game, either, completing only three passes to Ross for 16 yards.
Getting him the ball more often is a priority, Petersen said. But first, they have to figure out how to move the ball forward, at all. UW’s only offensive touchdown came on Miles’ best throw of the day, a 25-yard toss over the shoulder of receiver Jaydon Mickens in the right corner of the end zone. That pass aside, Miles averaged 2.5 yards per attempt.
Maybe the ensuing bye week will help.
“We’re going to certainly, as coaches, go back and analyze every piece of tape we can get our hands on, and really try to simplify some things to get our offense more in a groove where it can latch onto something and have some success with certain things,” Petersen said. “And figure out how to make that quarterback successful.”
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple