Dawgs’ D humbled — again

SEATTLE — A week ago, after the University of Oregon rolled up a whopping 661 yards of offense in a 55-34 romp, Washington’s defensive players reacted with great disappointment tempered with hope.

Bad as it was, it could only get better, right?

Well, they were wrong.

On a balmy afternoon at Husky Stadium, Washington stepped out to a 41-26 lead early in the fourth quarter and seemed on the verge of getting its first Pacific-10 Conference victory of the season. And, at the same time, snapping a five-game losing streak. The Huskies needed only a few defensive stops and the victory would be secured.

Alas, it never happened. Arizona, which stumbled into town with a meager 2-6 record, steamrolled Washington’s defense in the fourth quarter, scoring touchdowns on three successive possessions to snag a 48-41 victory Saturday before 61,124 mostly disgruntled spectators.

The Wildcats, led by junior quarterback Willie Tuitama, gave Washington’s defense its second straight thrashing, staggering the Huskies with 535 yards of offense, including 510 yards through the air.

In the decisive fourth period, Tuitama led the Wildcats on TD drives of 46 yards in five plays after a long kickoff return, 30 yards in four plays after a UW fumble, and 80 yards in 11 plays after a Husky punt.

“To do a lot of (the good) things that we did and then not be able to find a way to stop them and give ourselves an opportunity to win the game is very disappointing,” Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said.

“The thing we have to do is find a way at the right time to make a play,” he said. “We had opportunities to do that and we didn’t do it.”

Indeed. On Arizona’s three fourth-quarter scoring drives, the Wildcats had four third-down plays. A defensive stop by Washington on any one of those might have changed the game’s outcome. Instead, Arizona converted three first downs and one touchdown.

The feeling afterward “is horrible,” UW defensive tackle Jordan Reffett said. It was, he went on, “one of those games where you’ve got them by the tail. We’re up 41-26 in the fourth quarter, and to have a collapse like that is not acceptable.”

“We let them pass all over us,” Husky safety Darin Harris said. “They did not have a tough time moving the ball at all.”

Arizona’s 510 passing yards “is embarrassing to me as a (defensive back),” Washington safety Mesphin Forrester said.

The irony, UW defensive coordinator Kent Baer said, is that Washington actually played decent defense in the first half, save for a couple of blown secondary coverages. One resulted in a 66-yard touchdown pass from Tuitama to wide receiver Mike Thomas and the other a 51-yard pass from Tuitama to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“If we don’t do that, that’s a pretty good first half,” Baer said. “I have no answer why we broke those coverages, but we did.”

Still, Washington led 28-23 at halftime and 35-26 through three quarters. After UW fullback Luke Kravitz scored early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard plunge (the extra point try failed), the Huskies had a 41-26 cushion.

From there, for Washington, pretty much nothing went right.

“We tried to put ourselves in (man-to-man) coverage situations to cover them and to come with some pressure, but we weren’t successful with that,” Willingham said. “We weren’t successful at our zone to cover them, to slow them down. No matter what we turned to, it did not give us an answer.”

Part of the problem, Baer explained, was the number of young players Washington used defensively, partly because of injuries. At times, the Huskies had three true freshman defenders on the field.

“We were shuttling people in and out of the game … trying to find the right combinations,” he said.

At that point, Baer was asked about some of his defensive schemes, and he seemed to perceive the question as media second-guessing.

“You have to play the personnel (you have) and you don’t want to put (young players) in bad situations,” he said, his jaw becoming tight. “That’s the bottom line on defense and in anything else. And if you do, then you’re wrong as a coach. Have we changed some things with those freshman kids? You bet we have. Is it the right answer? Well, you’ve got the pen, so you tell me.

“I don’t take this lightly. I have a lot of pride, I’ve been coaching a long time and we’ve had some great defenses. And I just didn’t become stupid overnight, contrary to what maybe people believe and write. Yeah, it’s frustrating. Am I happy about it? Absolutely not. … But right now we have the players we have and we’re going to continue to coach them and do the best we can.”

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