Huskies’ defensive problems kill positive vibes of a win
Two games into a bizarre start to the 2014 season, the Washington football team leads the nation in one category. Unfulfilling victories.
Times staff columnist
Two games into a bizarre start to the 2014 season, the Washington football team leads the nation in one category.
The Huskies are 2-0, but they aren’t good. Despite a terrible offensive showing, they squeaked past a bad Hawaii team last week. On Saturday, they scored 59 points, amassed 536 yards — and left most everyone at Husky Stadium dissatisfied, even angry, about their performance.
That’s because the Huskies allowed 52 points and 573 yards to Eastern Washington, the second-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, a level below the UW. Leave it to these Huskies, in an unfamiliar state under new coach Chris Petersen, to provide thrills on the way to disappointment.
The Huskies are creating a new genre of triumph. Call it the winning fiasco.
“A win is what we want,” linebacker John Timu said. “But then again, we don’t want to win like that.”
Like that is allowing 475 yards and seven touchdown passes to Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., an all-time-great opponent performance at Husky Stadium.
Like that is seeing Washington take a 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter and play like the inferior team the rest of the way.
Like that is knowing, as flawless as Adams was, the Husky defense simply can’t bleed this much, and the young secondary is a problem that may haunt the team all season.
Asked if he’s concerned about the defense, Petersen said: “Extremely. We’ve got to play a lot better than that.”
The frustration is obvious, but beyond it, there’s also a reality that Petersen, his team and the entire Husky following cannot ignore: Even though Steve Sarkisian left behind a good amount of talent, Washington isn’t picking up where it left off last season. The Huskies aren’t exactly starting over after finishing 9-4 in 2013, but they’re no easy bet to reach double-digit victories this season.
They should grow and become a decent team because they’re loaded with experience on the offensive and defensive lines. But they’re unproven in most of the other position groups, and the youth is stunningly evident in the secondary, where they lost three starting defensive backs from last year’s team.
Eastern Washington exploited all of the secondary’s issues. Adams is a phenomenal quarterback, coach Beau Baldwin’s offensive system is multifaceted and clever, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne lead a talented receiving corps.
Kupp and Bourne combined for 16 receptions, 259 yards and four touchdowns. Even Washington star cornerback Marcus Peters was burned by Eastern.
Add foolish penalties to the coverage issues, and the Washington defense looked more out of sorts than it has since former defensive coordinator Nick Holt was fired after allowing 777 yards to Baylor in a 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss three years ago. The Huskies committed 10 penalties for 100 yards, many of them of the undisciplined variety. Peters was benched for committing a personal foul late in the third quarter after Shaq Thompson had sacked Adams on third down. The penalty continued the Eastern drive and led to Adams’ sixth touchdown pass.
The Huskies did plenty good, but the defensive problems killed the positive vibes. Quarterback Cyler Miles returned from suspension, threw for 180 yards, rushed for 58 and accounted for four touchdowns. Led by Lavon Coleman’s 118 yards, the Washington running game produced 356 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. Nose tackle Danny Shelton had 12 tackles and four sacks. Thompson had 14 tackles on defense, and he played one offensive series, rushing three times for 66 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown run.
But the Huskies won’t survive in the Pac-12 — the most dynamic offensive conference in the nation — without overall defensive improvement.
“We have a lot of room to get better, covering-wise, tackling-wise,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to come together and help each other out.”
Adams should prove peerless in the way he dissected this UW team. But while others might not put up 475 yards, Adams and Eastern clearly provided a blueprint for attacking the Huskies.
The Petersen era has begun with consecutive wins and consecutive head-scratchers.
“We’ve got to get some things figured out in a hurry,” Petersen said.
The Huskies would be wise not to attempt another winning fiasco. The fiasco part is sustainable, but winning this way is not.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com
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