But as it was last week against UCLA, it's make-or-break time for the Huskies on Saturday when they take on Cal in Berkeley.
Washington is 4-6 and has to get to 6-6 to get to a bowl, which means winning its last two games at Cal and at Washington State.
Washington has won just once on the road since 2007, earlier this season at USC, so on paper it's a tall order.
But the Huskies feel better about their chances after a 24-7 win over UCLA on Thursday that injected some life into the season.
And they insist that the lure of a bowl game remains strong.
"I think the bowl game would be great for a lot of reasons, let's not kid ourselves here," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said, mentioning the reward it would be for the seniors, the added practice time for the younger players and simply how it would represent progress in his second year as coach. "Whether or not that means we're getting better or not, I think it just feels that way. To play a 13th game would be great for the program's sake."
But getting there won't be easy as the Huskies will face a Cal team that has the same goal. The Bears are 5-6 and know that simply beating the Huskies will get them a bowl -- thanks to the Pac-10's six contracted bowl slots, any conference team that gets eligible now will get to the postseason.
However, one of Washington's two wins came last season in Seattle, a 42-10 Husky victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
That was one of Jake Locker's best games as he completed 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing 14 times for 77 yards and two more scores.
But with Locker even healthier after returning to action against UCLA and making it through unscathed, figure the Huskies to try to get the passing game going (Locker was just 10 of 21 for 68 yards against UCLA).
NOTES & QUOTES
--The game will be the last played at Cal's Memorial Stadium before it undergoes a renovation. It will re-open in 2012. Washington is also closing out its own Husky Stadium next November before it undergoes a similar renovation, meaning the Huskies will play the final game in two of the most iconic stadiums in the Pac-10.
--It was revealed by the Seattle Times last week that Washington athletic director Scott Woodward was awarded a new five-year contract Sept. 30, which was also the final day as president for Washington's Mark Emmert before he took over as president of the NCAA. Woodward's new deal takes him through 2015. Woodward hired Washington coach Steve Sarkisian in 2008 as one of his first significant acts, so stability in the AD's chair will likely only help Sarkisian, as well.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads Cal 47-38-4 (last meeting, 2009, 42-10 Washington).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Even though Jake Locker was back last week after missing a loss at Oregon with a broken rib, the Huskies mostly just ran the ball against UCLA, a strategy that eventually paid off as the Huskies wore down the Bruins and finished with a season-high 253 yards on the ground. Of that total, 146 came in the second half as Washington turned almost exclusively to the run with Locker struggling (10 of 21 for 68 yards). TBs Chris Polk (138 yards) and Jesse Callier (107) each had strong games. And the Huskies got good play up front from freshman guard Colin Porter, who replaced senior Greg Christine early on and adds more physicality. But Washington will undoubtedly need to be more balanced this week to beat the Bears, who figure to move the ball better than UCLA was able to do in Seattle. Locker has his full complement of receivers for the first time in a while with Devin Aguilar again healthy, which should help. A real key for Washington is converting on third downs: it was just 1-for-12 against UCLA and is 5-for-39 overall in the last three games.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Huskies get to face another backup quarterback, having gone 1-1 in such games this year, losing to Arizona and Matt Scott but beating UCLA and Richard Brehaut. Now it's Cal and Brock Mansion, stepping in for the injured Kevin Riley. Cal has been much more one-dimensional with Mansion at the helm as he does not have the passing touch of Riley. So the real key to this one will be if Washington can stop Cal's running game, led by shifty back Shane Vereen, who is third in the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,061 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Washington is coming off one of its best games against the run, holding UCLA to 108 yards and 3.0 yards per carry. But Cal has a more complex offense and identifying the ball and staying in the proper gaps -- things that have sometimes troubled the Huskies -- will be key against the Bears. And run defense remains maybe the biggest weakness for the Huskies as they are 112th in the nation, allowing 208.4 yards per game. Washington went with a bigger defensive tackle tandem against UCLA with 297-pound Semisi Tokolahi joining 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu in the starting lineup, an alignment that will likely continue. And while Mansion isn't the thrower that Riley was, Cal has a much better receiving corps than the Bruins, and the Bears are certain to try to test a Washington pass defense that ranks in the middle of the pack against the pass. But it likely will rest on how well the Huskies can defend Cal's running game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we're really going to play the way we want to play and close out this year, our ability to extend drives has got to get better. We've been awful at it. I think we were 1-for-12 last week; that puts us five for our last 39 on third down (in the last three games), which is a terrible stat. For us to keep this trend going of playing good defense, running the football and getting better to close the year, that's the one area that's got to improve here this week. It's got to improve right now." -- Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington at Cal, Nov. 27 -- The Bears and Huskies meet in a game that is must-win for each team's bowl hopes. Cal will clinch a bowl game with a victory while the Huskies need wins in their last two games to get to the post-season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Contain the run. Washington is 112th in the nation, allowing 208 yards per game. Cal is fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing at 155 per game, and with a more varied attack than the UCLA offense that the Huskies shut down last week. Washington has to keep the Bears from getting the run going early and make QB Brock Mansion beat them. Washington ranks a distant last in the Pac-10 in converting third downs at 31.7 percent and was just 1-for-12 last week against UCLA. It will need to pick up some of those this week to stay on the field and keep the clock moving. Washington has led at the end of the first quarter just once all season. Given the shaky psyches of both teams in this one, early momentum could be critical. The Huskies also need to get Jake Locker going. The senior QB struggled with his accuracy last week (10-of-21 passing) in his first game after sitting out one game and two weeks of practice with a broken rib. He has to be more efficient.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jake Locker -- It has not been the senior season Locker wanted when he decided to return, but he can salvage it by leading Washington to wins in the last two games and getting to a bowl, which would be the Huskies' first since 2002. Expect him to be more active running this week.
RB Chris Polk -- The sophomore had his best game of the season with 138 yards last week and is nearing a second straight 1,000-yard season with 861 on the year. He'll need a big game at Cal to keep the Bears' offense off the field.
LB Mason Foster -- The senior continues to lead the Pac-10 in tackles with 128 and continues to rise up NFL draft charts, as well, due to his playmaking ability. He'll also have some added motivation this week playing in Berkeley, near his hometown of Seaside, Calif.
CB Quinton Richardson -- Washington coaches say the junior has improved tremendously the last month or so, solidifying the cornerback spot opposite Desmond Trufant. Richardson had a big hit early in last week's game against UCLA and also had a game-clinching interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He'll be tested again this week by Cal, however.
--QB Jake Locker, who played last week with a broken rib, remains less than 100 percent but made it through the UCLA game and will start this week at Cal barring a setback in practice.
--Freshman safety Sean Parker, a key reserve and member of nickel and dime packages, is expected to be back this week after missing the UCLA game with a stinger.
--DE Talia Crichton is likely out for the year with a knee injury suffered against Oregon State on Oct. 16. He has not played since.