Our Sunday ritual continues. Let’s look at positives and negatives from Washington’s 34-23 loss to Utah.
1. The offense hit some chunk plays against a good defense.
Not only did Jake Browning lead a scoring drive on the Huskies’ first possession of the game for the first time this season, but the Huskies also out-chunked Utah in the final statistics.
UW finished with seven passing plays of 15 yards or longer (with a long of 53 on the third-quarter pass from Browning to Joshua Perkins), and had five rushes of 10 yards or longer.
For comparison’s sake, Utah had five such running plays, and five such passing plays. The Utes’ longest play from scrimmage was a 34-yard completion from Travis Wilson to Britain Covey, and their longest rush was 18 yards.
So despite averaging just 4.9 yards per play – a number skewed a bit by the 27-yard loss they took on Korey Durkee’s botched snap, plus five sacks that lost a total of 32 yards – the Huskies were able to hit a few more big plays than most probably anticipated.
“I thought we did some things,” Petersen said. “We had some explosive plays. We still ran the ball a little bit.”
Browning was sacked five times, but he also escaped a few sack attempts and did a decent job of scrambling for positive yardage – his 25-yard scramble was obviously the highlight, and he actually finished with 12 net rushing yards despite the 32 lost yards on sacks.
The freshman still sees room for improvement.
“The best quarterbacks sense pressure and know where to distribute it,” Browning said, “so I think I’ve got to get a little better there, kind of seeing some stuff pre-snap and things like that.”
2. The Huskies converted a little better on third down.
Washington entered the game converting just 35.7 percent of its third-down attempts this season, but improved a bit against Utah by converting 7-of-16 – and that number actually looked like it was going to be even better after UW converted 7 of its first 12.
The Huskies again weren’t great on third-and-short, which Petersen lamented afterward while adding “I think today we were better on 3rd and 10 than we were on some of that other stuff.”
Indeed, five of UW’s third-down conversions came when it needed seven or more yards to pick up a first down. That goes back to some of those chunk plays – the Huskies still weren’t very consistent offensively, but they at least showed an ability to pick up eight to 10 or yards or so on one play when they needed to. That’s not something you could say about this offense earlier in the season.
3. The Huskies gave the ball away five times, had two touchdowns called back due to penalty and still had a chance to beat the 13th-ranked team in the country.
Let me duck for cover real quick, because this one admittedly sounds a lot like one of those moral victories that everyone (rightfully) hates so much. But for all that went wrong for Washington on Saturday night, I think it’s still worth noting that the Huskies trailed by one point for most of the fourth quarter, had the ball on two separate possessions in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead, and rallied from a 21-6 deficit to play a top-15 team to the wire.
Of course, good, seasoned teams don’t commit that many back-breaking turnovers, so that alone is evidence of the gap between a team like Washington and a team like Utah. But the teams averaged the same number of yards per play (4.9), Browning had better numbers than Wilson, and the Huskies did, after all, force three turnovers of their own and held up pretty well defensively (missed tackles aside) despite missing Elijah Qualls and Budda Baker due to injury.
So while you could probably call this UW’s most frustrating loss of the season, it was only frustrating because the Huskies truly felt like they could have won it – or, as Browning said afterward, “it kind of feels like we stopped ourselves.”
For a young team that has struggled so often in this up-and-down season, I do think that rates as a positive, considering the quality of the opponent.
1. Turnovers (what else?)
As Petersen sort of alluded to after the game, the Huskies can live with a turnover or two every now and then. But ideally, those turnovers are going to be committed in the name of trying to make something happen – like a quarterback trying a deep throw into a tight window that gets intercepted, or something similar.
But it’s nearly impossible to commit five turnovers and still beat a team like Utah. And it has to be especially frustrating when four of a team’s five turnovers come from fumbles (yes, UW officially committed only four turnovers, but Korey Durkee’s dropped punt-snap was also, for all intents and purposes, a giveaway).
It’s even worse when two of those fumbles are committed by one player. Dwayne Washington is an important cog in the Huskies’ offense – particularly as a big-play threat, and recently as a pass-catcher out of the backfield – but if he can’t hold on to the ball, the Huskies won’t have any choice but to minimize his role. To his credit, Washington did return to the game and had a few carries after his second fumble. But those are the kind of mistakes that can cripple a young team, and Washington, as a fourth-year junior, should be expected to be a little steadier with the ball in his hands.
