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Originally published Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Loss at Arizona makes UW 0-5, first time since 1969

It was the kind of performance that seemingly turned the debate over the future of Washington coach Tyrone Willingham into one of when...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Numbers game

Through the first five games, the average scores tell the tale of the Huskies' winless season.


42

Average points allowed per game

18.6

Average points scored per game

7.2

Average yards allowed per play

Huskies 2008 schedule
Aug. 30 at Oregon L, 44-10
Sept. 6 BYU L, 28-27
Sept. 13 Oklahoma L, 55-14
Saturday Stanford L, 35-28
Oct. 4 at Arizona L, 48-14
Oct. 18 Oregon St. 4 p.m., Versus
Oct. 25 N. Dame 5 p.m., TBA
Nov. 1 at USC TBA
Nov. 8 Arizona St. TBA
Nov. 15 UCLA TBA
Nov. 22 at WSU Noon, FSN
Dec. 6 at Cal TBA

All times subject to change.

TUCSON, Ariz. — It was the kind of performance that seemingly turned the debate over the future of Washington coach Tyrone Willingham into one of when, not if.

But if change now seems inevitable after Arizona's 48-14 win here Saturday night, it won't be immediate.

UW athletic director Scott Woodward met with reporters afterward to say he stands by the position he has held all along — he does not intend to fire his coach midstream.

"I stick with what I said last week," he said. "I told you last week that I was less happy than I was the week before. Well, I'm even less happy than I was. But we have seven games, and we are going to play those seven games and no, there is not going to be a change this week. We will look at the whole body of work of the season and assess it at the end of the season."

Some had conjectured that the upcoming bye week — UW is off until hosting Oregon State Oct. 18 — might be a good time to make a change if one was to come.

But Woodward said he doesn't see the benefit of such a move. He says he wants to keep stability in the program.

"I don't think it's a great philosophy to make a firing in the middle of the season," he said. "I just don't believe in it."

Not that he saw much he liked Saturday night.

Asked what he thought of the effort, Woodward said: "The score speaks for itself. That's what I have to say about it. It was not a good performance."

From beginning to end.

UW fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter, then let Arizona's deep reserves run off the final 8:33 of the game with 15 straight running plays.

"They kept killing our will slowly," said cornerback Quinton Richardson. "Breaking us down piece by piece."

When it was over, the shattered Huskies were left with an 0-5 record for the first time since 1969, a season the Huskies began 0-9 before winning the Apple Cup to finish 1-9. The Huskies have the nation's longest active losing streak at seven games, dating to last season. UW and North Texas are the only two teams left in the Football Bowl Subdivision without a win.

Still, Willingham — speaking before Woodward met with reporters — said he retains faith the team can turn its season around and that a bowl game remains possible.

And when asked whether he thinks he can be the coach to get that out of this team, he said, "I think I can."

So there will apparently be no quit in Willingham, even if the team's effort against Arizona raised questions about its motivation.

Arizona, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-10 play, might have made a game-changing decision before action even began as the Wildcats won the coin toss and elected to defer, deciding to take an 18 mile-per-hour wind instead.

It proved a fortuitous choice when UW — with new starting quarterback Ronnie Fouch — went three-and-out on its first drive.

A 20-yard punt gave Arizona the ball at the 40 and the Wildcats responded with a field goal. Another short punt two possessions later again gave Arizona the ball at the 40 and the Wildcats needed just two plays to convert, a 37-yard pass from Willie Tuitama to tight end Rob Gronkowski. That was the first of three Tuitama-to-Gronkowski touchdowns on the day.

It was 17-0 at the end of the first quarter as the Huskies had three punts and a lost fumble on their first four possessions.

"I don't think our kids laid down," Willingham said. "That's not even a question. They gave us effort. We just had a terrible hole to dig out of."

The Huskies' only sign of life came at the beginning of the second quarter. On the first play, Fouch completed a 62-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse. That set up a 1-yard run by Paul Homer that cut the lead to 17-7 with 11:55 left in the first half.

But Arizona took command midway through the second quarter when Mike Thomas returned a punt 48 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats ahead 24-7 with 8:13 left in the half.

Fouch then threw UW's first interception of the season on the next possession, a pass that was tipped by Arizona linebacker Ronnie Palmer into the hands of teammate Devin Ross at the 34-yard line. Arizona scored five plays later on another Tuitama-to-Gronkowski hookup to go ahead 31-7 at the half. Arizona then scored on its first three possessions of the second half.

The Huskies have now been outscored 127-52 in three Pac-10 games, 210-93 overall. But Woodward said his decision is ultimately about more than numbers.

"We have class in this program," he said. "We have integrity. And coach Willingham is coaching as hard as he can, and the kids are playing as hard as they can. I didn't see quit in these guys. They didn't play well, but I didn't see quit. I didn't see bad dissension. But it's not good. I don't want to sugarcoat it. It's not good."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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