Putting itself in a 14-point hole before halftime was not the recipe for success for the Washington football team Saturday night against UCLA, but somehow, it was something other than the early deficit that ended up leading to the Huskies’ downfall.
Instead, it was a poor decision from quarterback Dylan Morris and the inability to stop the opposition’s quarterback late in the game that ultimately doomed the UW.
The UW redshirt freshman threw an interception with 4:50 remaining in the game, allowing UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to put the Huskies away with two minutes remaining, converting a first down with his legs and leading to a 24-17 loss for the UW at Husky Stadium.
“If we don’t turn the ball over there, finish some drives, put some more points on the board, and create some takeaways, less points for them,” Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said.
It was a lot of hypotheticals from the UW head coach after his team lost its third one-score game of the season, but Saturday’s result ultimately boiled down to things that the Huskies have struggled with all season: a poor run defense and dull offense.
The UW had 14 days between its loss to Oregon State and its game versus UCLA to fix those issues, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the problems re-emerged against the Bruins.
The first half was largely a struggle for the Huskies (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12). Morris threw his first interception of the night on the opening drive, starting things off on the wrong foot for the offense.
“What I want us to be better at is taking care of the football and getting the ball back,” Lake said. “We were able to move the ball well offensively and then we had a few drives stopped because of turnovers. I know that we’re going to score more points if we don’t turn that ball over there.”
Drive number two was much more successful than the first. Washington marched down the field 74 yards before going backwards from the UCLA 2-yard line after some curious play calls, which forced the UW to settle for a field goal.
Washington was up 3-0 after the field goal in what proved to be its only lead of the night.
Thereafter, the Bruins’ (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) offense began to click, marching down the field in less than three minutes to take a 7-3 lead behind the arm of Thompson-Robinson and legs of running back Zach Charbonnet.
UCLA scored on the following two possessions, a field goal and a long touchdown drive that ended in a Thompson-Robinson touchdown run, while Washington’s offense stalled out.
Before the UW finally got into the end zone with a Rome Odunze reception a minute before halftime, the Bruins had dismantled the Huskies’ defense and were already over 100 yards of rushing.
After stopping UCLA to open the second half, Washington knotted the game up at 17. Redshirt senior running back Kamari Pleasant had two big gains on the ground for 32 and 15 yards, setting up a Morris 1-yard touchdown plunge to cap off the 9-play, 75-yard drive.
The teams exchanged empty possessions before the Bruins took the lead again at 24-17, but the Huskies had their chance to go down the field and tie the game late.
After crossing midfield, Morris decided to take a shot toward the end zone with less than five minutes remaining in the game to freshman wide receiver Jalen McMillan. But the pass was well under-thrown and UCLA’s Devin Kirkwood came up with what proved to be the game-sealing interception.
Thompson-Robinson’s conversion with two minutes left put the Bruins at 237 yards rushing, as they finished the game averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Eighty-seven of those yards were courtesy of Thompson-Robinson.
The UW’s defensive struggles against UCLA proved that the second half of the season will likely be filled with more of the same.
“When we entered the conference in 2014 there was a lot of spread and a lot of pass,” Lake said. “You guys see it, there’s a lot more runs going on in the conference. Teams are becoming a lot more run-based and you’re seeing a lot of teams giving up more running yards. We’ve gotta be better at it. We’ve gotta make sure we’re tackling better and make sure we’re putting our guys in position to slow it down.”
Although significant changes to the UW defense may be more of a long-term process, it will be a short-term turnaround until its next game. Washington travels to Tucson on Friday night to take on an Arizona side that has lost 19 games in a row. Kickoff against the Wildcats (0-6, 0-3 Pac-12) is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 22.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Edwards at email@example.com. Twitter: @edwardsanthonyb
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