Glow from USC victory might have disoriented Huskies

A week after so much went so right at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Washington football team returned to Husky Stadium on Saturday night and learned a lesson.

Momentum has a short shelf life.

A week after the UW offense didn’t so much manufacture first downs as dial them up on a room-service phone – it sometimes seemed that effortless – reality intruded on an evening the weather was as ugly as the Huskies’ first-half performance.

Sure, some mistakes are to be expected during a downpour, and some mistakes are to be expected against Arizona State. The Sun Devils, who came into Saturday as one of Div. I football’s most penalized and least turnover-efficient teams, have a way of bringing out the worst in their opponents.

But the Huskies were so quick to make mistakes, they didn’t give themselves – or, for that matter, a crowd itching to be boisterous – any kind of chance to the rattle the Devils in their 24-14 defeat.

Example: Two plays after forcing an early (and what would turn out to be very rare) ASU punt, the Washington offense reached midfield on Jesse Callier’s 12-yard run.

A first down, right?

Right. … Except the first down, instead of at midfield, was marked at the UW 35 after sophomore center Drew Schaefer was called for a personal foul. A full second after the whistle blew, Schaefer collided with a defender on the sideline.

Linemen hustling to execute blocks 15 yards down the field are to be commended, but an overzealous effort on a football field can be just as problematic as a lackadaisical one. The Huskies had brief bouts of each Saturday night, not to mention execution breakdowns, on both sides of the line, in every conceivable situation.

The most revealing statistic of the night? It would have to be 42, as in the number of clock ticks it took Sun Devils quarterback Steven Threet to direct a touchdown drive in the final minute of the second quarter. Taking over on downs at his own 35, with 1:01 remaining in the half, Threet calmly shredded the Huskies’ defense, mixing up short and intermediate passes so effectively that nary an ASU timeout was called before Mike Willie pulled in Threet’s 20-yard pass for a score.

The second-most revealing statistic of the night? It would have to be 109, as in the number of clock ticks it took Threet to lead the Sun Devils to a first-quarter touchdown after the Huskies tied the score at 7.

Talk about sapping the edge off a home-crowd advantage. Despite its early miscues, Washington managed to put together a methodical, 14-play drive, concluded by the quarterback sneak of Jake Locker that energized the 65,685 drenched fans.

The onus at that point was on the defense to hold serve – or at least slow down the Sun Devils so the crowd could savor Locker’s touchdown for a few minutes.

Does that sound like too much to ask of Nick Holt’s group? Just slow the other down team down for a few minutes? It was too much ask, once Threet used a pump fake that drew in strong safety Nate Williams. With his target in the clear, Threet threw 40 yards to Willie. On the ensuing third-and-8, at the UW 25-yard line, an offense renowned for its red-zone struggles in 2010 used a Threet-to-Deantre Lewis pass to advance the ball to the Huskies’ 2-yard line – about the place where statistics explaining red-zone struggles become irrelevant.

For head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Saturday night clunker foisted on Huskies fans brought his record after monumental upsets of USC to 0-2.

Last year, you’ll recall, the UW followed up its 16-13 home upset of the Trojans with its worst game of the season, a 34-14 loss at Stanford.

That defeat inspired Sarkisian to second-guess his motivational tactics after the victory over USC this year. Instead of insisting his players return to earth after 24 hours, Sarkisian suspected they earned more time to spend in the afterglow of their achievement.

Earlier in the week, Sarkisian talked about “the fine line” that must be straddled by a coaching staff after an epic upset.

He’s still searching for ways to straddle that fine line.