Nov. 7, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - If it wasn't obvious when No. 1 Oregon scored 28 points on them in the final 18 minutes to break open a close game, it was obvious later Saturday on the Huskies' flight home from Eugene.
Spent players were silent or sleeping throughout the short trip. Coach Steve Sarkisian had a flight attendant announce to the plane that the team had Sunday off. Yet even that gift got no reaction from his pooped guys.
"Oh, we were exhausted," Sarkisian said.
Hey, great time for a bye week.
Washington (3-6, 2-4 Pac-10) doesn't play again until the Nov. 18 home finale against UCLA. The Huskies are hoping star quarterback Jake Locker's broken rib is healed enough by then for him to play his final game at Husky Stadium.
The senior captain stood on the sidelines at Autzen Stadium advising and supporting redshirt freshman Keith Price's admirable first career start. Sarkisian said it is too early to tell if Locker can be ready for the Bruins.
Beyond resting bodies by having days off from practice this coming Thursday and Friday, the Dawgs also hope the time off will heal their psyche. That's been bruised by three consecutive rough losses to Arizona, Stanford and Oregon - all nationally ranked and the best of the Pac-10.
"This week off we need to rest our minds, because I think that's where guys are hurting most, mentally," safety and senior co-captain Nate Williams said.
The season has been maddeningly inconsistent. The remarkable wins at USC and against Oregon State. The falls at Arizona and against Stanford. Then Saturday's gritty effort that had the usually rabid Ducks fans actually complimenting the Dawgs for how they were handling the home team.
Through all that, Washington's primary goal remains in reach. Wins in the last three games - against UCLA (4-5, 2-4), at California (5-4, 3-3) and at Washington State (1-9, 0-7) - would qualify the Huskies for their first bowl since 2002.
Even though UCLA surprised Oregon State 17-14 on Saturday, the Huskies feel better going forward than it did a week ago at this time.
The Dawgs' first three-game winning streak since 2006 would also represent improvement from 0-12 to 5-7 and then .500 in Sarkisian's first two seasons at UW.
"We'll regroup this week," Sarkisian said. "We're heading into the fourth quarter of the season. We've pushed the mantra home of `let's finish.' So now, we have to go finish."
Cornerback Quinton Richardson said Saturday's game, in which UW trailed ultra-powered Oregon 18-13 in the third quarter, left the Huskies "very confident."
"We're still going to walk with our heads up, with our heads held high," Richardson said. "Now, we've got to win."
The Huskies are going to need to fix some things to do that.
Sarkisian and his staff are already looking at possible changes on special teams, which have been a problem all season. The Huskies have been using veteran starting defensive players such as Cort Dennison with a blend of young players on kickoff coverage. Saturday, Dennison said he was as tired as he's ever been from chasing Oregon's lethal returners in the open field. That left the center of the Huskies' defense spent for scrimmage plays while trying to defend a short field.
"We've got to assess it again," Sarkisian said of the coverage teams.
The game's pivotal play came after Washington got within 18-13 and began believing the improbable might come true, thanks to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Price to Devin Aguilar early in the third quarter. Josh Huff took Oregon's ensuing kickoff return 80 yards to the Huskies 6. The Ducks scored on the next play and took off from there.
Oregon averaged 36.8 yards on five kickoff returns, and also had a 79-yard punt return. They began drives from the Huskies 6-, 37- and 16-yard lines in their runaway second half.
Richard Dent, William "Refrigerator" Perry and the 1985 Chicago Bears would have a tough time keeping teams from scoring while defending in that poor of field position.
Sarkisian noted the offense didn't help out the defense. UW was 2-for-16 on third-down conversions, resulting in many short drives and only brief rest for the tiring defense.
Locker's return against UCLA might settle some of that inconsistency. Maybe the senior would have made some key throws such as Saturday's first play. An admittedly over-anxious Price underthrew Jermaine Kearse when the junior was almost 10 yards past the last Ducks defender on a post route across midfield.
Still, Saturday's execution and effort against the best in college football right now was a marked improvement over the home shutout loss to Stanford the week before, and the blowout defeat at Arizona before that.
That alone has the Huskies feeling better - albeit tired - heading into this bye.
"Yeah, we're climbing back," Sarkisian said. "I'm proud of our kids, and I'm proud of our coaches.
"Our guys battled. They competed, against a very good football team."