Is Chris Petersen TOO Calm?

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports


There I sat, at the 50 yard line, two rows from the top of the South Viper (which is a great place to watch a game at Husky Stadium by the way). Sitting next to me were my four Duck friends, who up until 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, were sweating some bullet sized droplets. I look down, and there they were, the Husky offense had the ball at the 25 yard line with a chance at the game winning touchdown. I like to call those moments, "legend or loser time." I slowly rose to my feet, knowing there was no way I was going to be able to sit. I also told myself this, "there is no way they score the game winning touchdown here." At that moment, I looked behind me at a fellow Husky fan in the very top row of Husky Stadium, he had chosen to remain seated, and the look on his face told me he was thinking the exact same thing. He looked like he had been told his favorite restaurant just ran out of the fried chicken sandwich he always orders and was really looking forward to eating. Later that evening, one of my Duck buddies asked me a serious question. He asked, "As a Husky fan, what were you thinking when they took the field for that final drive? Were you confident they were going to do it?" Clearly, he had read the room around him, and I had to tell him his read was accurate.

Hello UWDP, long time commenter, first time fanposter. I am trying something new this year with the time that I have available during the insanely boring BYE week. As some of you may know, I actually am a psychologist (hence the handle, which is a combination of my degree, PsyD, and of course my alma mater, the DAWGS). As such, I enjoy geeking out on all things psychological. I have been really bothered by something for a few seasons now and after the Cal game, I finally decided to do a little research. What is with the Chris Petersen-led Husky's uncanny ability to torture the fan base with brutally close losses??

The first thing I decided to do was to see if my suspicions were accurate. I wanted to limit the scope just a bit, so I decided to focus on games that were decided by one score. Which of course in the current era of college football, is 8 points or less. As most of you know, Chris Petersen's very first game as head coach of the Washington Huskies was one such game. Hey, at least they won it, right?! My research yielded a record of 10-14 (my original finding of 9-14, which I posted in one of the comment sections was inaccurate). Most unfortunately, we now have to update that finding with one more in the loss column; after Oregon, he is now 10-15 in one-score games since he took the purple ... reins.

Let's not mince words, here they are, in chronological order ....

8/30/14 - @ Hawaii W 17-16

9/6/14 - vs Eastern Washington W 59-52

9/26/14 - vs Stanford L 13-20

11/15/14 - @ Arizona L 26-27

1/2/15 - The Cactus Bowl L 22-30

9/4/15 - @ Boise State L 13-16

9/26/15 - vs Cal L 24-30

10/8/15 - @ USC W 17-12

10/17/15 - vs Oregon L 20-26

9/24/16 - @ Arizona W 35-28

10/29/16 - @ Utah W 30-24

10/14/17 - @ Arizona State L 7-13

11/10/17 - @ Stanford L 22-30

11/18/17 - vs Utah W 33-30

12/30/17 - The Fiesta Bowl L 28-35

9/1/18 - "neutral site" Auburn L 16-21

9/22/18 - vs Arizona State W 27-20

10/6/18- @ UCLA W 31-24

10/13/18 - @ Oregon L 27-30

10/27/18 - @ Cal L 10-12

11/3/18 - vs Stanford W 27-23

11/30/18 - PAC Champ game W 10-3

1/1/19 - The Rose Bowl L 23-28

9/7/19 - vs Cal L 19-20

10/19/19 - vs Oregon L 31-35

Not a very fun trip down memory lane is it? Man, those 2 loses in 2017 are especially brutal .. oh what could have been that year ... 3 of his 4 bowl game losses by one score .. ugh.

Side note: Wouldn't it be interesting to know what our lives as Husky fans would be like right now if that record was 15-10 instead? Have fun with it for a moment, pick out 5 games to change to a Husky victory, which five losses would you chose to make wins and why? That could be a really fun discussion in the comment section ....

Ok, so, what gives?

Well, there are several ways to look at those results and we could go on and on about each game and what specifically was happening in each of them to lead to that final result. For the sake of not getting too much into the weeds, I pose this question; was my complete lack of confidence in UW's game winning drive situation on Saturday justified? In how many of these 25 games, did UW have a chance to win or tie the game with a final offensive possession? In other words, how many "legend or loser" moments were there?

Let's take a more detailed look at the losses that fall into this category:

Note: For the sake of this discussion, I am going to include every chance the offense had to execute a game winning or game tying score. We could go on and on about how realistic each one was in the comment section, or not.

9/16/14 @ Stanford, Cyler Miles took the reins of the offense at the UW 48 yard line, down 13-20 with 1:45 left in the game. They got as far as the Stanford 28 yard line .. it didn't work out.

