No moral victories for these Dawgs

SEATTLE - The Washington Huskies are currently on a three-game losing streak but it sure doesn't seem like it. Granted, they have played some extremely good teams during this first five-game stretch. Fortunately for the Dawgs, 2-3 is not necessarily indicative of where this team is as Pac-10 play starts to unfold, but 0-2 presents unique challenges to these never-say-die Dawgs.

The Huskies take a much-needed bye week next week, right on the heels of a crushing 27-24 loss to the No. 1 USC Trojans at Husky Stadium Saturday night. And when I say crushing, clearly it's not the scoreboard that took a beating. We won't know for at least a couple of weeks if these Dawgs take the learning experience and run with it, or the weight of this loss runs them over.

It's the seventh time Washington has lost to a No. 1 USC team in the history of their series, and it's somehow fitting that the game was played with old-school jerseys honoring the 1960 Washington National Championship team, because in some ways these Huskies just didn't look like the same team that normally plays in purple. They picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown. When they desperately needed to block a punt, they did so. They played like a team that was looking to win until the final whistle, instead of one just happy to lose by three to a team that absolutely dominated them in the stats column.

"From my chair it was a good game," Willingham said afterward. "There were mistakes made by both teams. I'm proud of the way my team played, but take no solace in the fact that we came close but didn't win the game. We only teach one thing here. That is to win the game.

"It was a great fight, but we just made too many mistakes."

The same could be said for the Trojans, who turned the ball over three times, but came up with two thefts themselves, the most costly one for Washington being a fumble on an Anthony Russo punt return that was forced and recovered by USC's Terrell Thomas with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter. The subsequent drive netted the Trojans three points, enough to make it a two-score game for the visitors.

"They are a good football team," Willingham said of the Trojans. "And when they forced mistakes, they made us pay."

USC Head Coach Pete Carroll felt afterwards that all the things that happened to his team were self-inflicted. We just couldn't get out of our own way," he said. "I think it's a classic game, when you really mess it up and give up a night. Washington was there to take it; all they needed was one more chance. We almost beat ourselves tonight, we tried really hard. Thankfully we were able to find a way to win. But we were so horrible, that it was hard to watch."

With all the upsets that happened in college football - Auburn over Florida, Kansas State over Texas, Colorado over Oklahoma, Maryland over Rutgers, just to name a few - Carroll was already moving on. "It's a win, and we're fortunate to be out of here," he said.

Meanwhile, the Huskies have to stew on this loss for a while, and take the bye week to examine what went right during the first five weeks, as well as what went south. And there's plenty to take on both sides.

"If we can improve in some critical areas, we can put pressure on the opposition," Willingham said. "Hopefully it's all part of the maturation process that you can only get on the field.

"We have a good football team, but we just aren't doing some things perfectly."

So is USC the No. 1 team in the country? It might be a weird question to ask, but for those that believe LSU shares an equal claim, Willingham might have a quarrel with you.

"I would say yes," he said. "They made mistakes, but we didn't have to play a perfect game to win."

Carroll pointed to a couple of things that led to the Trojans' inconsistency on offense. "The lack of continuity in the line of scrimmage was real obvious," he said. "We had four procedure penalties in the line of scrimmage. We had the late hit on the sidelines; I thought the guy was still in bounds. We had the loose ball underneath the receiver on a ball that might have been a lateral and we get penalized for a helmet-to-helmet contact - which I guess happened. Stuff happened."

Carroll was being charitable to the referees. Willingham chimed in with his own take on the zebras.

"There were 16 penalties, but there could have very easily been 32 holding calls," he said. "I told the refs that we were wearing commemorative jerseys, and there might not be anything left of them for the auction."


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