Red-zone struggles cost Washington in matchup with Auburn

Washington lost the game the Pac-12 needed to win. At least that’s how the showdown with No. 9 Auburn was billed all offseason.

In a neutral site game that was anything but, the sixth-ranked Huskies lost a sloppy, rock fight of a football game in Atlanta on Saturday, the only top-10 matchup of the first full weekend of the season. Coming off a 1-8 bowl season and the second playoff shutout in four years, the Pac-12 needed an early boost to repair some of its tattered reputation.

The Huskies came up short in a flurry of red-zone failures, but writing off the entire conference is probably premature — especially Washington.

We should learn from history. In the first season of the playoff, the Big Ten was left for dead two weeks into the season when Virginia Tech beat Ohio State at home and Oregon beat Michigan State.

The Buckeyes didn’t lose again and won the national title.

It is hard to see the Huskies going on that type of run. For all of Jake Browning’s accuracy and toughness, the senior quarterback’s physical limitations do seem to get exposed against top-flight competition.

But to dismiss the idea that Washington could run the Pac-12 table seems silly. And to think that another Pac-12 team could sweep through to a conference championship at 12-1 and that a close loss by Washington on the other side of the county without its star left tackle (Trey Adams was out with a back injury) would tip the scales against the whole league does not add up. Especially if Auburn contends in the Southeastern Conference.

There is a lot of football to be played. Patience, please.

The first full weekend of the regular season provided a few thrills and surprises. Here are the takeaways.

DISTRACTION OR MOTIVATION?

Trying to quantify how the turmoil at Ohio State could affect the Buckeyes on the field will be virtually impossible.

Most likely, the narrative will be retrofitted to the results. If Ohio State loses a few games, especially that big one against No. 16 TCU in a couple weeks, and comes up short of a Big Ten championship game appearance, the suspension Of coach Urban Meyer could be the distraction that took the Buckeyes off their game.

If Ohio State continues to hum along the way it did Saturday against Oregon State, the Meyer mess could be looked at as a galvanizing force that sharpened the team’s focus.

“We’re playing for coach and we’re playing for each other and we took it out on the field today,” said Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who passed for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a 77-31 victory against Oregon State.

The bottom line is the Buckeyes have one of the most talented rosters in the country. Expect more of the same next week when Rutgers visits the Horseshoe.

Meyer returns to practice this week, but will not be on the sideline for game day until Sept. 22 against Tulane. The week after that the Buckeyes go to No. 10 Penn State.

TERRAPINS ON A MISSION

If any team seemed primed to suffer on the field from preseason turmoil off it, it was Maryland. The Terrapins were also playing without their coach, DJ Durkin, after the death of teammate Jordan McNair during summer workouts led to reports players being mistreated and toxic culture in the program.

The Terps looked like a team out to prove a point, beating Texas for the second straight season. After the 34-29 upset — if you want to call it that — the Terrapins celebrated by waving a flag with the number 79 on it, the number worn by McNair.

Unlike the Meyer situation at Ohio State, Durkin’s status is still up in the air with no end in sight. What could become interesting is whether offensive coordinator Matt Canada can position himself as serious contender to replace Durkin if Maryland does clean house. The longtime OC is in his first season on staff so he won’t necessarily be tarnished by being associated with the old staff.

TEXAS, STILL NOT BACK

Texas has been playing and mostly losing the same excruciating game for about five seasons now.

Fourteen games into Tom Herman’s tenure as coach is too soon to declare it another failure but the most frustrating thing is the sameness of it all. Charlie Strong’s teams always seemed to be close to breaking through, but never did. They regularly lost games to teams that should never have more talent than Texas.

Maryland is 2-22 against ranked opponents.

In 2010, Mack Brown went 5-7 with Texas. The next three seasons the Longhorns went 25-14, never winning more than eight regular-season games. Since firing Brown, the Longhorns are 23-28.