Oct. 24, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies' first takeoff attempt from Tucson Airport at 1 a.m. Sunday was stopped almost as soon as it began. The plane's pilot noticed a light flashing on his instrument panel: Check systems.
How fitting. That's exactly what Washington (3-4, 2-2 Pac-10) began doing moments after a 44-14 loss late Saturday at Arizona.
"We left a lot of points out there," battered quarterback Jake Locker said of an offense that missed opportunities to stay with the Wildcats in the second quarter and at the start of the third. "I felt we could have scored with their offense, that we could have put long drives together to help out our defense."
The D could have used the help.
Arizona (6-1, 3-1) romped to 315 yards and 24 points by the midway point of the second quarter. Fill-in quarterback Matt Scott started 14 for 16 passing.
"I wasn't anticipating that at all," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Now it's time for the 2010 resiliency test, third edition.
"We'll be OK," Sarkisian said on the end of Arizona Stadium's field outside the visiting locker room late Saturday. "We're a very resilient group."
Indeed, each time the Huskies have looked doomed this season - after a big home loss to Nebraska, following a 10-point home loss to Arizona State - they have responded. They beat USC and Oregon State, respectively, after those defeats. The win at SC was Washington's first on the road in three years.
Now, 13th-ranked Stanford (6-1, 3-1) is coming to Husky Stadium on Saturday at 4 p.m. It is the fifth ranked team in six opponents for Washington.
Yet the Huskies remain undaunted.
"In the Pac-10 everybody beats everybody," linebacker Mason Foster said, seemingly excluding undefeated and top-ranked Oregon, which UW meets in two weeks in Eugene. "We've just got to keep playing.
"This team bounces back. We're going to be ready for Stanford."
They have some fixing to do first.
"Our inability to rush the passer in the first half was the key to the game," Sarkisian said, knowing Arizona threw just six times after halftime.
As much as the pass rush is a worry, stopping the run remains UW's a key.
And Stanford will bring to Seattle this weekend an average of 216 yards rushing per game. Only Oregon is better on the ground in the Pac-10.
The Wildcats ran for 234 yards Saturday, 170 in the first half. Keola Antolin gained 114 yards on 14 carries.
It should have been 24-14 - or 27-14 at worse - at halftime. The Huskies had Arizona stopped for a fourth and 3 from the UW 30 late in the half. But the Huskies were flagged for grabbing the facemask of Arizona receiver Juron Criner at the end of a reception. The 15-yard penalty set up the first of two touchdowns rushing by Nic Grigsby, and it was 30-14 instead.
"That's what was killing us. Everybody was making mistakes," Foster said.
Washington came out of halftime with what it thought was a sound plan on offense to get back in it, trailing by two touchdowns plus two-point conversions. But on the first drive of the second half, Arizona defensive end and Pac-10 sack leader Ricky Elmore knocked the ball out of Locker's hand from behind as he sacked him.
The fumble gave the Huskies' defense exactly what it did not need: an Arizona drive start at the UW 26. Grigsby converted the turnover into another touchdown run, and the margin became too large to overcome.
The capping score came when Scott dropped a shotgun snap, picked the ball up, and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass. Officials also flagged the Huskies for two fouls on the play.
Sarkisian might as well have thrown up his hands.
"That was just a microcosm of our whole night," the Huskies' coach said. "They fumble, get a PI (pass interference call), a roughing-the-passer penalty and a touchdown all on the same play."
Locker's health will remain an issue all week, and perhaps for weeks after that. Week after week of physical contests have taken their toll.
True to his nature and maturity, Locker won't make excuses that his health is affecting him. But Sarkisian said it limited him from calling as many rollout passes or quarterback runs in Arizona as he did last week when Locker threw for a school record-tying five touchdowns against Oregon State in the 35-34 win in two overtimes.
"It's going to be a week-to-week thing," Sarkisian said. "He's just beat up.
"(But) we don't have time to sulk or dwell on this. We have another tough opponent coming up in Stanford."
His players are confident that another bounce back is imminent.
"We're not going to take a step back," said linebacker Cort Dennison, who led UW with 11 tackles at Arizona. "We can't take a step back, or things will spiral down. We're not that kind of team. We've got to move forward."
And his linebacking partner thinks that movement can still carry the Huskies into their first bowl since 2002. Washington needs three wins in the next five weeks to qualify for the postseason.
"Every game in this conference is winnable," Foster said. "That's definitely everybody's goal."