Huskies Need to Dig Deep

CORVALLIS - Oregon State did what they could to make it an entertaining game. Heck, the Pac-10 referees - who have a reputation as being some of the worst in the country - didn't disappoint. But with a chance to pull an unbelievable road win out - even in the face of losing their star quarterback - the Washington Huskies couldn't walk through the door. It was open - wide open.

The Huskies frantically scored the last 14 points of an ugly 29-23 OSU win - and just as an injured Jake Locker was spotted walking along the sidelines with a neck brace - they were the recipients of arguably the biggest blown call of the year out west. Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard's body clearly appeared to be down as he was stretching toward the Huskies' end zone. He put the ball out over the goal-line - typically signalling a touchdown - yet when the ball squirted free from his hand and was picked up by Washington cornerback Roy Lewis - the whistle hadn't blown the play dead. Lewis - who alertly started running, wasn't stopped until he got out to the Huskies' 38-yard line.

So there it was - the Huskies down by six, with the ball and a timeout to spare. Two minutes and forty-one seconds from paydirt and a chance to win a game for their injured starter. It had all the makings of an ending normally found in Hollywood.

And that's where it stayed.

A Louis Rankin 25-yard screen put the ball in the Beavers' end - the whole time the partisan Oregon State crowd were booing their collective heads off. Two more plays and the Huskies found themselves with a third-and-two. Washington backup QB Carl Bonnell - who was pretty miraculous in engineering the Huskies' offense to the point they found themselves - missed Corey Williams by the end zone, and then a pass from Bonnell to Anthony Russo couldn't find the mark.

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda - I wish I would have run the ball on that third-and-two," Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano said after the game.

Just like that it was over. In the real world, the score would have been 36-23 and there wouldn't have been much to talk about. But in a game where Locker gets hurt - is taken by an ambulance to the hospital and comes back to watch his team on the sidelines - all in the span of a couple of hours, you can't expect things to unfold normally.

Give Washington a lot of credit; after seeing their warrior fall, they didn't do the same. They fought, and fought gamely. "They rallied around him (Locker)," Lappano said. "I could tell that they wanted to win for him."

But as much as you know the coaches wanted to do the same, you could tell something wasn't right. As a result of Jake's run, they had a fourth-and-1 inside OSU territory - but instead of putting in their experienced signal-caller and getting back on the horse, the coaches decided it was time to ride another day and punted away the ball, despite being down 13 points at the time.

In the fourth quarter - after OSU starting QB Lyle Moevao had thrown an interception to Washington's Trenton Tuiasosopo on the very first play of the third quarter and gave up a fumble after being sacked two series later - it was more than obvious what the Beavers were going to do. They were going to run Yvenson Bernard into the ground - and why not? He'd run for 144 yards in the Beavers' 27-17 win last season. Add to that the reverse to freshman James Rodgers and Moevao bootlegging, the Beavers' offense had been decoded. Yet the only way the Huskies could stay in the game was when the referees handed it to them.

And that still wasn't enough.

"We never stop fighting," Willingham said afterward. "And as a team, we didn't give up. But we didn't do enough to pull ahead."

You could point to a number of calls/non-calls that hurt the Huskies' chances. Not being ready to handle the extra-point situation after scoring a 41-yard touchdown from Bonnell to Anthony Russo - thus calling a much-needed timeout. Or blowing their last timeout before misfiring on a fourth-and-two pass? Or the two decisions inside Beaver territory to go for it on fourth down instead of letting their kickers take a shot?

It's perfectly understandable to think that the players would be seriously affected by seeing their own unquestioned leader cut down and injured seriously enough at the time to require an ambulance ride to the hospital. But in retrospect, it looks like the coaches were the ones that were in a funk. Understandable? Absolutely. But with so much at stake and with a team trying to use bailing wire and duct tape to scrape out a win on the road, it just felt like it was the players out there trying to keep it together.

"This was just a strange game overall," Willingham said. "There's no other way to describe it."

Actually there is, coach. It can also be described as a loss, one of 23 since he first stepped on campus - to go with his 10 wins.

"We still have three big games to play, so we'll focus on those," he added.

I'm sure they are huge to him, his staff and his team. But to the world at large, Washington football will miss a post-season for the fifth-straight year, and that's just not acceptable. Willingham would be the first to admit it.

But is Washington football officially at a crossroads? With a bowl goal blown for the second-straight year, what is next?

One thing is for sure. Gift-wrapped opportunities like the one at Oregon State don't come along very often. I guess that's what makes this particular loss just a little more devastating than the others - especially considering what was at stake.


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