John McGrath

McGrath: Washington beat EWU, but it didn’t look like football

Before he took questions from the media Saturday, Chris Petersen had a question.

“Did you like it?” he asked.

Petersen was in a jovial mood. His first home game as Washington’s new football coach had found the Huskies surviving a 59-52 shootout in which they took everything Eastern Washington could throw at them and threw it it back.

The 75-degree afternoon provided further evidence that no climate anywhere rivals the Puget Sound’s in September. The fans seemed engaged. As three-and-a-half hour marathons go, I’ve seen worse.

But did I like it?

No, not really.

I’ve got this notion of football as a fair fight between a balanced offense — an offense that runs as often as it throws — and a defense steeped in the principles of aggression and containment. I’ve got this notion that first downs are an accomplishment and touchdowns ought to be worthy of remembrance.

I recognized some aspects of the football I know Saturday at Husky Stadium. A laced ball was distributed to players who wore helmets and pads, though more for decoration than to protect them from the confrontations rarely encountered on their way to the end zone.

But the Huskies couldn’t stop Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who threw for 475 yards and seven touchdowns. And the Eagles couldn’t stop a Huskies ground attack that answered with 356 yards and seven touchdowns.

The teams combined for 673 yards — by halftime. Had a more traditional version of football awaited in the third quarter, the first half could have been shrugged off as an aberration.

But the only shrugging off was done by an inexperienced Huskies defensive backfield whose only returning starter, junior cornerback Marcus Peters, was sent to the bench after nearly starting a sideline scuffle midway through the third quarter.

Of the 10 penalties called on the Huskies, the flag Peters drew for unsportsmanlike misconduct was the most deflating. The defense had finally made a third-down play — linebacker Shaq Thompson’s nine-yard sack of Adams at the Eagles 36-yard line — and it appeared as though Washington would get the ball back on a quirky possession transfer old-school fans refer to as a “punt.”

And while Peters is the lone veteran in the UW secondary who’s got a clue on how to cover a receiver, Petersen has no tolerance for behavioral breakdowns.

“It’s really easy for me. It’s not even an issue,” he said of substituting Peters with Travell Dixon. “If guys aren’t going to conduct themselves right, then they are not going to play.”

A coach establishing himself as an authority figure during a close game, that was something I recognized. I recognized the feathery touch Adams put on each of his 46 passes — the Huskies might not face a better quarterback this season — and I recognized linebacker John Timu’s momentous collision with Eastern receiver Terence Grady early in the fourth quarter.

It caused a fumble retrieved by linebacker Travis Feeney, who returned the ball to the Huskies’ 35-yard line and gave his team, leading 52-45, a chance to kill some time before the Eagles’ inevitable comeback.

But otherwise? There wasn’t much that resembled football. Quick scoring drives were followed by quicker scoring drives, the quickest of which was a three-play drive that began with a Cyler Miles handoff to Thompson, moonlighting as a tailback.

Thompson picked up eight yards, another yard on second down, and 57 yards on third down that converted into a touchdown.

Those three carries, it should be mentioned, were the first of Thompson’s college career. There’s no telling how many yards the linebacker might’ve gained had he participated in, say, another offensive series or two.

For those who enjoy watching one athlete outrace 11 opposing athletes to the end zone, Thompson’s touchdown was a hoot — and typical of the track meet disguised as football Saturday.

But it wasn’t a game I know, and it wasn’t a game I’ll ever be able to like.

The good news, aside from the fact the Huskies have been scared witless twice in two weeks and still are 2-0, is that Petersen is well aware of his defense’s deficiencies.

“We have to play a lot better,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is learning. We’ll be back to work on it Monday.”

The object is to win, of course, regardless of how. But if the work the Huskies begin Monday paves the way for them to play Football As We Know It, their games really will be fun.