John McGrath

John McGrath: My two college football pet peeves cost Huskies a victory

Washington football fans might want to consider the bright side of the team’s most frustrating defeat since the 2012 Apple Cup, when Washington State rallied to salvage a season.

Despite committing 13 penalties worth 111 yards Saturday, and losing three fumbles, and costing themselves four points on two botched kicks, and mismanaging the clock — failing to call a time out with 30 seconds remaining, then calling one that backfired — the Huskies still were in position to beat a good Arizona team on the road.

A week after their comprehensively lackluster performance against UCLA, the Huskies played with energy and purpose. Credit is due to coach Chris Petersen, who had a week to prepare his team, and who took advantage of the week.

As for those who insist the former Boise State coach has taken a deep dive into a pool way over his head in the Pac-12, relax. Petersen will be fine.

But he could use a refresher course on when to stop the clock. The Huskies were denied a chance to get the ball back after Casey Skowron’s 47-yard field goal because Petersen, with three time outs to use, allowed precious seconds to dwindle into none.

He finally spent a time out to unnerve Skowron, which had the effect of giving the kicker a complimentary warm-up attempt. It missed — of course it missed — but the play was blown dead. I trust you know how the follow-up went for the Wildcats.

There are two football gimmicks I despise, and on Saturday, UW served up both plates of those refried beans. One is the long count on fourth-and-short, appearing to line up for a first-down attempt that’s just a ploy to goad the opposition into jumping offside.

Long counts designed to flummox a defense may have worked several decades ago, before 75 football games were on TV each Saturday. But it’s 2014, and nobody falls for that Sillyville stuff anymore — not even in high school.

Fourth-and-short beyond field-goal range? You can go for it, or you can call upon the special teams to execute a conventional punt, or you can go for it by faking the punt. Any of these options is preferable to hoping the other guys succumb to stupidity.

My distaste for the fourth-and-short long count is surpassed only by my abhorrence for the time out called to the give the opposing kicker something to think about.

Icing a kicker, much like icing a free-throw shooter, is a bush-league move that, at its essence, defines the term “unsportsmanlike” — a well-paid coach is trying to put thoughts of anxiety and doubt in the mind of a college athlete who, presumably, isn’t well-paid.

I’m not naive. I understand coaches will do — and must do — anything and everything to win on the field. If it’s within the rules and it’s been proven to work, all is fair.

But here’s the problem: The time out called to unravel the kicker, more often than not, allows the kicker to compose himself.

Skowron was rattled on his first attempt, which sailed wide by a distance best measured by a city block. He got a reprieve, his leg was loose, and the muscle memory honed by thousands of hours of practice was converted into the three points that cost the Huskies a victory.

Although Saturday wasn’t Petersen’s finest hour — or, more specifically, his finest minute — the future of the program is solid. Recruiting with a coaching staff entirely in transition can be a short-term nightmare, but it won’t be long before Petersen’s roster is full of his own kind of guys.

In the meantime, he’s taken a zero-tolerance policy toward knuckleheads. Some coaches, such as Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, ignore miscreant players, then cop a surly, “Why-is-the-media-

so-mean-to-us?” attitude when the miscreants are exposed as campus-community menaces.

Fisher’s most recent rant about how the world is conspiring to undermine the ’Noles was delivered last week, after the College Football Playoff committee downgraded the Seminoles from No. 2 in their rankings to No. 3.

Suggesting the committee is encouraging teams to run up scores in blowouts, Fisher actually said this: “I’m going to hold the integrity of the game higher than everyone else.”

Integrity? His football program, in apparent cahoots with a Tallahassee, Florida, police department inclined to look the other way when players are involved in hit-and-run car accidents at 2:37 a.m., is out of control.

To paraphrase one of those clenched-fist Jackie Gleason diatribes during a “Honeymooners” episode: To the moon, Jimbo, to the moon.

I do not wish for Chris Petersen, a proven coach with obvious accomplishments, to take a punch that sends him to the moon. His no-nonsense approach has yet to work wonders in Montlake, but it will work.

But, please, enough with the penalties, and the bungling of the clock during the final minute, and the time out called to ice a kicker a second before the game-winning field-goal attempt he was destined to miss.

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