Lack of Offense Leaves Dawgs in the Dark

SEATTLE - It has been reported that over 50,000 Seattle City Light customers lost power late Saturday night in more than 200 separate outages, but the biggest outage was certainly at Husky Stadium. The lights may have stayed on, but the Washington Huskies failed to generate any electricity on offense and wilted at the feet of the Arizona State Sun Devils, 24-10.

In conditions reminiscent of the Huskies' 13-3 win over USC in 1981, Highway 520 was eventually shut down Saturday night during the game, as well as The Zone on the east field. Tiles laid over the field turf were being thrown around like boomerangs, and post-game litter swirled around and settled on seats, the stadium a sad wasteland of cardboard containers, trash bags, and napkins.

Arizona State would love to have taken credit for all the madness and mayhem, but just as it was a month ago when the Huskies couldn't find a way to close out Stanford, Washington was unable to finish the deal they made with the Devils.

Twelve runs and one pass took the Huskies all the way from their 14 yard line to the ASU 2. With less than seven-and-a-half minutes left in the game, Washington had found their rhythm, their tempo. With Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington out, it was up to Deontae Cooper and Shaq Thompson to carry the mail for UW Saturday night, and they delivered - to the tune of 33 carries for 168 yards. Even though their combined long run of the night was 17 yards, the tandem of Coop and Shaq got the job done the hard way, through perseverance. They had done the heavy lifting.

But they couldn't get the ball over the goal line. When Cameron Van Winkle kicked the tying field goal with 7:14 remaining, there was no panic on the Washington sidelines. And they had found their run game, that elusive element in a game defined by the elements - namely wind and rain - and they could score again if they got their hands on the ball.

Arizona State had other plans. They were 14th-ranked for a reason. With Taylor Kelly also finding his footing after missing a handful of game, he engineered a drive Kevin Hogan-style that ended up with a pass thrown into the wind that literally died in front of the flailing arms of freshman safety Budda Baker.

While Baker was anticipating a regular trajectory, ASU's Gary Chambers wasn't - and he dove past Baker to haul in the wounded duck of a pass to put the Sun Devils back on top.

The rest of the game seems almost anticlimactic, simply because we had seen this script before - but this time with a different lead actor. With less than three minutes remaining first-time starter Troy Williams was tasked with driving Washington back down the field to score. They were able to get inside ASU territory when a Colin Tanigawa holding penalty put them in a hole they could never recover from. The ensuing overthrown Williams pass was pick-sixed Armand Perry from 61 yards out, canceling out the 63-yard interception for a touchdown scored by Washington's John Timu.

The weather guaranteed a tight, hard-fought game. "The wind was blowing 100 miles per hour in every direction," ASU Head Coach Todd Graham said, I'm assuming without a hint of hyperbole. Fact is, they were conditions only Harry Wappler could appreciate, or maybe Twister-era Helen Hunt.

Either way, said conditions should have played right into Washington's hands. After all, they play in a city known for its wet weather. Yet, Arizona State handled their special teams expertly in less-than-ideal circumstances, while UW's special teams were a mix of Keystone Cops, discombobulated feet, and yellow flags.

"They played better in the weather tonight than we did," said UW Head Coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies' coaching fraternity just threw up a little hearing that, especially going up against a team from the desert!

It wasn't a pretty sight. Asked about the holding call on frosh receiver Brayden Lenius that brought back a 75-yard John Ross kickoff return - the third such big return cancelled out by hankies - Petersen accurately summed up Washington's special teams day.

"I asked him. I said, ‘Was that you?’, and he said, ‘I wasn’t blocking anybody’, and he really wasn’t even doing his job - so I don’t know," Petersen said, just the slightest hint of exasperation trickling from his vocal chords.

In the end, it really doesn't matter who was penalized - because the overall lack of execution in special teams and inability to consistently generate offense was what killed Washington's chances Saturday night. Arizona State's game-winning drive had the feel of inevitability about it - not just because UW had been there before, but because the defense could only hold out for so long.

After Williams was blindsided by Vili Moeakiola and the Sun Devils advanced the ensuing fumble to the Washington one-yard line, the Huskies stiffened up and absolutely stuffed ASU. It was one of the best goal-line stands in recent memory.

On the subsequent UW offensive possession, the Huskies had a manageable third-and-four to go and Williams had found Jaydon Mickens for first down yardage...drop.

Punt.

By this time, freshman Tristan Vizcaino was asked to spell Korey Durkee, and when his punt - into at least a 20 mph breeze - turned over the UW fans rejoiced. Little victories.

And when Timu picked Kelly three plays later, the game was suddenly a three-point affair and the Washington sidelines had a pulse.

“I think everybody felt great," Petersen said. "Even though we weren’t doing anything on offense somebody needed to spark us - whether it was John Ross on a kickoff return or John Timu on an interception…it was awesome."

When a defensive player or special teams stalwart has to provide the playmaking ability, you know your offense has run aground. "We showed flashes - you guys saw the drive - and it’s frustrating to us all why they can’t show up more,” Petersen said, his chagrin plainly evident.

For the Huskies, this is the first season since 2004 where their offense has had more than two starting quarterbacks. And we all know what happened ten years ago - or if you don't, here's a quick refresher: They went 1-10 under the combined guidance of Casey Paus, Carl Bonnell, and Isaiah Stanback.

With the wind taking away one of the real strengths of Williams' game - namely the ability to throw the ball downfield with zip and spin - he had very little else to fall back on. He locked in on receivers early, and didn't seem to have a great feel for making great reads in the zone read, preferring to simply hand off and let the running backs do the tough sledding.

Petersen said post-game that Cyler Miles was available to play, but it wouldn't have been fair to him to start because he hadn't practiced. And that's certainly fair. But at some point Jonathan Smith is going to have to give these quarterbacks the green light to cut it loose and play with some freedom. While the running backs are making due as best they can, the offensive line and receivers seem to have taken major steps backwards in their development, and that's hampering the quarterbacks' ability to execute big time. Everyone can see that they are underperforming, but they are also hamstrung by injuries and that's clearly not helping matters. But that can't be used as an excuse, especially when the defense limits ASU to nearly 240 yards and two touchdowns less than their season averages - and they do it without the services of Shaq Thompson.

Right now it seems as if the quarterbacks are being asked to play with white coats on instead of the purple and gold, straightjacketed by Smith's uneven play-calling and extremely erratic play around them.

For example; the 15-play, 5:42 drive that ended in three points. Smith brilliantly orchestrated an attack that used tempo, base runs, and not a lot of frills to put ASU on skates going backward. Frankly it was a stunning drive; not so much because of how effective it was but because it literally came out of nowhere.

Running downhill for the better part of five minutes and faced with a third-and-goal from the two, Smith decided to go wide at the weirdest time. The Sun Devils were going backward, not sideways. Using Shaq one more time as a battering ram after he had just cut it up inside for four yards sure seemed to be the play. And even when they knew runs were coming during that drive ASU appeared powerless to stop the Huskies.

But they cold shut down the toss play, taking away any momentum Thompson was carrying toward the end zone. And at that point in the game there was never a doubt about kicking the tying field goal - just as if there was no doubt about the end result flagging in the distance, just waiting for its turn to be unfurled.

"We just have to get better and more efficient on offense," Petersen said. "That's the urgency around here."

For right now, Washington's offense is just like those City Light customers wandering around in the dark, looking for a switch to flip. Here's to hoping power is restored sooner, rather than later.


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