Special teams issues rear their ugly heads again | UW football notebook
The Huskies allowed three long returns that helped Oregon turn Saturday's game into a rout
Seattle Times staff reporter
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EUGENE, Ore. — The Washington Huskies came into their game at Oregon Saturday ranked last in the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage and ninth in punt return yardage allowed. And in a 53-16 loss to the Ducks, they lived, uh, down to both ratings, allowing three long returns that helped Oregon turn the game into a rout.
A 30-yard punt return by Cliff Harris helped lead to an Oregon touchdown in the second quarter. An 80-yard kickoff return by Josh Huff to the 6-yard line led to an Oregon touchdown in the third quarter. And a 79-yard punt return by Harris in the fourth quarter led to another Oregon touchdown.
Asked if there was a similarity to the returns, Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said: "Well, I think obviously one is coverage lanes. I thought today, especially a couple of those kickoffs that bounced to the field, our contain player is peeking his head inside and — boom — the ball bounces. Good returners field that and understand that. So that's the first part.
"And the second part is, we knew coming in, it wasn't a secret (that Oregon is a good return team). We tried a variety of different kicks and things, but they're going to take advantage of that because they're good at it."
Sarkisian said he would examine anew this week the players that are on the coverage teams.
"We have so many of our starters that cover kicks — the Mason Fosters, the Cort Dennisons, the Victor Aiyewas," Sarkisian said. "And they were spent tonight. They were worn out because of Oregon's offense that we had to put backups in, and maybe that was part of it. Maybe we've just got to keep playing our best guys."
Drops pop up again
Another seasonlong issue that reared its head again Saturday was dropped passes. Washington had four, several coming at key times early in the game. Notably, Devin Aguilar dropped a slant on a third-and-seven in the first half that would have gone for a first down in Oregon territory.
"I would just like to see us make our plays and catch the ball," Sarkisian said. "We're a talented group, and they've made a lot of plays for us. ... I'd like to see them make those plays in the next three games. I know they're capable of doing that."
Said receiver Jermaine Kearse: "We just lost our focus. We've just got to help (quarterback) Keith (Price) out with those plays."
The Huskies thought they had scored a touchdown late in the second quarter, when Kearse caught a 16-yard pass from Price. But the play was nullified by a penalty for illegal man downfield.
Washington was flagged when receiver D'Andre Goodwin moved up to the line and tight end Marlion Barnett did not move back.
"They called it and I'm assuming we did (it)," Sarkisian said. "That we covered up our receiver, that our outside receiver covered up our inside receiver. Our inside receiver swears that he was off the ball, but there's nothing I can do about it."
Huskies AD questions Ducks' priorities
In the land of the Ducks, Washington athletic director Scott Woodward ruffled a few feathers when commenting on a pregame radio show about what he thinks is insufficient state support for academics at Oregon.
Later, Woodward elaborated on those comments to The Times.
"It's embarrassing at the level that the state supports this once-great academic university, because it's gone way down in academic standing because of the enormous lack of support over the decades," Woodward said.
"What they have done here athletically is nothing short of a miracle. It is fabulous what they have invested and how they have done it. But it is a shame that the whole enterprise isn't benefiting (from the athletic success), and that's one thing that is very much a sense of pride at the University of Washington — that our whole enterprise is excellent in all we do. But that's no excuse for us not getting it right in football."
Old look on O-line
Washington made another change with its offensive line, going with the same five that started the season. That meant senior Cody Habben started at right tackle and senior Greg Christine at right guard, each replacing a true freshman — Erik Kohler at tackle and Colin Porter at guard.
Sarkisian said he liked having all veterans on the line against Oregon.
"What Oregon does so well defensively is they pressure so much," Sarkisian said. "And in this environment, with this crowd noise, I was hoping a veteran group would be able to handle the pressure, and I thought they did."
• QB Jake Locker (rib) made the trip and stood on the sideline, though not in uniform. Sarkisian said it was still too early to know if he will be able to play Nov. 18 against UCLA.
• Sarkisian said the only injury of note was a concussion to backup S Justin Glenn.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org