Lack Of Respect Has Huskies Searching

SEATTLE - A head football coach stood in front of the media Saturday, lamenting a game that was a tale of two halves. He talked about an inability to move the ball and everything being played with their backs against the wall on defense. The other team shut down the run, and their own young guys just wilted under the pressure.

That head coach was Georgia State’s Trent Miles, talking about his Panthers getting blitzed 45-14 at Husky Stadium Saturday. In truth, Miles could have easily cribbed his post-game notes from his opposite, Chris Petersen. Petersen had many of the same things to say despite winning by over four touchdowns.

“I’m 100 percent honest with you; that was probably the baddest first half of football I’ve ever been around,” Petersen said of the Huskies’ 73 total first half yards versus a Georgia State team giving up an average of over 490 yards per game.

The Panthers went into half up 14-0. Yup, the Georgia State Panthers. The team with only 11 wins in their program’s history. Their first FBS win came in game one this year versus Abilene Christian. The Panthers knew what they were getting into when they traveled to Seattle; half their staff either coached or played for the Huskies - including Miles.

“Give them all the credit for scoring 45 unanswered points, but you can’t put your defense in that position and expect to have any kind of result no matter who you play,” he said.

Washington giving up 14 unanswered points to Georgia State in the first half was enough to have the Boo Birds in full song as the Huskies limped back to their locker room to sort it all out, tails stuck firmly between their legs.

Coaches and players say it there was plenty of yelling going on, but according to Washington quarterback Cyler Miles (no relation to Trent) it was all positive. “There wasn’t any type of negative yelling,” he said. “It was all positive, and I was pleased with how we stayed together and responded in the second half.”

Respond they did, with 45 unanswered points. It was the type of response everyone in Husky Stadium expected…in the first half. When asked why the Huskies came out flatter than Kansas asphalt, Miles was direct.

“We took them lightly, plain and simple,” he said. “I’m not going to sugar-coat nothing. Our team took them lightly, and we can’t do that. I saw from the middle of the week we were sloppy, and we came out kind of just…whatever. We can’t ever do that. In college football they’ve got guys too. They’ve got coaches and good players, so we can’t ever do that. But having said that, in the second half we did get back to Husky Football, in my opinion.”

One of the defensive leaders, Danny Shelton, was even more direct. “We didn’t expect them to come out with a fight,” he said. “Personally, I didn’t. I give them props. They came out fighting.”

John Timu: “Everybody just thought it was Georgia State. It felt like we could just practice…”

Compare those thoughts with the ones coming from the coaching staff Saturday night - “Thought we practiced hard, thought it was probably our best week of practice,” Petersen said, clearly blindsided by his team’s first half capitulation.

“I actually thought our preparation was pretty good,” added offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.

Scoring six touchdowns in a little over a quarter showed that the Huskies had prepared themselves to play. They scored in a variety of ways; pick-six, a couple back-up quarterback touchdown runs that provided one of their best offensive wrinkles of the day, a couple of passes from Miles to help him gain confidence. They had an MVP-worthy performance in special teams from true freshman Dante Pettis, whose four punt returns for 98 yards completely flipped the field position game and gave Washington several short fields in which to score points.

But the manner in which they folded like a lawn chair from the opening kick is the only thing people are talking about today, and it’s because the Pac-12 schedule opens up in less than a week. The Stanford Cardinal come to town, and they’ll be hungry. The last time they came to Seattle they lost, and they’ll be eager to avenge that loss, as well as their early-season loss to USC. They’ll bring with them statistically the best defense in the country.

Petersen was asked post-game if his team is ready for that kind of challenge. His reply was startling in its truthfulness.

“Did you just see what I saw? I know we’re not ready for Stanford.”

It wasn’t as darkly humorous as Jim Mora’s ‘Playoffs’ rant years ago, but it was as pointed. And all you needed to do was exchange ‘Playoffs’ for ’Stanford’ to get the same idea. Back in 2001 Mora said Indianapolis’ effort in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers was ‘disgraceful’, and Petersen wasn’t holding back in his description of how the Huskies played against Georgia State.

“I thought the first half was about as bad a football as I’ve been around - maybe ever.”

He’s not wrong. Washington failed to do the one thing you’d expect every Chris Petersen-coached team to do as a fundamental matter of course: Respect Your Opponent.

“We can’t come out like we came out tonight,” Miles said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; that’s the thing as a unit we need to understand. Some guys understand that, but as a unit we need to understand.”

There’s no doubt this team has the capability to win all sorts of games in conference. They’ve shown during the first four games of the season in flashes that they’ve got all the firepower they need in all three phases to cause anyone in the Pac-12 problems.

“It can’t be one of those things where, it’s all going good…everybody’s good when it’s all going good,” Petersen said. “That’s front-runner mentality.”

Petersen is correct, but it also underscores just how little you can really take from the first four games of Washington’s schedule. Everyone expected the team to be 4-0 coming out of their non-conference slate, and they did that. That’s the bottom line. But underneath that line are all sorts of unknowns that clearly have not been ironed out.

The idea of playing Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, and Georgia State was to fatten up, to feast and find out who the Huskies are along the way. And what we’ve found out after four games is that Washington has very little in the way of an overall identity.

They can run the ball at times, they can throw the ball at times. They can hit home run plays, and they can chew clock. They’ve become the Jack of All Trades, but have they really mastered any of those things offensively? I don’t think so.

Defensively, they’ve shown they can be stout, they can defend for reasonable spells - but they’ve given up way too many points and yards for the competition they’ve faced, and there’s no question learning on the job is not the ideal modus operandi for a secondary about to come across some of the most potent pass offenses in the country. It’s just throwing meat to the wolves.

In fact, the only aspect of the game where they've probably been at their best is in Special Teams. That's a part where Petersen has direct, hand-on coaching responsibilities, and it's showing up in the way his team is playing in that phase. It definitely showed up with Dante Pettis, and with John Ross earlier in the season with his kickoff returns.

Washington has a week to sort out their messes, and Petersen won’t have a problem driving home any number of points during this upcoming week to a team that should have had their eyes opened in a big way. “Whether it’s D1, D2, Georgia State or Stanford, we got to come out and our energy has got to be on fire,”said Timu. “You could see the difference in the second half. Guys celebrated a little bit more, guys trusted each other and made sure we were executing.”

Trust. That’s the key going forward. And right now, this team simply doesn’t have it in the way they need to to truly compete at the highest levels of the Pac-12. That much is blatantly obvious after watching the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game, and also listening to the comments made by the team after.

They seemed to find it in the second half against the Panthers, but finding the level of trust, discipline and confidence needed to know the guy next to you has your back and vise-versa isn’t exactly like trying to find your car keys. It can be an elusive thing, and Washington fans can only hope that the Huskies got their mojo back just in time.

As it was against Illinois, a lion’s share of fans never came back to watch Washington’s second-half onslaught. Thousands were inside The Zone, eating and drinking. Who could blame them? Why would you want to go back and see 30 more minutes of that scalding hot mess?

If Washington comes out against the Cardinal like they did against Georgia State, the Huskies won’t have to worry about hearing the boo birds heading into halftime.

The birds will be gone by then, and the fans too.


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