The Huskies had the ball. They had a two-point lead. And they had a first down with about 90 seconds left.
Given another chance to finish off the game, Chris Petersen said he would not change his clock-management strategy in what turned out to be a shocking, 27-26 loss at Arizona on Saturday night.
“I’ve looked at it about 105 times second-guessing it,” Petersen said Monday, “and if I had to do it again right today I’d do the same thing.”
Instead of taking a knee with about 1:33 left on first down from UW’s 44-yard line, Petersen and the Huskies opted for a run play. Senior Deontae Cooper wound up losing the first fumble of his career, with Arizona recovering the ball at the UW 45. Seven plays later, Casey Skowron kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to win it for the Wildcats.
“The one thing I really want you guys to know is, all of it was very calculated,” Petersen said. “So you might not agree with the strategy, but we’ve got our charts, all on our game plans and the guys are looking at it upstairs. So after we converted those two first downs, we’ve got 4 minute and some seconds and we convert two first downs; and so looking at the chart, we felt like we still had a handful of seconds left before we could really kneel it and kill it.
“And what I didn’t want to do it take three knees and then have to punt. We didn’t know exactly how many seconds would be left. I didn’t want to do that thing where you’re running around back there and then all off a sudden there’s one second left and they’re in field-goal range. So the strategy was, hey, we’re going to run one more play and then we can relook at this time clock to see if we can get it all the way down to take a knee. And then the ball comes out. So we had thought about that very closely.”
Arizona, after coming up short on a third-down run, let the game clock run down from about 30 seconds to 3 seconds before calling its final timeout, setting up Skowron’s kick. Petersen was asked why he didn’t call a timeout with about 30 seconds left to give the UW offense another potential shot with the ball.
“I didn’t think (Skowron) was going to make it,” Petersen said. “And my hat’s off to him. He did a nice job kicking in that game. They’ve had a little bit of struggles. That’s why we went after it so hard when they faked it on us (when Skowron ran in for a touchdown late in the second quarter).”
What’s the harm, Petersen was asked, in calling a timeout with about 30 seconds left?
“I guess we could’ve done that, yeah,” Petersen said.
The plan after the first-down handoff to Cooper, Petersen said, was “to regroup and get a much closer count if we could kill it out.”
Petersen said “the chart” that dictates late-game clock management is formulated before the season.
“We don’t change them. It’s, ‘If you get a first down. If the clock is stopped.’ So there’s two different things you’re looking at (and) kind of simulating,” he said. “… So it’s not an exact, exact science. … We really felt like there was going to be a handful of seconds left, and we needed to run one play.”
Petersen wouldn’t say how much time the chart dictated there needed to be before taking a knee in that situation.
“Like I said, we knew there was going to be a handful of seconds. It would be anywhere from … 5, 4 to 8 seconds, depending on when we got it and how much we ran off there,” he said. “What I didn’t want to do was take a knee, take a knee and then have to punt. That I didn’t want to do.”
And why not?
“Because I think they’re going to send everybody and their brother after our punter, and even if they don’t get to it we’re going to have to stay in so long for punt protection that he’s going to get a good chance to get that (return) started,” he said. “This is what I do know: The strategy that we went with, we coughed it up. If we do the other one and we punt to them and they block it or return it, I’m getting the same questions the other way. So when your strategy doesn’t work, you don’t get a lot of questions, but we felt at that time that was the best thing to do.”