If the late Yogi Berra had been a guest Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium, the malaprop master would have analyzed Washington’s 30-24 defeat to California this way:
When you commit five turnovers, you’d better play a perfect game.
The only thing the Huskies did perfectly during a day of self-inflicted frustration was preserve the story line from beginning to end. They gave up a 31-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, and allowed Cal quarterback Jared Goff to scamper 5 yards for a deal-sealing first down on what amounted to the last play from scrimmage.
And to think: The Huskies’ defense, which couldn’t seem to get off the field — it allowed Cal to convert 10 of 20 third-down chances — was downright efficient compared to a Huskies’ offense that couldn’t stay on it.
“It was a group effort,” said offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith. “Everyone took a turn to make a play, and everyone took a turn to screw something up.”
True freshman quarterback Jake Browning, who looked unusually accustomed to the pace of college football against Sacramento State and Utah State, took a step up in class Saturday, to the Pac-12 Conference, and looked like, well, a true freshman.
Browning’s second-quarter turnover — initially ruled an incomplete pass but determined by replay review to be a fumble — preceded an interception he threw after the defense put together a goal-line stand. Browning went deep on a first-down, play-action pass attempt from the end zone. But the ball wasn’t so much thrown down the left sideline as floated, and Cal cornerback Darius White had himself an easy-pickings pick.
Browning’s most regretful pass wasn’t an interception, merely an incompletion to a wide-open Dwayne Washington early in the fourth quarter. If the ball is delivered precisely, the Huskies take an improbable lead in a game they’ve been dominated in every phase.
Then again, maybe not. There’s always the possibility Washington drops the ball, as he did on the next play. Only it wasn’t a dropped pass but, rather, a fumble recovered by Cal at the Bears’ 31-yard line.
Figuring to roll up some big yards on a famously maligned defense used to retreating backward, the Huskies running game never really got untracked.
“We were running the ball better than throwing it,” said coach Chris Petersen, “but we were playing from behind and that’s not ideal. At the end of the game, we were down like 40 minutes to 20 in time of possession. Throwing the ball while we’re missing that many tackles and getting beaten on time of possession, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
When a team is outgained in total offensive yards by a 481-259 margin, when it allows the opponents to own a 2-1 time-of-possession ratio, losing by six points isn’t surprising. The surprise is that the score was so close in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense did a great job,” Browning said. “We had a lot of three and outs, a lot of turnovers, and they kept us in it.”
Perhaps, but defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski didn’t take bows. Any satisfaction derived from the fact the Huskies consistently were in position to make tackles was mitigated by the fact they consistently missed them.
“Our guys played their tails off,” Kwiatkowski said. “But we’ve got to execute better, tackle better and force some turnovers. It’s a team sport. We’ve got to do a better job holding up our part of the bargain.
“Wrapping up, that’s the biggest thing,” continued Kwiatkowski. “We’re trying to knock ‘em down with the big hit versus wrapping up and keeping your feet running.”
Saturday loomed as a pivot point for the Huskies, who’ll take next weekend off before facing a gauntlet that begins at USC on Oct. 8 and continues with the likes of Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Utah.
“It’s gonna be a hard-slugging season — look at the teams we play,” Petersen said. “But as I told the guys, let’s just deal about us. We’ve got to go back and tackle better. We’ve got to go back and pass protect better. We’ve got to go back and set our feet and get the ball to our receivers. We’ve got to not fumble the ball.
“We can control all of this stuff.”
And if they don’t? Another Yogism comes to mind:
It will get late early.