With under a minute remaining in a tie ballgame and all three timeouts intact, the Washington Huskies screwed up. Bad.
Given the option to run out the clock and play for overtime, or use the timeouts and go for the win, Washington did neither. Instead, they called consecutive run plays on first and second down, essentially killing the clock in the process; then hurried to the line of scrimmage and went for the home run, launching a deep pass down the sideline to no one in particular.
The clock stopped, leaving the Huskies deep in their own territory on fourth down. They had no other choice. They had to punt.
Arizona State fielded the punt and returned it to midfield. The Sun Devil offense took the field with under 20 seconds left to play, then executed one play that decided the outcome of the game.
ASU's quarterback Danny Sullivan took the snap, dropped back, and launched a 50-yard bomb to receiver Chris McGaha, who had managed to slip unnoticed behind Washington’s defensive secondary. Replays confirm that McGaha had time to stop and tie his shoe, readjust his jock strap, take a short nap, and update his Twitter before making the catch.
Upon hauling in Sullivan’s toss, McGaha strolled into the end zone untouched, sending Sun Devil Stadium (Do they still call it that, even? It might be KY Jelly Stadium these days, for all I know) into a frenzy.
The Devils knocked down the ensuing PAT, then handed the ball back to the Huskies for one play with less than five seconds remaining. Following an unsuccessful Hail Mary attempt, the game was over. Final score: Arizona State 24, Washington 17.
Husky fans were stunned. More than nine hours later, after a night to think about what the hell just happened, we’re still stunned.
No, the outcome of that game should not have come down to the decisions made on one ugly offensive possession. The Huskies had opportunities that they squandered in the previous three-plus quarters, and at the same time continually allowed Arizona State to run off big play after big play.
Really, the Dawgs were lucky to even have the opportunity to win in the fourth quarter. They gave up 464 total yards to an otherwise anemic ASU offense, allowed the Devils to rack up 24 first downs, and most importantly committed 12 penalties for a staggering 124 yards. On one play in the third quarter, successive personal fouls gave Arizona State a 30-yard advantage from the previous spot of the ball.
Not that Arizona State was entirely innocent, however.
The Sun Devils were unable to convert on a number of lucrative scoring opportunities deep in Husky territory, instead settling for field goals, or in some cases field goal attempts that sailed wide.
At the same time, the Devils managed to live up their nickname, recording nine penalties for 99 yards. A sizable handful of those transgressions could be attributed to ASU freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who played the entire first half with the mentality of Liam Neeson’s character from the movie Taken .
Had a puppy been placed at the feet of Burfict halfway through the second quarter, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have booted that poor, defenseless animal as far as a Will Mahan Red Bull-and-adrenaline infused punt.
It was an ugly game. A sloppy game.
One team can be happy they got a win, but neither team can be all that proud with the way 60 minutes of football shook out.
For the Huskies, it now becomes a challenge to rebound from this devastating loss and prove they can win on the road. Ultimately, Washington won’t need to address the road demons for another two weeks, though their home schedule doesn’t make winning any easier in the coming seven days. The Dawgs face the conference-leading Oregon Ducks at Husky Stadium next Saturday.
Until then, there can be no excuses. From top to bottom, coaches to players, the Huskies blew this game. Blessed with the chance to win, they instead wrapped up a victory, put a bow on it, and handed it to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
You’re welcome, ASU.
Photo credit: Matt York, AP