1/2/15, The Cactus Bowl, vs Oklahoma State. Cyler Miles took the reins of the offense at the UW 20 yard line, down 22-30, with 41 seconds left. The drive ended with an INT.

9/4/15 @ Boise State, Jake Browning ran the offense out there at the UW 35 yard line, down 13-16, with 1:51 left. Van Winkle missed the game tying 46 yard field goal.

9/26/15 vs Cal, Jake Browning ran the offense onto the field at the UW 28 yard line, down 24-30, with 2:51 left. The drive ended with an INT.

10/17/15 vs Oregon, KJCS ran the offense onto the field at the UW 20 yard line, down 20-26, with 1:11 left. The drive ended in an INT

11/10/17 vs Stanford, Jake Browning ran the offense onto the field at the UW 20, down 22-30, with 2:30 left. The drive ended in a turnover on downs.

12/30/17, the Fiesta Bowl, Jake Browning ran the team on the field at the UW 28, down 28-35, with :21 left to play. Three incomplete passes in a row and a fumble on 4th and 10.

9/1/18, "neutral" location, against Auburn. Jake Browning ran the offense out on the field at the UW 25 with 5:26 left to play. They got as far at the Auburn 37 .. the drive ended at the UW 47 ...

10/13/18, @ Oregon, Jake Browning ran the offense onto the field a the UW 8 yard line with 5:05 left to play. With the game tied 24-24, Washington drove all way down to the Oregon 20 and Henry missed the game winning FG.

10/27/18, @ Cal, Jake Browning takes the offense out onto the field at the Cal 22, with 6:56 left, down 7-12 and needing a TD to go ahead and give the ball back to a Cal offense for their chance at a legend or loser moment. The drive ends with a FG from the Cal 9 yard line.

10/19/19, vs Oregon, Jacob Eason takes the field with the offense at the UW 25, down 31-35, with 5:00 left to play. The Huskies drive down to the Oregon 35 yard line. Turnover on downs.

Of the 15 one-score losses, 11 of them included an unsuccessful "legend or loser" moment. A chance for the UW offense to either tie or win the game with a successful, late game, offensive possession.

Here is a more detailed look at the 10 one-score wins that included a successfully completed late game offensive possession.

9/24/16, @ Arizona, Jake Browning runs the offense out onto the field at the UW 34 yard line, with 4:40 left to play and the game tied 21-21. This drive does technically meet the definition of the kind of opportunities I am talking about. They do successfully complete a go ahead TD ... Arizona then completes a "legend or loser" success of their own on the next possession, UW ends up winning in OT.

11/18/17, vs Utah, Jake Browning runs the offense onto the field at the UW 28 with :24 left to play, with the game tied 30-30. They successfully drive down to the Utah 31 and Vizcaino hits the game winning FG.

Of those 25 one-score games, the Chris Petersen-led UW Huskies have had a late game opportunity to score a game winning or game tying FG or TD on 13 occasions. They are 2-11. In this situation, UW has successfully tied or won the game 18.1% of the time. It is then no wonder why myself and some other of my Husky fan peers has no confidence that last drive was going to end in happy feelings.

Let's talk about this. What is going on here?

Is 18.1% actually bad? What is the FBS average for successfully completing "last minute" game winning drives? Is this a function of the UW offense just not being that good against high ranked competition in the past several years? If that is the case, well then of course they are not going to be successful when the stress hits a fever pitch.

Is it possible, that Chris Petersen, the "zen master," is too zen? Or is it that Chris Petersen's teams are just not able to handle too much stress? The Yerkes Dodson Law is a famous psychological principle that states that one will achieve maximum performance when one is experiencing a moderate level of stress. This has been studied many times over the years and it has been generally found that when someone is engaging in complex and/or new tasks you want to have a moderate level of stress in order to maximize performance. If the stress is too high, performance decreases. If the stress is too low, performance also decreases. This has not been shown to hold true for "simple" or known tasks. It turns out that for simple and/or known tasks, you actually want to have a low level of stress in order to achieve maximum performance. I think we can all agree that successfully completing a late game scoring drive in a college football game meets the criteria for a complex task.

This is the first year that I have begun to think that maybe what is missing in these situations is some fire. Perhaps Petersen has not been able to help his players learn how to turn a sense of urgency into successful execution in high stress, high stakes moments. I honestly don't know. I was inspired to post my first fanpost for two main reasons; I wanted to actually see the numbers and I wanted to start up a conversation about what might be happening here.

Thanks for reading, and as always, GO DAWGS!