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Kirshenbaum: Comeback bid only makes early troubles stand out in Rose Bowl loss

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Gaskin Fuller

Myles Gaskin embraces Aaron Fuller after a Washington's 28-23 loss in the Rose Bowl to No. 6 Ohio State.

PASADENA, Calif. — There was the fourth-and-1 run that ended up going for 19 yards, setting up an Ohio State touchdown. There was the drive that ended up just outside of the red zone before penalties pushed the No. 9 Washington football team back, forcing the Huskies to settle for a field goal. There was Jake Browning’s miss on an easy throw to cap a three-and-out with under two minutes left in the first half that gave the Buckeyes the ball back with enough time to march down the field and score again.

When it was 21-3 at halftime, those were just parts of the flood that Washington found itself in. But when the UW ended up losing 28-23, those mistakes took on a much larger light.

There was the decision to call a pass play after six straight runs to open the second half went for 43 yards and three first downs. Browning was swarmed and took a sack, the Huskies had to punt the ball, and the Buckeyes scored their final touchdown of the day to make it 28-3.

Twenty unanswered UW points later, the Huskies would have wanted any of those — maybe even just one of those — back to make it a whole different sort of game.

“I just think it's frustrating for us, when you feel like you didn't put your best foot forward the whole entire four quarters,” head coach Chris Petersen said after the game.

It’s a narrative we’ve seen with the Huskies before in big games. In the Fiesta Bowl last season, Washington fell three possessions behind Penn State in the first half, and wasn’t able to complete a comeback in the second, falling 35-28. Opening this season in Atlanta, Washington got off to an awful start, though a 9-3 score at the end of the first quarter belied just how uneven the game was.

This time around, the playmaking discrepancy wasn’t there so much. Washington had its moments early, just not nearly enough. But once again, by halftime, the deficit was daunting —  and as it turned out, enough.

“We were just playing bad,” senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “We were just missing easy plays, making bad reads, and I think we just played bad football. I don’t know how else to say it better. We’re going to look at the tape and I think a lot of guys are going to be frustrated with themselves.”

Yes, Ohio State was the better team on paper. But Washington had the playmakers to hang with them.

Need proof? Just look at the fourth quarter.

The UW dominated the game on both sides of the ball. The defense flew around, holding an Ohio State team that was trying to kill clock to just 2 rushing yards, keeping Dwayne Haskins in check, and notching a perfect 4-for-4 on third-down stops. Meanwhile, the offense was taking shots downfield, the offense started incorporating Hunter Bryant (all six of his targets came in the final 17 minutes of play), and the Dawgs finally reached the end zone for the first time since the Apple Cup.

Then they did it again, and again.

“We kind of found our rhythm, found our mojo toward the end,” junior wide receiver Andre Baccellia said. “[There] was just a shortage of time.”

Against Auburn, Washington put together a dominant drive to score their only touchdown of the game, before controlling play much of the third quarter. Looking back after the final whistle Sept. 1, the high points only highlighted how badly the rocky start hurt the Dawgs.

This was more of the same. If the Huskies recovered their final onside kick, they would have had 42 seconds to try to finish climbing out of the hole they had created for themselves, with all of the momentum in Southern California on their side.

But in retrospect, it could have been more plausible to not have dug it so deep in the first place.

Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum.

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