‘That guy was wide open’

SEATTLE — Afterward, University of Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham called it a blown coverage. Linebacker E.J. Savannah said it was maybe a miscommunication. And defensive coordinator Kent Baer said he wasn’t sure because he was watching a UW blitz unfold and missed what was happening downfield.

No matter the cause, though, the outcome was certain. Washington State wide receiver Brandon Gibson was left absolutely unguarded in the UW secondary and snagged a 35-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds to play, giving the visiting Cougars a 42-35 victory in Saturday’s Apple Cup game at Husky Stadium.

“Obviously, that guy was wide open,” Washington defensive tackle Jordan Reffett said wryly. “And I don’t think he was supposed to be.

“It was,” Reffett added, “one of those things that happens. And it happened at the damn wrong time, that’s for sure.”

The touchdown capped a fourth-quarter WSU comeback in an emotional, back-and-forth tussle between the two in-state foes. Washington nabbed a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, the Cougars came back for a 21-20 halftime margin, and the Huskies climbed back on top 35-28 early in the fourth quarter.

But with the game on the line in the waning minutes, Washington State struck twice through the air against a UW defense that was, once again, abused by a rival Pac-10 offense. Both times it was savvy WSU quarterback Alex Brink linking with Gibson, who then reached the end zone untouched by Husky defenders.

The first of the two decisive TDs came with 71/2 minutes remaining in the game. On a left-to-right crossing route, Gibson again came free amidst four UW defenders and outraced them all to the end zone, pulling the Cougars into a 35-35 tie.

By game’s end, WSU had put up 509 yards against the Huskies, making this the fifth time in 12 games Washington has surrendered 500 or more yards. Brink finished with five touchdown passes (giving him 76 for his career, fifth all-time in the Pac-10) and 399 passing yards.

Also, Saturday’s game was the fifth time in the team’s past 10 games the Huskies have given up 40 or more points.

It was, in other words, another dismal day by the UW defense. Consider, Washington has scored 30 or more points in six of its 12 games, and yet lost four of those games.

After giving up three first-half touchdowns, “we made some adjustments at halftime and played a pretty good quarter and a half,” Baer said. “But then we just didn’t make a play when we needed to. … When you have a chance to win the game, you have to make a play.”

“We just have to make plays,” echoed Savannah, a UW junior. “It’s not an inability that’s there. We have the ability to make plays. We just need to step up and do it.”

The Huskies wrap up their season with next week’s game at Hawaii, and from there they move into what could be a pivotal offseason. Washington loses starting defensive linemen Reffett, Greyson Gunheim and Wilson Afoa, linebacker Dan Howell, and cornerback Roy Lewis to graduation.

“We have a lot of good, young kids in the secondary,” Baer said. “And I think have a really good group of linebackers coming back, I really do. … It’s a matter of (our) young defensive lineman coming around. I like that group, but they have to have a great offseason of winter conditioning.

“But I think it’ll get better,” he said.

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