No defense for, or by, this football team
Instead of taking advantage of backup QB, Huskies the ones looking confused
Seattle Times staff columnist
TUCSON, Ariz. — Opportunity dangled in the air, enticing and attainable.
The Washington Huskies reached for it — in nonchalant fashion, sadly — and whiffed and fell, noggins first.
For this inexcusable showing, there is no defense.
No DEE-fense, either.
What kind of team plays the way the Huskies did Saturday night at Arizona? What kind of team receives the gift of playing a foe without its starting quarterback, who completes 75 percent of his passes, only to allow the backup to complete 82 percent of his passes? What kind of team allows 356 total yards in the first half to an offense in transition?
Not one that wants to play in a bowl game. Not one that aims to capitalize on the dramatic victory last week over Oregon State. Not one that relishes prime opportunities.
The Huskies weren't being asked to do too much. They didn't need to overachieve to win or, at least, be competitive in this game.
With Arizona starting quarterback Nick Foles out with a knee injury, the Huskies needed to manage a credible, balanced performance to have a chance to beat Arizona.
As the 44-14 final score revealed, they failed beyond your most pessimistic expectations.
Arizona's backup quarterback, Matt Scott, turned into John Elway against the Husky defense. He completed 18 of 22 passes (14 of 16 in the first half) for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 65 yards. The Wildcats, who have struggled to run the football all season, amassed a season-high 234 rushing yards.
Arizona didn't punt until late in the third quarter. By then, the score was 37-14. The Washington defense lost its way amid the clutter of missed tackles, blown assignments, ill-timed penalties and a poor overall game plan.
Add the problems with the Huskies offense, and it equaled a disaster.
"The worst-case scenario of what could have happened, happened tonight," coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker, battling injuries to his ribs and thigh, wasn't himself. He finished with 183 passing yards, but he didn't use his legs much. Sarkisian wanted to assist Locker by handing off to the running backs more, but the Huskies were ineffective (3.0 yards per carry) after a good start, and once they fell behind, they had to abandon the run in the second half.
And Locker's beat-up body suffered some hard hits as the Arizona defense rushed him relentlessly when the Huskies became one-dimensional.
"The game went the exact opposite way of what we were hoping it would go," Sarkisian said.
Would you believe it if I told you that Arizona struggled offensively against Washington State, the worst defensive team in the nation, just a week ago? Would you believe it if I told you that, coming into this game, the Huskies had shown some defensive life in their previous two games?
The Wildcats lost Foles in that game with the Cougars and shuffled to a 24-7 victory. Scott, who has some starting experience, was average in that game. In this one, the Huskies made him look like a Heisman candidate.
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt signed a one-year contract extension about a month ago. Is there a clause in there that says he takes a pay cut after performances like this?
This was a collective defensive failure, for sure. Youth and talent issues surfaced again. The Huskies failed to do some fundamental things, like tackling, that would've helped them get off the field on third-down and limit big gains. But there were also times when they were fooled, watching receivers run free and running backs blaze through huge holes. They had an incredible opportunity to flummox a rusty quarterback. Instead, the Huskies were the ones confused.
"Fourteen of 16 in the first half," Sarkisian said, shaking his head while recalling Scott's stats. "I wasn't anticipating that by any means."
There's no excuse for it, except that the defense is bad.
It's a reminder that, no matter how many offensive weapons the Huskies have on paper, they won't be a consistent team until they find more balance. And they won't find it this season and maybe not even next season.
So, for now and for the foreseeable future, the Huskies are bound to be a team that is all over the place. They're a mess of potential, but when that potential doesn't show, they're just a mess.
Back to recovery mode go the Huskies.
At 3-4, they've learned much about how to handle turbulence. You keep waiting for a smoother ride, but it never comes. Not when they blow opportunities in such befuddling fashion.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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