Huskies look to fix troubled ship
Washington heads to Oregon State
Seattle Times staff reporter
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After a 40-17 defeat at USC on Saturday, it was tempting to wonder where the Washington Huskies go from here.
The most literal answer is Corvallis, Ore., where the Huskies will travel on Saturday to take on Oregon State.
And that by itself could solve a lot of what has ailed Washington during its recent slide in which it has lost three of its past four games.
All three defeats came against Top 25 teams with a combined score of 139-55 against Stanford, Oregon and USC.
The Beavers, however, are struggling as they never have under coach Mike Riley, falling to 2-8 after a 23-6 defeat at California on Saturday.
And against California, the Beavers could neither run (rushing for just 27 yards) or stop the run (allowing 296 yards), symbolizing seasonlong struggles in each area.
Washington can relate after allowing USC a season-high 252 yards while rushing for a season-low 46 in the 40-17 defeat in Los Angeles.
And those issues were at the heart of what UW coach Steve Sarkisian thought doomed the Huskies on Saturday.
"I'd like to think that we can tackle better," he said when asked a few areas where he thought the team could improve most quickly. "I'd like to think that next week we're not going to take three pass interference penalties on fade routes. I'd like to think we'd run-block better than we've been run-blocking the past couple weeks."
The defeat dropped the Huskies to 6-4 (4-3 in the Pac-12 North) and also continued what has become a clear pattern — UW is good enough to beat bad-to-average teams, going 6-0 against unranked teams, but seemingly out of its league against ranked teams, going 0-4 against those in the Top 25.
Saturday, UW fell behind 23-3 at halftime and 37-10 at the end of three quarters, having been outgained 401-148 in total yardage.
But in the fourth quarter, as the Huskies cobbled together a final drive that made the score look more respectable, one of the reasons for hope for the future again emerged — true freshman receiver Kasen Williams.
The Skyline High graduate caught a 20-yard pass from Nick Montana on a fourth-and-four play with 13 seconds remaining for UW's final score. It was his team-high fifth catch of the game. He has 11 catches in the past two games as he is beginning to consistently show the form that made him one of the top receiving recruits in the nation last season.
After the game, he passed another freshman ritual at Washington. He was given the OK to speak to the media for the first time and talk about his progress so far.
"I would say the quickness of the game is one aspect that has taken me a while to get used to," he said, repeating a common refrain of athletes making a significant step up in competition. "That, and being able to come out of routes and coming out of routes expecting to get the ball."
Asked if the adjustment was more difficult than he'd thought it might be, he said "I don't know if I'd say it was hard, but you just have to push yourself a little bit more."
As have the Huskies during a recent stretch that has brought the team back to earth after the heady days of mid-October when they were 5-1 and ranked in each poll.
That Washington has six victories assures that the Huskies are already bowl eligible, and with the current bowl system — the Pac-12 has seven guaranteed slots and USC is ineligible due to NCAA sanctions — UW is essentially assured of going.
But the manner in which UW lost to USC had coaches and players defending the Huskies' effort.
Sarkisian said he never questioned the team's "want-to" against USC, and middle linebacker Cort Dennison echoed those thoughts.
"I know we are not going to quit," said Dennison, a team captain. "There is no quit in our team. I know we still have two regular-season games to play and I know we are going to bring it in both games."
Sarkisian also predicted the team will bounce back.
"They are a very prideful group and they are resilient," Sarkisian said. "I know it hurts, I know it stings, I know it's not fun to be in a locker room like this after a tough game when they thought they could have come out and performed against a good team.
"But I do know that they'll get back up. And I do know that they'll come back to work Monday and start trying to fix the issues that need to be fixed."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.