Pete’s Process Already Burning Bridges?

He said the decision was an easy one to make. Chris Petersen stood behind the podium Saturday night deep beneath the west stands of Husky Stadium, fielding media questions after Washington’s 59-52 circus sideshow of a win over Eastern Washington.

Yet there Petersen was, the ringleader of it all, talking about why it was a no-brainer to take off Washington's best cornerback in crunch time to teach him a lesson about how life will proceed at Montlake under Coach Pete.

And 'proceed' is the correct word, because if you ask Petersen about his time so far at Washington, the word ‘process’ will invariably pass through his lips as it has so many times already.

Shaquille Thompson, the do-it-all whirlwind for the Huskies, had just sacked Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams for six yards in the middle of the third quarter, getting Washington’s defense off the field without allowing a scoring drive for only the second time all game.

And then Peters, who was getting jacked - along with every other member of Washington’s secondary, by the Eastern receivers all day long, decided that it wasn’t enough to just get off the field. He had to add some spice, a little purple and gold decoration.

“I’m not into the stupid penalties,” Petersen said post-game, matter-of-factly. “And it’s really easy for me; it’s not even an issue whether a guy is going to play or not. You don’t play how we want you to play? You’re not playing. It’s not even a decision for me. It’s easy.”

Peters’ act cost his team 15 yards, and more importantly an opportunity to extend their lead at a critical moment in the game - a game where it truly felt like the team who had the ball last would win. And it did end up that way.

The Huskies, as they did against Hawaii, executed their four-minute offense to perfection. But everything else that happened Saturday was a perfectly hot mess of offensive execution and defensive play that was outright offensive in its inability to stay with most of Eastern’s team that never got a sniff from FCS programs during the recruiting process.

Let’s get past the obvious: Vernon Adams was as advertised. Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Football, Russell Wilson - Adams was all that and more. It didn’t feel like the number 3 on his back was mere coincidence. If you told me Wilson had decided to forego a day off after the Seahawks’ battering of Green Bay Thursday to partake in a little street ball at Husky Stadium, it would have made sense. But it wasn’t Wilson; it was VA all day who sliced and diced Washington’s youth Ginsu style, setting records along the way.

Give Cooper Kupp, a guy the Eagles beat out Idaho State for, all the credit in the world. He pulled a Kasen Williams on the Huskies, catching everything thrown his way and using his 6-foot-2 frame to go out and out-battle Washington’s young corners on every snap. Eastern won an FCS National Championship using in-state talent like Kupp, names that never saw the inside of recruiting war rooms at places like Washington and Washington State.

And being on the receiving end of a 475-yard, seven touchdown whiplash is never anything to be proud of, but it happened. The UW frosh and redshirt frosh took the brunt of it, but they also came up with a moment or two of magic in amongst the ruin.

True freshman Sidney Jones, who was victimized by Adams for one of those over-the-top touchdowns, also came up with the hit that forced Eastern’s Mario Brown to cough up the football on their first touch of the game. True sophomore Trevor Walker came up with the ball, and the Huskies scored three plays later on Lavon Coleman’s nine-yard waltz into the end zone untouched. Jones’ play helped the Huskies race out to a 21-point lead before the Eagles knew they were in a game.

Those same players have to come back next week ready for more. They have to be ready to watch the film and accept the fact that they were nowhere near good enough, despite being thrown straight from the frying pan and into that grease fire of a defensive effort.

That’s how Pete’s Process works.

“I don’t care what the score is and what happens, we are going back to work on Monday and that’s always going to be our mindset,” he said, focusing on the fact that learning is what’s happening right now, and that’s it. “If it’s not, we can’t work with you, no matter what happens.”

His words were aimed at the entire team, but they could have been sent via blunt instrument in the defense’s direction, or to Mr. Peters in particular. And it’s not as if we haven’t already seen Petersen deliver ‘messages’ to his new team. It happened in spring when starting quarterback Cyler Miles was not just suspended from the team but literally allowed to even be around the team in the wake of his Super Bowl clash with Seahawks fans near campus. Miles’ punishment included staying home while the rest of the team traveled to Honolulu for their season opener.

“It was definitely tough, just kind of being away and watching the guys on TV,” Miles said. “I’m glad they got the win, very glad. Happy about that, but obviously it was tough. I’m glad I could be a part of it today.”

