It’s never a defense’s desire to let an opponent score.
But maybe Washington should have made an exception Sunday morning.
Trailing 19-17 with 44 seconds left, California running back Christopher Brown Jr. took a handoff at UW’s 3-yard line. Senior linebacker Kyler Manu shed a block and bolted across the line, taking out the 230-pound tailback’s legs for no gain.
But should he have?
Of course, everyone knows now Cal kicker Greg Thomas ultimately nailed the go-ahead 17-yard field goal, and -- thanks, in part, to some questionable clock decisions by Huskies coach Chris Petersen -- UW got the ball back with zero timeouts and eight seconds left. Two plays later, the game was over and Washington’s 15-game home winning streak was washed away in the rain in a 20-19 loss.
But what if Washington had let Brown score? What if the Husky offense had taken over with three timeouts, 38 seconds left and 75 yards to travel?
It still would have been a tall task, especially considering the strength of the Golden Bears’ secondary. But on Monday, Petersen publicly weighed the pros and cons of making a different decision.
“If you do (let them score), then you’ve got some timeouts and you can go the other way and have a chance to battle,” he said. “The field-goal situation (for Cal) was looking pretty good. But I knew our guys were going to push hard on the field goal, and they did run the ball. They were smart on their clock management. They did run it one time, and you’re trying to get the ball out there (and strip it). We got a lot of hats on it, but the chances of fumbling there are pretty small odds.”
The odds were going to be against the Huskies, regardless. That would also have been the case if Petersen had used his timeouts more quickly, particularly when he let eight seconds run off in order to ice Thomas before the snap with 12 seconds left.
But, to clarify, is Petersen saying he regrets not letting Cal score on Sunday morning?
“I’m not saying that,” Petersen said. “I’m saying it’s something we’re analyzing. I think a lot of people might say that (they should have let them score). Some others would say no. It depends on their kicker, your situation, all those types of things.”
The lightning-delay dilemma
Of course, if Seattle had endured just a couple more lightning strikes, Petersen’s late-game decision-making might not have mattered.
Certainly, no one at UW is making excuses about the two-hour, 39-minute lightning delay that preceded their rotten Pac-12 opener. But Petersen said Monday that, before the 10:30 p.m. resumption, both teams were close to canceling the game.
“We were looking at the weather and how long this was going to take,” Petersen said. “I think both sides were getting very close to calling it off if we couldn’t get that thing started by 10:30ish. We kept talking about (if we waited until) 11 o’clock, that was going to be too late for the guys. But the guys just kind of hung in there and were waiting for us to tell them what to do.”
The teams opted to play -- and for obvious reasons. If the game could not be rescheduled, an empty week might ultimately affect both programs’ postseason bids.
“Well, that was why we really wanted to play, because it wasn’t going to be good for either one of us had we not played the game in terms of the long run and the big picture of bowl games or whatever,” Petersen said. “It’s just less games played. So we all really wanted to play.”
What followed was one of the weirder scenes in Husky Stadium history, as UW and Cal played the vast majority of their Pac-12 opener in front of roughly a third of the original crowd. That, as well as the late hour, presented some unprecedented challenges for the participating programs.
“I think certainly (the delay affected the game), but both sides had to deal with it, right?” Petersen said. “That’s kind of what I mean. It’s all equal footing. We were all hanging out, waiting for it.
“I was really proud of the guys. Once we started playing, it didn’t feel any different to me, and I didn’t feel any different energy on the sideline or anything like that. Once we went, we went and I think everybody just focused back in.”
Evaluating Eason (and the wide receivers)
Jacob Eason’s official stat line in the Cal loss: 18-30, 162 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 lost fumble.
But Washington’s junior quarterback might have played better than the statistics suggest.
“I thought he played well, and I think he’s going to continue to grow in the system,” Petersen said. “That’s what I think. I think he’s still getting used to some things, but you put the tape on and kind of see what he was looking at, and it makes sense. But I thought he did a good job.”
It didn’t help, of course, that at least six of Eason’s incompletions were the result of receiver drops. Petersen added that, outside of one throw, the speed of Eason’s fastball was not responsible for the misses.
For the most part, the quarterback’s accuracy and velocity were not an issue.
“That was frustrating to that (wide-receivers) room, without question,” Petersen said of the drops. “You’ve just got to go back, and I think it all has to do with how we practice and drill work. The games are different in terms of going for that ball and maybe knowing you’re going to get hit and the intensity.
“Just the carryover from during the week to Saturday nights, I think that’s a really easy place to not have the carryover in terms of catching. Because now all of a sudden, I’m looking to run. There’s defenders around me. So again, I think that’s another area where we’ll be better.”
Petersen did say Eason should not have thrown the crossing pattern to tight end Hunter Bryant that was intercepted, but “Hunter makes a lot of plays. So like we always say, it’s easy to sit here in the film room and second-guess that when he’s got one-on-one coverage and that guy’s a big body that can make plays.”
Perhaps, considering the repeatedly damaging drops, Petersen should have turned to his younger playmakers -- say, true freshman Puka Nacua or redshirt freshmen Austin Osborne and Marquis Spiker -- in the second half against Cal.
Perhaps. But good luck convincing Petersen.
“We see these guys every single day, and the guys that are playing deserve to be out there and playing,” Petersen said. “The other guys are making strides and we’d like to get them into the game more, but we’re always going to put who really gives us the best chance (into the game). We see these guys every day, and we see what they put on tape every single day.”
Three forgotten wideouts
Speaking of UW wide receivers, Petersen confirmed Monday that senior Quinten Pounds was suspended for the Cal loss and will remain suspended for two more games. The 6-0, 176-pound wideout also did not play in the season-opening victory over Eastern Washington.
Petersen said redshirt-freshman wide receiver Trey Lowe, who is recovering from an infection, is “getting better, making progress. Very strange situation health-wise, but he’s getting better.”
As for junior wide receiver Ty Jones, who missed UW’s first two games and -- according to a Times report -- could sit out the majority of the season with a wrist/hand injury, Petersen said: “Yeah, Ty is with us, week-to-week. That’s what he is. I don’t know who’s saying he’s different than that. I always tell you guys, if he’s going to be out for the season, we’ll report that.”
Tackling takes center stage
Washington allowed 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter against Cal.
And, according to Petersen, it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Actually, maybe it was an excess of effort instead?
“It was just a little bit almost of that trying-too-hard thing, you know?” he said. “Sometimes guys are trying so hard they get out of a gap, and now that creates a bunch of space. Now the guy that’s coming (to clean up the missed tackle) knows there’s a bunch of space, and now he’s (scrambling) rather than fitting off each other, wrapping up. We didn’t wrap up quite as well as we had.”
Of course, none of that should be surprising when one considers Washington’s youth on defense. Two true or redshirt freshmen -- safety Cam Williams and corner Kyler Gordon -- are starting in the secondary, sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon repeatedly lost contain on the outside and redshirt freshman inside linebackers Jackson Sirmon and M.J. Tafisi were inconsistent with pursuit angles and tackling technique in the loss.
But that doesn’t mean Petersen is ready to tighten the rotation.
“I think we’re going to play all those guys,” Petersen said of the inside linebackers. “It’s not a matter of figuring out the rotations. You’re talking about some of the young guys, and that’s a position where we do want to play guys.
“They put it on tape in practice, so we’ll keep pushing the envelope there. But it’s not any one position. If you want to talk about the DB (play), we didn’t put pressure on that quarterback. It all fits together.”