The consolation in suffering a 24-7 defeat is that it discourages any pointing of fingers.
Jake Browning picked a bad time to throw the worst pass of his life, but the Washington Huskies did not lose Saturday because their quarterback made a regrettable decision before halftime. They did not lose because John Ross couldn’t take care of the ball after catching a pass, or because the only deceptive play called by head coach Chris Petersen was a punt on fourth down.
The Huskies lost because their best chance to beat Alabama was to perform flawlessly, and they committed a slew of mistakes.
Washington couldn’t establish the ground attack required to loosen up a defense that was as dominant as advertised. Unable to achieve the rhythm associated with a typically balanced offense, they spent almost the entire afternoon — more than 50 minutes on the game clock — in a futile attempt to advance the ball beyond midfield.
The Huskies’ longest play was a 20-yard screen pass to running back Myles Gaskin. It led to their lone touchdown and a 7-0 lead, the ideal scenario for a substantial underdog. Applying early pressure on an opponent that is not used to playing from behind figured to be pivotal, and as the television camera revealed the stunned faces of Crimson Tide fans after Dante Pettis scored, shock was in the air.
In retrospect, the apparent ease with which Washington moved the ball on its second possession was not an ideal scenario. Rather than putting Alabama on its heels, the score served to arouse a superior defense.
A lot had to go right in order for the Huskies to win what amounted to an Alabama home game, and nothing much went right.
College football’s most resourceful team — the Huskies began the day ranked No. 1 in forced turnovers, with 31 — needed to steal the ball more often than it gave it away. Didn’t happen.
The Huskies needed fortuitous field position. Didn’t happen.
When Browning’s left-footed punt finally forced Alabama to begin a drive inside its 5-yard line, the UW defense was challenged to a produce a three-and-out. The window was closing — midway through the fourth quarter, the Huskies were staring at a 17-7 deficit — but with an emphatic stop, followed by, say, a well-crafted punt return, a comeback wasn’t inconceivable.
On third-and-nine at the 3-yard line, Tide running back Bo Scarbrough moved the chains on a 15-yard gain. Having broken the spirit of a physically spent defense, Scarbrough took the ball again and broke a tackle — and another, then still another — for a 68-yard touchdown.
The last few minutes devolved into a garbage-time sequence of penalties, a combination of Washington’s frustration and Alabama’s appetite for blood. Feral cats have more empathy with wounded birds than the Crimson Tide has with opponents trailing by 17 points.
Nick Saban’s program is as impressive as any assembled in college-football history — four consensus All-America selections, a 26-game winning streak, with the forecast calling for a fifth national championship in eight years — but his 2016 team will not be recalled for its endearing nature.
Following the pregame coin toss, the referee gave a simple instruction to the captains.
“Gentlemen step up,” he said, “and shake hands.”
The Huskies captains stepped forward for the ceremonial handshake, only to be ignored. That’s how the Tide rolls, I guess. When you’re consumed by the determination to turn a 25-game winning streak into a 26-game winning streak, devoting a brief moment to shake hands can be really distracting.
Sportsmanship may not rate as a priority at Alabama, but life has a cool way of turning the tables on rude jerks.
We can only hope.
As for the Huskies, they lost to a far better team. They lost so convincingly, blame can’t be placed on any one player, or any one coach, or any one miscue.
It was a group effort, a long day’s journey into humiliation that began by calling “tails” in a coin toss that wound up “heads.”
But, hey, at least they won the handshake.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath