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Blowout Puts Bowl Hopes Within Reach for Huskies

No one should ever have tell a Washington fan how important the Apple Cup is. But if there is a Washington fan out there looking for one more reason to go to Husky Stadium Friday to support the purple and gold, they didn’t have to look any further than their television Saturday afternoon. 

Hopefully while in front of their big screens they got a giant dose of what one more win could mean for Washington's season, for their ever-long quest to ‘build skill’ as Huskies’ Head Coach Chris Petersen has put it. 

In Washington’s 52-7 thumping of hapless Oregon State at Reser Stadium, everything came into place. They started out strong with a trick play in the return game, established the run, confused the Beavers en route to a wide open pass play from freshman quarterback Jake Browning to Brayden Lenius for a touchdown - and the barrage was on. 

Just like last week, the Huskies hit on all cylinders offensively. Unlike last week, they found the points to go with all that production, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives. And there was a 89-yard Dante Pettis punt return sandwiched in there somewhere.

“Their style of punting is very awkward, very much like Utah,” Petersen told the media post-game when asked about Pettis's return. “And nobody has done anything. I think maybe something early in the year somebody might have got a decent return but for the last handful of game nobody’s really doing anything. It’s kind of how it goes and we’re always looking for that pitch to hit. We talk about it all the time. We got one and I’m really anxious to put the tape on because (Pettis) creased it and ran it right up the middle but that’s really telling us that everybody else is doing some really great work. I’m anxious to see how that looks on tape.”

Petersen will have a perma-grin watching the Oregon State film, simply because they did the two things he’s been looking for: 1) Execution; 2) Finish. 

For example, senior receiver Jaydon Mickens missed a couple key passes early at Arizona State that could have put points on the board. Against Oregon State he made a beautiful catch on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Browning that looked pretty similar to a catch he could have made against the Sun Devils. The difference? Six points. 

“I just thought we executed really well,” Browning said. “We established the run game pretty early and had a great first drive and that just kind of catapulted us for the whole first quarter and second quarter.”

Everything came to Browning, who didn’t throw an incompletion until the Huskies were up 21-0 ten minutes into the game and the result was already in the bag. He finished the day 18-20 for 211 with four touchdowns. The 28 points scored in the first quarter was a school record. When he had some key early third down conversions, he took the easy money. He didn’t force throws; he didn’t have to. 

The receivers got early separation, which also made Browning’s job easier. And when he put the ball on their hands, they came up with the catch - every time. And the offense kept Oregon State guessing because of their efficiency and ability to execute both running and passing the football.

“I think that helped because their defense couldn’t really focus in on one thing to stop,” said freshman running back Myles Gaskin, who carried the ball 23 times for 127 yards. “They played a great game. We just executed really.”

The execution showed up in nearly every fact of Washington’s production. The Huskies only punted once, with 7:29 left in the second quarter. They threw two passes in the second half compared to 34 runs. They possessed the ball for over 41 minutes, third-most in school history. They didn’t turn the ball over. 

And when they needed to finish the game off, they did so early in the second quarter. Unlike Arizona State the week before, where they let their hosts hang around only to be punished for it later in the game - there was no question who was going to provide the punishment in Corvallis Saturday.

The Huskies played 65 of the maximum 70 players that can travel to non-rivalry league games. Compare that to Arizona State, where Washington played 51 players. 

“It's awesome because now those guys get real life game reps,” said Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. “Now we can coach off of that and show them what they did well and what they need to get better at. Any time you can get the backups game reps, live reps, that’s huge.”

After a while, the game got a little bit absurd. Marvin Hall played some cornerback. 

For all the plaudits headed the offense’s way - and they are all deserved - it’s the defense that continued its dominance and really paved the way for Washington’s offense to do its thing. They forced seven three-and-outs, seven punts, and only allowed seven points on OSU's side of the ledger. 

But for all the good the defense did their best effort came on Oregon State’s longest play of the day, on that started at OSU's 16-yard line. BUCK Travis Feeney came upfield, watched 172-pound Paul Lucas scoot right inside him. Feeney was six yards upfield on the play, and then he was pushed to the wide side of the play while other would-be Husky tacklers couldn’t come up with Lucas. Around the 25-yard line, Lucas was free and in full stride - yet the 226-pound Washington senior never gave up on the play and closed the angle on Lucas as he raced down the Huskies’ sideline. Feeney reached out around the 10-yard line and was able to trip Lucas up at the seven before the OSU running back could score. 

That was a money-maker for Feeney, as his heads-up play helped force a field goal try by Oregon State’s Garrett Owens that was missed from 36 yards, giving the Huskies a jolt of confidence that maybe a shutout was still possible. And it epitomized Washington’s attitude of never giving up on a play, never giving up on a series, never giving up on a game until the final whistle is blown. 

“I don’t think there’s been a game where I haven’t felt they played really hard, really physical, and all that,” said Petersen. “We got out-classed in one game when we played Stanford this year and every other game we were right there having a chance to win at the end. I feel like they’ve always really played like there backs are to the wall. They kind of talk amongst themselves, they know what’s at stake. I’ve kind of felt all along like they’ve played with pretty good urgency. We just haven’t executed all the time like we’d like to and I thought that was better tonight.”

What’s at stake this coming Friday is bowl eligibility. It’s that simple. With a win, Washington fans wouldn’t have to walk in the shadows, embarrassed at the potential UW sneaking through the bowl system’s back door that uses replacement teams with losing records. 

As poor as Oregon State was on Saturday - and they were truly dreadful - Washington can only play the teams that are in front of them. They’ve had chances to give up on the season, to not finish, but one more win would instantly redeem their efforts. 

It’s fun to think of an Apple Cup where a lot is on the line for the Huskies. It’s been a while, going back to 2010 - and that season ended on an incredible high. Washington beat Washington State 35-28 that season, and finished things off by beating Nebraska to help atone for a 35-point loss to the Cornhuskers earlier that year. 

We all know what happened in 2011; Washington earned bowl eligibility by their eighth game, eventually losing to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl that was more basketball than football. But progress had been made, and that’s exactly what Petersen is looking at by getting to a bowl game in 2015. He wants those extra practices, but more importantly - he needs them. The practices are a vital cog in the machine that is primed to take the Huskies to the next stage in their development as a program.  

As far as the players are concerned, next Friday is their bowl game. 

“Next week’s everything to us, that’s our championship,” said linebacker Keishawn Bierria. “Then again it’s just another team that’s coming to the house and we just have to produce; we have to do our job. We have to play championship defense and the offense has to produce. We’re going to do what we have to do.”


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