Well, that was the proverbial tough day at the office.
One that was tough enough to make you question where the Huskies are headed right now.
When UW was 5-1 and ranked, it appeared the Huskies had truly turned a corner. Now, though, after four losses in five games — all by 17 points or more — it’s hard to tell. The reality is, the 5-1 start was built against the soft portion of the schedule, four of the six at home. The Utah win continues to stand out as a quality victory and getting better every day — though it’s probably fortunate the Huskies played the Utes then and not now. But Colorado and Arizona are obviously not that good, and the Cal game was pretty much a toss-up as it was.
That’s not to try to pile on and denigrate what happened earlier. Instead, it’s to recall that there were issues evident in those games — easier to overlook when winning — that are creeping up to hurt UW even more now.
Obviously, the Huskies weren’t at full strength in this one, going with Nick Montana at quarterback instead of Keith Price. Maybe if Price is healthy and plays the Huskies can keep up with Oregon State’s offense.
Still, a lot of observers thought UW could win anyway, simply running over an Oregon State defense that has been one of the worst in the conference against the run — OSU has allowed 200 or more yards rushing six times this year.
But the Huskies couldn’t maintain the running game after a promising start. UW had 96 yards rushing on 15 carries in the first quarter and just 64 on 23 the rest of the game. It’s surely worth wondering if the Huskies went away from the run too quickly. But as the stats indicate, it got progressively worse as the game wore on, as well.
Defensively, UW couldn’t stop much of anything OSU tried. The Beavers came in as the worst rushing offense in the conference at 88.2 yards per game and 3.3 per attempt. But they got 145 on 31 attempts today, 4.7 per carry. That includes a 56-yard reverse. Still, those plays are a regular part of OSU’s offense, and even take that out and OSU’s running backs had 84 yards on 23 carries, good enough to keep the UW defense honest.
And the Huskies had no anwer for OSU’s offensive strength, its passing game. Sean Mannion was 26-37 for 339 yards and was never sacked (UW’s only sack came on the gadget play when James Rodgers was injured) and OSU’s receivers had few issues getting open.
It added up to one of the most disappointing losses of the Sarkisian era and what becomes even more off a gut-check game now against the Cougars, who regardless of what happened in Pullman today will be rarin’ to go.
Here’s a brief position-by-position review:
QUARTERBACK: Nick Montana probably did about what should have been expected, generally managing the game well early, other than the interception. His numbers would have looked a lot better if the deep pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins had been caught. Keith Price played well on one drive, then threw a killer interception on the other. Still, the offense looked more lively under Price, and I’d imagine he returns as the starter next week.
RUNNING BACK: Chris Polk was on pace for 200 yards early. The holes and carries decreased as the game wore on but from this vantage point, seemed like a typical Polk performance. UW’s running backs had 143 yards on 30 carries, so it wasn’t all bad, necessarily. But given what OSU had been allowing and what it seemed the Huskies needed to do today, not good enough.
RECEIVERS: There wasn’t much to do for a lot of the receivers early on as the plan seemed to be to throw some pretty low-risk passes. No receiver had a catch until well into the third quarter and there were just seven overall led by the three each of Kasen Williams and Devin Aguilar. Jermaine Kearse had just one and hasn’t caught a TD in five games remaining two behind the school career record. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was having a nice day until the drop in the third quarter. Give him credit for the stand-up way he handled it afterward and for coming right back and making a catch on the TD drive in the fourth quarter.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The same five started that have all season, but the Huskies were sadly forced into a change in the second quarter when left guard Colin Tanigawa left with a knee injury that may be an ACL. Nick Wood replaced him and played the rest of the game. Micah Hatchie replaced Erik Kohler late in the game when Kohler again struggled with OSU’s pass rush. The line played well early but it seemed after OSU made some adjustments on UW’s run game that it became less effective.
DEFENSIVE LINE: One bright spot on the day was the play of true freshman Danny Shelton, who saw his most significant time at defensive tackle and finished with two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He replaced Semisi Tokolahi early on and played most of the rest of the game. Alameda Ta’amu also seemed to play pretty well early. But no one on the defense will grade out real well after that one. And UW’s struggles getting a pass rush off the edge continued. Nick Holt said after the game that he thought pass rush was more of an issue with the pass defense than coverage, and the ends are the biggest problem spot right now. Obviously, the loss of Hau’oli Jamora looms large on a day like today. But UW not getting much out of the younger guys right now.
LINEBACKER: Cort Dennison had his usual 11 tackles. But otherwise there were too many missed tackles and open receivers. John Timu struggled the most and was replaced a few times by Jamaal Kearse. The depth was thin to begin, however, with Garret Gilliland out with a stinger. That opened the door for Thomas Tutogi to play a little bit and he had two tackles.
SECONDARY: Mannion’s 336 yards and 13 yards per completion are proof of the rough day it was in the secondary. UW had some injury issues at safety with Will Shamburger (stinger) and Justin Glenn (concussion) hurt early and unable to return. That had Nate Fellner playing again at free safety and he had seven tackles and a pass breakup. Sean Parker had an interception at the goal line that at the time seemed like it might be key. But otherwise, another tough day.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing much to write home about here. Erik Folk missed a crucial field goal and the return games didn’t yield much. On the plus side, the coverage seemed fine.