University of Washington

Huskies season defined by late collapses, missed opportunities

Washington tight end Hunter Bryant attempted to answer the question. But, much like his teammates and even his coaches, he couldn’t come up with a clear answer.

He knows the Huskies have had their opportunities. They were up double figures on Oregon and Utah — two top-10 teams — in their last two games. UW led Oregon 28-14 early in the third quarter, and it had a 14-3 lead over Utah in the second and a 21-13 advantage midway through the third. In September, the Huskies also led Cal 10-0 in the second quarter before falling 20-19.

But the Huskies were outscored 54-33 in the second half of both those games, including 24-13 in the fourth quarter. Utah and Oregon outscored UW 21-7 in the fourth. So, the question Bryant faced after Saturday’s 33-28 loss to the ninth-ranked Utes was simple.

Why?

“I think it really just comes down to the details,” Bryant said. “You could see after we got those turnovers on defense at the start of the second half. Those were huge. Then we come out and really just hurt ourselves with false starts with misreads, missed blocks, dropped balls. I think if we can get those details figured out, we’re a really good team.”

Bryant had a point. After he caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Eason to give UW a 21-13 lead with 8:15 left in the third quarter, the Huskies didn’t score again until just more than a minute remained on the clock. In between, UW’s defense recovered two fumbles to give the ball back to the offense.

But with a chance to build on the lead, the Huskies’ faltered. After Elijah Molden recovered a Jordan Wilmore fumble with 7:04 left in third quarter, UW committed two false start penalties, gained just 4 yards and went three-and-out.

Utah took over, reaching its 40-yard line before Edefuan Ulofoshio forced another fumble and freshman cornerback Trent McDuffie scooped it up. UW’s offense had another chance. But quarterback Jacob Eason was sacked on the first play, and then threw an interception to Utah’s Jaylon Johnson. Johnson returned the ball 39-yards for a touchdown that trimmed the Huskies’ advantage to 21-19.

“It really just comes down to practice, how we practice,” Bryant said. “Just taking the week and really just moving forward. I thought we started out the game strong on offense and defense. I thought our defense played incredible today. I think it just comes down to really executing. We just got to execute.”

The defense did play well for most of the game, including holding the Utes to a field goal after an Eason fumble and getting the ball back after Eason’s first interception. But in the fourth quarter, the defense allowed two touchdown drives, both lasting more than 5 minutes and spanning more than 80 yards.

“I feel like a big part of it was we just weren’t getting off the field on third down,” said linebacker Joe Tryon. “They were doing a good job of converting and making tough catches. It is what it is.”

This season, said defensive back Elijah Molden, the Huskies just can’t get over the hump.

“That is the theme of all of our losses,” Molden said. “Effort is never a problem. I believe in the guys on my team. Everyone on the team is trying hard, but we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to work smarter and work harder.”

With three games left on the schedule, UW is sitting at 5-4 and 2-4 in the Pac-12. It will travel to Oregon State on Friday before reaching another bye week. The Huskies will then play Colorado on the road on Nov. 23 before closing the regular season at home against Oregon State on Nov. 29.

After the game, head coach Chris Petersen was asked to look back to the start of the season — before the loss to Cal and the loss to Stanford and two missed opportunities against Oregon and Utah. Even though the Huskies lost nine starters on defense, and two four-year starters at quarterback and running back, did he ever envision the season looking like this?

“I know that every team on the schedule could beat us,” Petersen said. “I believe that every year. I also believe that we could beat every team on the schedule. It depends on how we develop and how we progress and how we are health-wise. I believe that anything is possible. We are going to keep working. We aren’t going to feel sorry for ourselves. It is what it is.

“Back-to-back we played some really good teams. We didn’t make enough plays that is really obvious. All we can do is analyze and try to re-create those mistakes in practice. Try to develop and build skill and keep progressing. We can’t back off or feel sorry for ourselves or anything like that. We all know losing sucks, it does. But OK, we all get that. We all pour a lot into this business we are in, when we don’t get it done, it is painful. We will go back to work and keep getting better.”

Petersen was then asked a follow-up question: Have the Huskies gotten better? Every time UW appears to take a step forward, it stumbles backward again. The Huskies looked strong in victories over BYU and USC before collapsing in a 23-13 loss at Stanford. They rebounded with a dominant second half in a 51-27 win at Arizona, then dropped back-to-back home games against Oregon and Utah.

“It is hard to know,” Petersen said in response. “The last two weeks, we have played top-10 teams. Those are excellent football teams. We are not a top-10 team, but we are right there. With a few more plays, we could be a pretty good team. It is what it is.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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