“That’s tough,” Petersen said. “Number one job for a running back is protect the football. Dwayne’s an explosive player, made a lot of plays for us, but we’ve got to go back to some ball security things and get that ball ratcheted in there and tightened up so it doesn’t happen, and he’ll go to work and we’ll work extra hard on it.”
The other two turnovers were committed by Browning. First, he threw a bad interception to Utah linebacker Gionni Paul that set up the Utes’ second touchdown. And in the fourth quarter, with UW trailing 31-23 and fewer than three minutes remaining, Browning took a blindside hit, fumbled, and Utah recovered.
The second one is a tough play – it’s late, he was pressured, he was trying to make something happen – but the interception was the kind of catastrophic error the Huskies have mostly avoided this season.
“I know he’s going to learn from that, the little slant route, throwing it off the backer,” Petersen said. “He needed to wait until that second window – I know he had some pressure coming, so he needed to get it out of his hand.”
Utah’s first touchdown was set up by the punt-snap that Durkee dropped late in the first quarter with the Huskies leading 3-0. He chased after it, tried to pick it up, the ball squirted free and UW eventually covered it at its own 17 (though Utah took over at the 32 after a persona-foul penalty).
Tristan Vizcaino took over the punting duties thereafter.
All told, UW gave the ball away four times (three officially) in the first half, and Utah scored 21 points off those miscues. That the Huskies trailed only 24-13 at halftime was a minor miracle.
The Huskies could also argue they were the victim of some questionable officiating – the offensive pass interference call against Joshua Perkins in the fourth quarter seemed particularly egregious – but widespread sympathy isn’t typically directed toward a team that gave the ball away five times. And neither Petersen nor any of the players interviewed afterward were going to ask for any.
“We’ve got to be good enough to overcome those, and not even give the refs an opportunity to call anything,” Browning said. “It’s not like the refs lost us the game or anything like that. We lost the game because we turned the ball over too much and made some mistakes. We’ve got to learn from that and get better.”
2. The Jeff Lindquist package is still a problem (for the Huskies).
Have to wonder how long Petersen will stick with the Lindquist gimmick. The junior quarterback enters the game every now and then and either hands the ball off – sometimes on a fly sweep, sometimes on a more traditional give – or keeps it and runs straight ahead, usually for a minimal gain.
The Huskies trotted Lindquist out for similar duty against Utah, too, and none of those plays went anywhere. A handoff to Chico McClatcher lost four yards, though it was negated due to an offside penalty against Utah. A give to Myles Gaskin lost a yard. And a handoff to Jaydon Mickens went for no gain.
Afterward, Petersen seemed at least somewhat exasperated with the ineffectiveness of that package.
“We’ve got to look at that – is it being productive?” Petersen said. “We get in the Wildcat and (to) not get anything done, we need to look at that, bring in different guys – I don’t think it’s necessarily on Jeff or anything like that. We’ve got to look at that … we’ve got to figure something out to be able to get a yard or two on a pretty highly consistent basis.”
Said offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, via Sports Radio KJR’s Kevin Shockey: “We’re going to continue to look, because (Lindquist) is a captain of this team and we’d like to have him be a part of it.”
3. Another injury for Budda Baker.
The star safety’s status is uncertain for next weekend’s game at Arizona State, but if he has a concussion, I’d be a little surprised to see him play just one week after sustaining it.
Baker had just laid a pretty hard hit on Utah receiver Britain Covey when safety Jojo McIntosh arrived with a big pop of his own, and the impact seemed to jar Baker’s head in a pretty violent way. He stayed down for quite a while before standing up and walking off the field with several trainers.
It’s been a rough season for Baker, injury-wise. He sprained his ankle on the first series of UW’s Sept. 19 win over Utah State, had to sit out the following week against California, then came back after UW’s bye to play in the Oct. 8 victory at USC.
Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said it was “unbelievable” that Baker was able to recover from an ankle sprain that quickly. He’s one of the toughest players the Huskies have. But head injuries are obviously a different animal, and there’s nothing Baker can do until he’s cleared to return to action.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple