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Originally published November 19, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Page modified November 20, 2011 at 12:45 PM

Steve Kelley

Coaches must shoulder blame for faltering Huskies

Washington loss to a young Oregon State team raises serious questions about not only the defense, but the program's progress.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — Seven yards deep in his end zone, Oregon State freshman quarterback Sean Mannion calmly stood in the pocket, showing disdain for the Washington pass rush, even as the Huskies came at him with a full-blown fire alarm of a blitz.

In the eye of the hurricane, Mannion waited patiently, while his junior receiver Markus Wheaton dropped a double-move on senior cornerback Quinton Richardson, springing free and running under Mannion's throw for a 52-yard gain. The play felt like an indictment of everything that is wrong with the Huskies.

It was second-and-10 from the 1-yard line, and Oregon State was leading just 31-21 with half of the fourth quarter left. Yet the Beavers showed no fear.

Nothing about the Washington defense scared them. Not the blitz. Not the zone defense. Not the circumstances.

"We let them off the hook with that play right there," said Nick Holt, Washington's embattled defensive coordinator. "But that's not the only thing that happened out there, obviously."

A young, struggling Oregon State offense found some confidence against an uncertain Washington defense. The Beavers, who had won just two games, scorched the porous Huskies for 484 total yards in Saturday's 38-21 upset-that-didn't-feel-like-an-upset.

With the game still in doubt, Oregon State went 99 yards in 12 plays, chewed up 5-½ minutes of clock and scored the game-clinching touchdown with 2:12 to go.

For the Husky defense, it was a déjà-vu drive.

"We tried everything," Holt said. "We rushed four. We rushed five and a couple of times, we rushed six. ... We tried to change things up to try to find that right formula on third down."

Washington didn't block very well and tackled even worse. The Huskies' defense couldn't get off the field, as Mannion consistently converted third-and-long opportunities.

The Huskies didn't make plays when there were plays to be made. And, quite frankly, the coaches have run out of answers to the questions that have become repetitive after losing four of their last five games.

Holt suggested he might simplify the defense.

"We had our opportunities. We need to come up with some plays," he said. "It's probably the product of a lot of things. We were in position sometimes to make things happen, and we just got to get it done. It just falls back on myself. I need to probably do a better job of making it simpler so our guys can play faster.

"There are times when we have to help our guys out, too. I think the kids are really trying hard and maybe are a little tight. Obviously, they get discouraged and we get discouraged."

It's one thing to lose to nationally ranked teams. But to lose this game, this badly to an Oregon State team that had lost three in a row and had scored just 27 total points in those losses is inexcusable.

"Frustrated," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said, summarizing his feelings after the game.

Amen.

This felt like the worst loss in the three-year Sarkisian era. Thirty-six games into his program, Washington (6-5) suddenly is looking only marginally better than when he arrived.

At this point in his reign, the Huskies should be better. They should beat teams as bad as Oregon State. They should contend with teams like USC, Oregon and Stanford. They should be improving, and they aren't.

After starting 5-1, the Huskies have lost all of the optimism and hope they carried into Stanford a month ago.

"We can be better than this," Sarkisian said.

They've lost their swagger. They've begun playing tentatively. They came into this game ranked 102nd nationally out of 120 teams in scoring defense. And the blame-it-on-our-youth excuse doesn't work when you're playing a team as young as Oregon State.

"I knew what we had going into this year," Holt said. "I knew we were really young. I knew we lost some really explosive players that made a lot of plays for us. When we blitzed, we'd get there. Now we get blocked. There's times when we stayed blocked.

"We need guys to rise up and make a play for us on third down and do something special. And right now we're struggling to find those guys."

Oddly, the best defensive players in the Sarkisian-Holt era have been Mason Foster, Donald Butler, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Nate Williams, all players recruited by former coach Tyrone Willingham.

Where is the next generation? This coaching staff has to do a better job of recruiting defensive blue-chippers.

Thirty-six games into the Sarkisian Era, these kinds of losses shouldn't happen.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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