As Pac-12 opener nears, Washington has work to do
The three-game nonconference schedule indicated a few areas where improvement is needed, specifically on defense.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Obviously, Washington's ideal result would have been to have emerged undefeated from the three-game nonconference portion of its schedule.
But the Huskies' schedule was also designed in large part to prepare the team for the rigors of the Pac-12 season, which starts Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. game against California.
The Huskies put together a nonleague schedule in which each game would be a little more difficult than the one before. It didn't quite work out that way, as UW struggled mightily to beat Eastern Washington in its opener before having an easier time with Hawaii. Then on Saturday, the Huskies found out they still have some work to do, losing at Nebraska 51-38.
Washington appeared to get the short end of a couple of calls by the officials, and Huskies fans may long debate how the game would have turned out had those flags not been thrown.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said later that those calls helped contribute to what he called a "meltdown" in the third quarter, and that reaction will no doubt lead to one of the major "teachable moments" from this game. Given the nature of college football, bad calls are likely to happen again, and Sarkisian will no doubt tell his team it needs to react better the next time.
The nonconference schedule also indicated a few other areas where improvement will be needed as the Huskies enter Pac-12 play, specifically on defense.
Washington ranks 107th in the nation and last in the Pac-12 allowing 36.6 points per game; 115th nationally and last in the Pac-12 in pass defense at 320.33 yards per game; and 108th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12 in total defense at 452 per game.
There are some valid reasons for some of the numbers, such as UW playing pass-happy teams in its first two games. But each of the Huskies' three opponents gained more yards against UW than it did against anyone else on its schedule. And neither Eastern Washington nor Hawaii has won since playing UW, and are a combined 1-5 on the season.
Nebraska also showed that the Huskies have some vulnerability when playing against a team committed to the run, gaining 309 yards.
Washington middle linebacker Cort Dennison said he's not worried about the defense's showing to date, saying that "everything is correctable. We've just got to go in and learn from our mistakes."
Indicative of a team that has been involved in three relative shootouts — and maybe foreshadowing that more are to come — UW's offensive numbers are a little happier reading.
Most notably, the Huskies rank 18th nationally in passing efficiency and 35th in scoring offense at 36 points per game.
Each of those numbers was bolstered by Washington's scoring outburst in the fourth quarter Saturday, when the Huskies tallied three touchdowns in just under six minutes to turn what had been a 44-17 game into something that elicited a few tense moments for Nebraska fans.
Sarkisian said that ending helped ease some of the disappointment of the day.
"(There's) a lot of good (in) the fact that our kids battled and competed there in the fourth quarter and made this thing very interesting," he said. "So we are a team that has spirit, which is a lot better than not, and a team that knows how to compete. We've just got to fix some things."
The Huskies may not play a team this year that will hit harder than Nebraska did Saturday. Dennison was proof of that, wearing ice bags seemingly all over his body, including his shoulder and leg (he said none of the injuries appears serious).
"Our team, we are fighters and we are not going to let this get us down," he said. "We all realize we have so many games left. I'm excited to see what happens."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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