Nothing but Moral Victories Left for UW

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The 27-point loss, the worst ever for the Washington Huskies on the road to Oregon State, could have been even uglier. With the game already out of hand, the Huskies scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to save a little face, but not much. The only statistics Washington measured up to were punts and kickoff returns. Not in terms of how well they did, just how many.

"That was an ugly football game," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said afterward. "There wasn't a phase in which we performed to our capabilities." Sarkisian knows about about ugly football games in Reser Stadium; While at USC, the last two seasons the Trojans played at Oregon State resulted in losses, despite going 23-3. The Trojans would come back in both games to make them close, but the first halves were as ugly as the one that was played on this Saturday. Sarkisian had a term to describe them - 'Disastrous Football'.

What is most mystifying about the Huskies' road no-show was how utterly complete it was. With bowl eligibility hanging in the balance, let alone a chance to snap the Huskies' five-game schneid against Oregon State, UW came out and laid an egg so big the Reser family could have fed all 45,274 in attendance with it and still had some left over for breakfast Sunday morning. The game came to the Beavers so nice and easy, Sarkisian should expect a couple of fruit baskets from OSU Head Coach Mike Riley.

"Our coaching staff is like one person combined," Riley would say, which is a roundabout way of really saying that he didn't need to show up at all. "I've got a great group of guys and they did a great job of preparing our team for today's game."

"The one thing I envy about them is their consistency," Sarkisian said of the Beavers, who rolled up an efficient 372 yards total offense on the day. Sean Canfield threw for less than 200 yards, but he had four touchdowns to show for it. "They play hard on both sides of the ball. They just play consistent football. They just do things right."

The Beavers also start fast, outscoring their opponents 71-17 before Saturday's game. After winning the coin toss (the Huskies called tails again - haven't they ever seen 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead'?), Oregon State let Washington hang their hopes on offense - apparently a winning formula for those that try it. A three-and-out and Oregon State had the ball basically at midfield.

Then something unusual happened; the Huskies defense forced a three-and-out. It's only the second time they've done it all year on the first opposition drive. On third down all the lineman, save DT Alameda Ta'amu, were standing. The new wrinkle created enough pressure for Washington's Cort Dennison to tackle Beaver RB Jacquizz Rodgers for no gain. Maybe this was the game where all of Nick Holt's artistry would come alive. Perhaps this was the time when all the teachings and all the gentle prodding by the defensive coaching staff would finally reap a whirlwind bounty of sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers galore.

It never got that far. Washington's Jake Locker threw an out route that was picked off by the Beavers' Keaton Kristick at UW's 17-yard line. OSU scored two plays later and the rout was on. Oregon State's defensive line, led by Stephen Paea, was so dominant, the Huskies had to take out their starting left guard - Nick Wood - and replace him with 6-foot-6, 335-pound Ben Ossai.

"Paea was just so powerful inside, we felt like we needed a bigger body to handle him," Sarkisian said.

It didn't matter. The Beavers kept coming - from the middle and from the sides. They would end up with four sacks and nine tackles for loss. They would force Locker into carrying the ball six times for minus-13 yards. "The pressure can look overwhelming when you don't block guys," Sarkisian added. "It can look even worse."

Down 20-0 in the second quarter, Washington put together a nine-play, 66-yard drive, ending with Locker finding Jermaine Kearse in the end zone. With 2:21 left before halftime, Sarkisian was hopeful his defense had another stop in them so his offense could try and narrow OSU's lead to a single score.

But the Beavers did what every good team does; they take whatever shred of momentum gained by the opposition and squeeze it out of them like an anaconda. And so it was with the Huskies, who made willing fodder. Canfield went 6-10 on the drive for 70 yards, using UW cornerback Adam Long as his personal play-thing. His last pass went to James Rodgers from 10 yards out with 24 seconds left.

Game over. The 84-yard kickoff return by Rodgers to start the second half seemed remarkably anticlimactic, as if Washington fans knew that was coming. If it wasn't a breakdown on offense or defense, it had to be special teams. Apparently Will Mahan's 7-yard shank in the first quarter wasn't enough to sate the football gods and their sick sense of humor.

Not even Chris Polk, who had another sensational game for the Huskies running the ball, could save these horrid Huskies. He carried the ball 19 times for 116 yards, often in heroic fashion. He had one play where he rolled over an Oregon State defender and gained another 15 yards before being tackled. Polk is going to end up the first freshman ever to gain over a thousand yards for the Huskies in a single season, and it will be overshadowed by a litany of inconsistencies and lack of execution when it mattered most.

So the question remains - with no post-season to speak of, what do the Huskies do now? What is their left to play for? For Sarkisian, pride is a motivating factor like none other. "I was proud we got a couple of stops there, to be honest with you," he said of his defense in the fourth quarter and their ability to keep the score under 50 for the home team.

Washington has two weeks to untangle this mess. Can they do it in time to take on the Washington State Cougars, a team so lost they couldn't find the end zone with a map, compass and sherpas to guide the way? It has gotten so bad that Sarkisian, echoing his thoughts to his team Saturday at halftime, doesn't even want the Huskies to be focused on scoreboard. I guess you have to crawl before you can walk.

"I just want us to come out and play hard and do things right," he said. "I know we are better than the way we played today. I know we are a better football team because we've shown it before."

And that, ultimately is the biggest mystery. How did the Huskies, who beat the No. 3 team in the country, fall so hard so fast? Sarkisian said after the game that he and his staff are going to turn over all the rocks, assess everything they've done in their practices and preparation, to find that elusive solution.

In the meantime, UW fans get an extra week to relive the ugliest road loss in the history of the series, knowing that perhaps the ugliest home game in the history of the Apple Cup is right around the corner. They might actually beat the Cougars, but so what? I've already got a slogan in place for this gargantuan slugfest:

The Battle of Who Could Care Less.


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