Sliding Back Down the Mountain

Using Coach Sarkisian's mountain analogy, it appears the Huskies have stepped into a crevasse and are suddenly sliding backwards down the way they came. Six steps forward and five steps back, and all of a sudden they seem to be collectively struggling just to get back on their feet. Following their third consecutive loss, they seemed to have also forgotten how to follow the victory trail.

It wasn't pretty in Corvallis but just when it looked like the Dawgs had found the trail again, they suddenly they slipped and fell back.

Now at 6-5 and 4-4, the Washington Huskies have almost slid all the way back to base camp. After fighting so hard to gain ground, they are nearly back to where they started. It's a very tall mountain and they are certainly in need of a boost to clear the next level. There's also a dangerous cougar lurking ahead on the trail and there's no time to worry about this latest fall because that big cat is hungry and would like nothing better than one last meal before going back into winter hiding.

There's plenty of incentive to win on this last part of the trail before crossing another bowl which leads to yet another difficult part of the climb. This climb is a slow and a hard one, and those watching (us fans) must bear in mind that this group started at rock bottom and were largely inexperienced in the winning process. That is precisely what this climb is, it is a process of winning redevelopment and you don't switch sherpas just because you suddenly lose your way in a snowstorm.

It's not important who dropped the ball because once a fellow climber falls everyone else goes down because they are all roped together. No need to play coulda-woulda, but you have to think that the dropped pass and the missed field goal and the interception in the red-zone could easily have changed the outcome of the game. They didn't, and that's that, and they'd best get all three parts going in the same direction and finish this leg of the climb by next Saturday.

Washington State, at 4-7 and 2-6 in conference, is going nowhere except to the Clink, and a victory in their last game would mean more to that group of climbers than any of their other four wins. That's just the way it is with the Cougars. Beating Washington is the most important thing in a Cougar's life outside of graduating, mating and moving out of Pullman to find a permanent habitat. I know because I was there and was the Captain on a 1-8 Cougar team that came into Husky Stadium and made our season with a win over the Huskies. Considering how much this Cougar team is improving, this shapes up to be a heck of a finishing game for both of these teams.

It wouldn't be surprising to see WSU play well simply based upon the last three games by both teams. WSU has been clawing its way back towards respectability while Washington has been sliding, losing three in a row and four of their last five games. To the winner goes the Apple Cup and in-state bragging rights, and what looked like a great closing segment to their season is suddenly a monstrous challenge for these dropping Dawgs.

So how can they get back on their feet and finish with a win to set themselves up for those 15 extra practices and a chance to further scale the mountain? Start with tackling better and blocking better and go from there. It was fundamentals as much as anything that hurt the Huskies the most against Oregon State and no doubt that was pointed out to them in film study.

The return of Keith Price will surely help, but this loss to the Beavers was by no means the sole fault of Nick Montana. He knows he missed on at least five pass attempts where he simply couldn't put it in there. You could tell how much it hurt him and how personal he took the loss, but losing to Oregon State was a group effort and that starts up front where Washington could not mount a pass rush on defense and not protect the quarterback on offense. Oregon State had four sacks and the Huskies had one, but it was against a halfback pass and not the Beavers' quarterback. The Huskies won the rushing game but only by 15 yards. Had they won by 115 yards they would have won the game.

Oregon State is not a very good team but neither are the Huskies, so pounding the rock could have been the one thing that Washington could've done to give themselves a better chance to win. Bring back the power play and make this last game a slugfest: Move the chains and make the Cougars pack the box in order to open the pass.

To beat WSU, the Huskies will need to simply do those three things better, and they also would do well to give the ball to Chris Polk about 10 more times and let him put the team on his back and carry them to victory. Polk got 109 yards on 24 carries against the Beavers and it was tough sledding, but that's the way it always is late in the season. Put the ball in his hands about 10 more times and they might be able to win the game on the ground.

Both the Cougars and the Huskies have had their ups and downs in the kicking game this season, so winning that aspect of the contest will also be a key to winning the game. Washington lost the kicking game to the Beavers. Besides missing a chip-shot field goal they also punted poorly and gave up a 19-yard punt return. Against WSU, Washington needs to flat out win the kicking game and that means scoring on a blocked punt, punt return, or kickoff return and to be perfect in the specialty phases of kicking and snapping.

On defense, besides the pass rush, they could maybe disguise more in their coverages in order to make the Cougars quarterback think more. WSU is a no-huddle, shotgun, spread passing team that uses the run to complement the pass. They will surely test a questionable Husky secondary that has struggled all year long stopping passing teams. The Cougars have a wonderful receiver in Marquess Wilson and the Huskies could consider using their best man-to-man cover guy, Desmond Trufant, to play him all over the field. See if the other guys can beat you, but don't let Wilson go crazy with a 100-yard plus receiving day the way they did with the Beavers' Markus Wheaton.

Most important will be for Washington to regain their confidence and play with more enthusiasm. They seem to have been gone flat throughout this losing streak and need to quit worrying about losing and start thinking about maintaining their intensity no matter what happens in the game. Against Oregon State, all three phases of the team seemed uneasy whenever something went wrong in another phase. With the Cougars they need to fight through adversity and believe they are going to win no matter what happens in the game.

They need to get stops on defense and force more field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone. It's really that simple. Get the three takeaways like you did Saturday, but don't turn it over yourself. On offense they must answer every Cougar positive with one of their own. Stay in the game and give yourself a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. Keith Price almost made that happen against the Beavers but unfortunately when the offense threw their second interception of the game, the defense allowed the Beavers to drive 99 yards and put the game away. Of course giving up that long bomb out of the end zone was the killer, but that was no excuse for them to allow a team to go 99 yards and win the game.

Rise up, regain their confidence, and finish this season on a positive note - then regroup and make the most of an opportunity to get better by using those 15 extra bowl practices to prepare for a new climb toward the top. When teams try and push on to higher altitudes, it really gets down to one step at a time. Beating WSU is that next step. Get the summit back in view so you can at least see the destination. That starts by getting back on their feet and believing in one another. Everyone hook back on the rope and pull your own weight. Climb out of the crevasse and restart your quest to climb to the top of the mountain.

They won't get there this year, but beating the Cougars will mean the Huskies are again making progress in their ascent.


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