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Originally published October 19, 2009 at 7:59 PM | Page modified October 20, 2009 at 12:07 AM

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Washington still facing questions after stunning finish

Few games end the way Saturday's did — Arizona State's Chris McGaha unfathomably broke wide open to make a 50-yard touchdown catch with five seconds left, giving the win to ASU — which meant that Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian was still facing numerous questions about it at his Monday news conference.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There were 118 plays in Saturday's Washington-Arizona State game.

And Washington linebacker Mason Foster thinks any could have helped change the outcome of the Sun Devils' 24-17 win.

"Everyone keeps talking about the last play," he said Monday. "I feel like as a team, me personally, we missed opportunities throughout the whole game that could have changed things. Everybody is trying to put the blame on the last play, what was everyone doing. But you can't point fingers. The loss is on all of us."

A valid and admirable viewpoint, no doubt. But few games end the way this one did — ASU's Chris McGaha unfathomably broke wide open to make a 50-yard touchdown catch with five seconds left — which meant Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was still facing numerous questions about it at his Monday press conference.

As he had after the game, Sarkisian said the Huskies were in a cover-3 zone defense, meaning three defensive backs deep but with base personnel — four linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs.

"We played a defense that we've been playing all year that has been really successful for us," Sarkisian said. "We played it well throughout the game."

The idea was to eliminate anything that might put Arizona State in field-goal position as well as stop the big play.

Sarkisian said free safety Nate Williams was responsible for the middle third of the field "in between the hashes and deep as the deepest." But Williams decided to cover ASU's T.J. Simpson, who initially cut across before turning deep, leaving McGaha open.

That wasn't the only mistake.

"We didn't get the pass rush we needed to," Sarkisian said. "Any time you have to cover that long, it gets difficult. In Nate's defense, he saw the quarterback's vision and eyes go hard left that he felt like if he doesn't throw that comeback, the first threat is going to be this crossing route, so let me go take it. That wasn't the case. Again, to the quarterback's credit, his ability to come off his primary read and find a guy that probably wasn't even in his progression for a touchdown was a great play."

Sarkisian said he didn't really have misgivings about the defense that was called.

"It was a good defensive call; it was a safe defensive call," he said. "If we would've blitzed them or something, and they blocked us, and then they beat us, then I'd feel worse about it. But we were in a good defensive call that didn't work out."

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Sarkisian, however, said he would have called a few things differently on UW's last offensive series before the winning touchdown. Washington got the ball at its own 10 with 1:17 remaining and three timeouts and the score tied at 17. The Huskies gained 9 yards on two running plays, then threw an incomplete pass on a deep route to James Johnson on third-and-one and was forced to punt, never using any of their timeouts.

Sarkisian said he didn't use the timeouts because he wanted UW's possession to be the last of the game.

But as third down came, "I really thought there was an opportunity to make a play to James Johnson, with the thought being, if we hit this play, we get the ball somewhere around midfield with three timeouts, possibly 15 to 20 seconds, depending on what happens. Now we can try to get a shot at a field goal, and the game ends one way or another that way."

Huskies preparing for Masoli

Washington began preparations Monday afternoon for this week's opponent, Oregon, which visits for a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday at Husky Stadium.

The big question with Oregon is who will play quarterback — regular starter Jeremiah Masoli or backup Nate Costa? Costa started Oregon's win at UCLA on Oct. 10 with Masoli out with a knee injury. The Ducks were off last weekend.

Masoli practiced Monday, and coach Chip Kelly said in a conference call that "I thought Jeremiah looked pretty good today." Still, he said both Masoli and Costa will prepare as potential starters.

Sarkisian, though, said he had no doubt who the Huskies will see.

"He'll be ready," Sarkisian said of Masoli.

Notes

• QB Jake Locker took a hard hit on the third-down pass to Johnson but said Monday he's fine. "Nothing's wrong," he said. Sarkisian said after the game Locker has had a sore back since the Notre Dame game.

• Sarkisian will stick with the new kickoff return combination of Johnson and Chris Polk, saying he wants to have two return threats deep to avoid letting opponents kick away from Polk.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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