Friday night, Washington's next step was backward.
The Huskies' stumbled against 13th-ranked UCLA with game-changing fumbles in the first quarter and repeated failures to prevent the Bruins from scoring in the red zone. In the end, UW found a 20-point first-half deficit too much to overcome and suffered a disheartening 41-31 loss that included a first-half injury to starting quarterback Keith Price.
The Huskies are now 6-4, needing to win their final two games -- at Oregon State and home against Washington State -- to improve upon their run of 7-6 seasons, and to take that next step that coach Steve Sarkisian has made such a priority.
"That was a frustrating game for us," Sarkisian said. "A frustrating, frustrating game. Obviously, you spot a team of that caliber 14 points right off the bat, give them that field position, it makes it hard to battle back."
Price sat out the entire second half with a shoulder injury suffered just before halftime, one that forced the senior into full-on wince mode when he tried afterward to throw a single warmup pass on the sidelines. His status for the season's final two games is yet to be determined.
What's known is this: Washington is now 1-3 on the road -- and winless against UCLA at the Rose Bowl since 1995 -- losing again in sloppy, undisciplined fashion to a team the Huskies are talented enough to defeat. UW was penalized 11 times for 113 yards, including a hands-to-the-face flag that wiped out a first-half touchdown pass.
That call was questionable, but UW's errors were plentiful. A first-down catch by Austin Seferian-Jenkins on UW's first drive appeared promising. But the big tight end fumbled, the Bruins recovered, and they turned into a touchdown.
UCLA 7, Washington 0.
The Huskies got the ball back, gave it to Bishop Sankey and he gashed UCLA for 29 yards on three carries. He also fumbled on the third carry. The Bruins recovered. And they turned it into a touchdown.
UCLA 14, Washington 0.
It was a competitive, entertaining game thereafter, but that early hole proved UW's undoing on a night when it simply couldn't afford to give the ball away.
UCLA (8-2, 5-2 in Pac-12) did gave the ball away a bit, too, and that's partially why the Huskies were able to keep the game interesting.
The Bruins led 27-17 when they received the opening kickoff of the second half, then promptly fumbled. The Huskies recovered at the 26-yard line. Eight plays later, backup quarterback Cyler Miles, a redshirt freshman, connected with Seferian-Jenkins for a 1-yard touchdown pass that pulled UW within 27-24, game suddenly on.
But the Bruins displayed on their next possession why they were the better team on Friday night -- and why winning the recruiting battle for Bellevue's Myles Jack was so crucial.
Jack, a linebacker the Bruins now use at running back in short-yardage situations, already had scored three touchdowns in the first half. And on UCLA's first drive of the third quarter, he carried four times for 10 yards inside UW's 19-yard line, including a 3-yard carry on 3rd-and-3 and a 2-yard touchdown run on 3rd-and-goal.
The talented freshman finished with 59 yards on 13 carries while also recording five tackles while playing defense.
UCLA made it 41-24 on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Brett Hundley to Devin Lucien with 9:57 to play in the game, a score that appeared to bury the Huskies.
Washington didn't go away, however. Miles led an impressive drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, who had a breakout night for Washington catching eight passes for 147 yards. He'd caught three passes all season before Friday's game.
It was a gutsy effort by Miles, who, in the most extended playing time of his career, completed 15 of 22 passes for 149 yards and at least gave the Huskies a chance.
But Miles threw two interceptions in the final four minutes, and that was it for UW.
"We'll go play good football the last two games," Sarkisian said. "We'll see if that's good enough to win. I can't guarantee victories, but I do know that this team will get up off the mat."
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