Road Dawgs Have to Dig Themselves Out

SEATTLE - It's just been that kind of year. The Washington offense was supposed to be the one that would keep the team in games; instead it's been all about the defense. Last year UW scored at least 14 points before halftime in 10 of their 13 games; this year they've only scored that much in three out of their first eight games.

Last year the Huskies only scored last in two games as game-winners; this year they've already matched that number with four more games to go. In a bit of a twist, these Huskies are getting a rep of playing an ugly brand of football, and if you let them hang around long enough they'll make you pay the price.

"We're a little bit of a blue-collar, grind-em-out football team, which is fine," Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday as the Huskies prepared for another tough game - this one against the California Golden Bears Friday on national television. "That's a fine way to win and I love winning that way. But at some point I'd like to score some more points and get ahead of people and win that way, too. But for the time being that's just the way we are built right now.''

When their backs were up against the wall two years ago and they needed a road win in Berkeley, the Huskies ground out a 16-13 win when Chris Polk dove into the end zone off right guard with no time left on the clock. It was an cosmetically-challenged a win as you could possibly draw up, but it helped eventually propel Washington to their first bowl game under Sarkisian, a similarly down-and-dirty 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl - a game that proved the Dawgs' resiliency after having lost by 35 at home to those same 'Huskers.

"In a perfect world we'd jump up by a bunch of points and pull away and win a game, Sarkisian said. "We haven't had that luxury right now and we are not quite there yet. So the point is to go into a ball game and execute really well and make them earn their plays on offense, defense and special teams and not give them too much, and then ultimately taking advantage of opportunities on our end. And then as you move your way into the second half and making the proper adjustments from the stuff we are getting and finishing the ball game in the fourth quarter. That's just kind of where we're at right now as a football team."

After losing 52-17 at Arizona two weeks ago, it seems almost inconceivable that Washington would be the team brimming with confidence as they head back out on the road - a place that has been about as inhospitable a place as you could possibly imagine. In the three road tests so far in 2012, the Huskies have flunked every exam, losing all by a combined total of 145-41. There's not enough paint to gloss over Washington's road woes…they've simply stunk.

"We have challenges every week that we're faced with, and we never shy away from them; we almost magnify them because I want the team to know what the challenge is and what we need to respond to," Sarkisian said. If that is truly the case, the challenge this week is crystal-clear; find a way to win - any way possible.

As UW had the intangibles covered in their 20-17 win over Oregon State Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the Golden Bears will hold the edge in that department as the come home licking their own wounds. With the win, Washington snapped a three-game winning streak, and Cal will be trying to kill a two-game skid where they've looked completely out of sorts and demoralized. The last three seasons, Cal has lost two of their final three games twice, and lost all three in 2010. This is the time where Jeff Tedford teams have curled up in a big ball and disappeared - but Washington can't hope for past history to dig themselves out of a road losing streak going all the way back to October of 2011.

"If that doesn't motivate you to some degree to prepare yourself…" Sarkisian said.

The Husky Head Coach should the be most motivated of all. Since joining UW in December of 2008, the Huskies have gone 4-15 on the road under his watch by a combined score of 712-404. That's horrible. And Sarkisian knows that even a win Friday night won't kill the discussion as to why Washington has struggled away from home on his watch.

"I don't think it's just going to go away until you start to string more games in a row together on the road," he said. "But for this week, that's our challenge."

Washington needs to start quickly, hang tight when the Golden Bears strike back - which they undoubtedly will at some point - and then find the same courage, conviction and ability to execute that has already allowed them to beat two top-10 teams for the first time in over a decade. The blueprint is in place, but do the Huskies have what it takes to execute that game plan away from home?

The fields haven't been the same dimension for the Huskies on the road. They have seemingly been twice as long on offense and half as big on defense. Justin Wilcox will take his tape measure if the Huskies need to be reminded. "We've got to play better," the UW Defensive Coordinator - who has coached at Cal before - said, matter-of-factly. "The road…you've seen Hoosiers, right? When they measure the hoop? The same thing…we've got to execute better. It's not the road, it's not the plane ride. We've got to execute better."

Dig deep, and Washington just may find their way out of the hole that has kept them from experiencing road success for far too long. But if they forget their shovels and hard hats in Seattle, they'll be no better off than they were three weeks ago - nothing more than an average football team searching for answers as to why they can't compete away from home.


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