SEATTLE — With a chance to prove itself against another elite Pacific-12 Conference foe on Saturday, the University of Washington football team instead ran headlong into a cold truth — the Huskies simply are not that good.
Against visiting UCLA, Washington got off to a bad start, rallied briefly, and then saw the game slip away through the rest of a woeful first half. Trailing 31-10 at halftime, the Huskies won the second half, but it was small consolation in an eventual 44-30 defeat on a cool, mostly clear evening at Husky Stadium.
Save for an electrifying 100-yard touchdown kickoff return by John Ross, there simply were not enough highlights to keep the Huskies from losing their third consecutive home game and from dropping to 2-4 in league games, 6-4 overall. All four losses came against ranked Pac-12 opponents.
“There is no doubt it, this is really, really frustrating,” first-year UW head coach Chris Petersen said. “You’d think we’d be able to play closer, a little bit better, here in Husky Stadium. … To lose at home makes it even worse.”
Particularly galling, Petersen said, was a first half that saw the Huskies trail 14-0 midway through the opening period, then pull within 14-10 early in the second quarter, only to have the Bruins close the half with 17 unanswered points.
“The first half was extraordinarily disappointing,” Petersen said. “UCLA is good and they brought their A game, and we certainly did not bring ours. Once we got embarrassed a little bit, we went to the locker room and adjusted a little bit and then we started doing a few things.
“We have to compete harder all the time. I thought we did a good job in the second half, but we have to do a better job than that in the first half. It’s a four-quarter game … and you can’t get behind too far. It’s too much tough sledding to make it back up.”
Allowing two early touchdowns was definitely disappointing, UW linebacker John Timu said. “We can’t let that happen. You’re playing catch-up the whole game, and when you do have a momentum swing and you make good plays you’re still behind.”
Washington’s defense had trouble getting pressure on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and the result was a 29-for-36 passing effort for 302 yards and two touchdowns. The Bruins, who also got 174 rushing yards, were forced to punt on their opening offensive possession, but then scored on eight of their next nine possessions.
UW’s offense was better, but only marginally so. The Huskies finished with 211 rushing yards, including 100 from linebacker-turned-tailback Shaq Thompson, but quarterback Cyler Miles completed just 14 passes for 155 yards.
Washington’s passing attack “is painful, there’s no doubt about it,” Petersen said. “We have to run the ball effectively, but we also have to be able to throw the ball more effectively to give us some balance and to take some pressure off the run game.”
On top of everything else, the Huskies missed two chances for potentially game-changing turnovers. The first was a second-quarter UCLA fumble near the Washington goal line. Though there were several Huskies nearby, the Bruins recovered and Hundley scored on the next play. Then in the second half, UW linebacker Travis Feeney got a hand on a UCLA pass in the flat with a clear path to the end zone, but he ended up tipping the ball to a Bruin for a reception, which led to a UCLA field.
In the end, there was mostly frustration and disappointment for the Huskies, who travel next weekend to Tucson to face Arizona, another ranked opponent.
“We’re getting close to the end of the season and nobody is trying to lose, but that’s just the way it is sometimes,” UW nose tackle Danny Shelton said. “It’s pretty frustrating, but all we can do is just keep fighting.”
“A loss is a loss, and no one wants to lose, especially when you’re aiming for the top,” Ross said. “You want a Pac-12 championship, you want to go for a national championship, so losing is frustrating.
“But if people get to hanging their heads, that makes everything worse.”