The sophomore from Denver was just what Washington’s floundering offense needed, providing stability and command of the huddle, as well as an instant infusion of points. They weren’t playing against the ’85 Chicago Bears, but Miles has shown an uncanny ability to turn football games into track meets, averaging 64 points a game in his two career starts. David Klingler thinks that’s a lot of points.

While the offense celebrated their newfound potency, the defense - to paraphrase Mark Eitzel - suddenly became a gold mine in reverse. For as well as they held Hawaii on the road to one touchdown, they couldn’t stop the bleeding against Eastern Washington. It’s as if the Eagles’ infamous ‘Inferno’ field wasn’t just red by design - it was that way because it was bathed in the blood of defenses put to the sword by Vernon Adams and his band of merry men.

The Huskies were just another victim. And they went willingly despite the NFL-worthy statistical performances of Thompson and nose guard Danny Shelton, who had four sacks and was a one-man natural disaster the Eastern offensive linemen had no answer for.

It didn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to see where Washington’s defensive weakness was going to be this fall, and it was in the back. But signs were promising after Hawaii; they allowed yards to be gained, but always were in position to eliminate getting beaten over the top.

Against Eastern Washington they were beaten over the top twice for touchdowns in the first quarter.

For Washington fans looking for some signs of what the Huskies are going to look like under Chris Petersen, they probably feel like Dawgs staring at a jumbled Rubik’s cube. Okay, so the offense went into a deep freeze the second half in sultry Honolulu, but the defense had their back…that made sense. Going into the season it was expected the offense would have growing pains adjusting to life under a new starting quarterback, new running backs, new tight ends, etc…

Then the Eastern Washington game happens and the feeling is that of March Madness in September. Not only was it a basketball score, but the mentality coming out of Saturday was more ‘survive and advance’ than anything else.

“All we’re doing right now is learning,” Petersen said.

The process. That’s what it comes down to. And if Mondays are there to tell the truth, then we can be brutally honest on Sundays: That wasn’t Washington Football in any way, shape or form - at least not Washington Football the way it was in 2013.

And that may just be the point. If Steve Sarkisian built Washington’s back from 0-12 into a 9-4 village complete with a shiny new house and resources galore, Petersen is in the process of burning all of it to the ground.

For those of us - myself included - who thought that Petersen would simply take the community left by Sarkisian and immediately put his stamp on it and take it to the next level, we were sorely mistaken. We were duped. And we probably set ourselves up to be duped.

Ironically enough, Petersen took over a 9-4 Boise State team from 2005 and immediately went undefeated in his first season as head man with the Broncos. That was the year of their Oklahoma win in the Fiesta Bowl, the Ian Johnson post-game proposal, etc… It was a year where everything Petersen touched turned to platinum. He was already at the top of his game.

Yet the ‘process’ never deviated.

Last year Marcus Peters’ penalty and subsequent sideline tantrum would have most likely earned him some gassers, maybe some after practice ‘conditioning’ complete with a traffic cone acting as dunce cap to remind him of what he’d done. And that may happen this year, but it may also come with a one-game suspension for good measure. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Petersen was touted as the closest thing to Don James in this era, and that may still be the case. But let’s revisit history for a second: The Dawgfather was 11-11 his first two years at UW, his second year an inglorious 5-6.

Petersen can’t afford 11-11; no coach can nowadays. They have to win, and they have to win right now. And for all the head-scratching and television breaking Saturday, the Huskies do still find themselves at 2-0 and staring at Illinois next week.

But what will that game bring? Will it bring the Hawaii defensive effort, or the Eastern Washington offensive effort? Or the Hawaii offensive effort and Eastern Washington defensive effort? Or something in-between? My guess is none of the above, because Petersen is still in the process of putting a blow-torch on 2013 and figuring out what will be left in the char.

Some experiments have yielded solid results. Moving Colin Tanigawa to center full-time has already paid off. Yet other moves, like Hauoli Kikaha to BUCK, has the feel of putting a round peg into a square hole. Kikaha had 13 sacks last year coming off multiple knee surgeries. Playing him in space seems tantamount to putting John Ross in at cornerback. It may produce some great play from time to time, but it’s not putting the player in the best position to succeed.

And Petersen and his staff should be given all the time in the world to find that sweet spot, that happy place where beer flows like water, penny slots pay off in dollar bills, and wins come by the baker’s dozen - but right now it just looks like they are in demolition mode. And it’s confusing. Top Stories