Huskies go into next season with a question at quarterback
The Cactus Bowl on Friday night presented the full, confounding Cyler Miles package, inducing a mixture of eye rolls and a few high-fives but in the end, leaving a valid question hanging in the air: Do we know yet who is the Huskies’ quarterback moving forward?
Seattle Times staff reporter
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Cactus Bowl on Friday night presented the full, confounding Cyler Miles package, inducing a mixture of eye rolls and a few high-fives but in the end, leaving a valid question hanging in the air:
Do we know yet who is the Huskies’ quarterback moving forward?
By all evidence, the Huskies will head into the second season of Chris Petersen’s regime much like his first: with the quarterback position still unsettled.
Understand, this is not to pin Washington’s 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State on Miles, who had moments of genuine inspiration in the second half, and hung tough despite absorbing big hits from Cowboys defenders.
But in a quarterback-driven league like the Pac-12, the Huskies need more consistent and more explosive play out of that position. Despite Petersen’s reputation for coaxing maximum performance out of unheralded quarterbacks at Boise State, it never quite came together with Miles.
And so, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the position up for grabs again when spring practice begins. Jake Browning, the touted phenom from California, begins classes Monday. Redshirt K.J. Carta-Samuels earned praise this week, and Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams, each of whom started a game this past season, have eligibility remaining.
“I think Cyler progressed as the season went on. ... But every position in the program, we have to have competition,’’ Petersen said afterwards.
With a stellar performance in the season capper, Miles could have staked a strong claim to the job heading into next season.
Instead, it was a night of typically mixed messages by Miles, who had a series of promising games leading up to the bowl. But those seemed an eon ago, rather than just more than a month since the Apple Cup triumph in Pullman.
Facing an undistinguished Oklahoma State squad that barely achieved bowl eligibility and had one of its key players kicked off the team, the Huskies found themselves down by a shocking 24-0 margin at halftime.
Though it was Petersen with the reputation for razzle-dazzle, it was Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy who devised the decisive trickery by using 300-pound defensive lineman James Castleman as a devastating offensive weapon. Castleman had a 1-yard touchdown run, Refrigerator Perry-like, in the first quarter, then rumbled 48 yards after catching a pass for a key first down in the waning moments.
Amid the slow start, the Huskies’ morale was electrified by two huge turnovers in the first quarter — a Hau’oli Kakaha strip/Danny Shelton fumble recovery, and a spectacular one-handed interception by Budda Baker.
Both gave Washington the ball in Oklahoma State territory, but neither resulted in a score — or even a first down — for the Huskies. Miles finished with 268 yards on 25-of-38 passing, but he was not sharp in the first half, when the game threatened to get out of hand.
The Huskies were outgained 177-17 in the first quarter, and had the ball just 4:10 compared to 10:50 for Oklahoma State.
In that first half, Oklahoma State appeared to be the better-prepared and more-motivated team, a damning disparity that was narrowed considerably in a face-saving second half by the Huskies.
But the Huskies were forced to play catch-up. They did get the ball back with 43 seconds left, trailing by eight, with a desperation last-ditch shot at tying the game. But Miles’ final pass was picked off to cinch the defeat.
It was just the fourth interception of the year for Miles, his ball protection perhaps his strongest asset. But there were many times when Petersen would have preferred that Miles tried longer to elude the pass rush before taking off running.
Gundy said earlier in the week it can take 15 games as a starter before you get a true measure of a quarterback’s ability. Miles is still short of that, and he started in a massive hole after missing spring practice because of an off-field incident.
The best outcome for the Huskies would have been for Miles to seize the job, providing much-needed continuity heading into next season.
But as the Husky season ends on a discordant note, add quarterback to their list of questions.
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