A new challenge for the Huskies: No more blowout losses
Posted by Jerry Brewer
The knee-buckling stat of the week:
The Washington football team is 1-19 in its last 20 games against top-15 teams, and the average score in those games is 40-17.
This dates back to 2004. The Huskies' only top-15 victory during this span was third-year coach Steve Sarkisian's greatest win to date -- a 16-13 triumph over No. 3 USC in 2009, Sark's first season and third game in charge.
Obviously, that 1-19 statistic reminds you of the pain of Washington's rebuilding years. But it also should represent a challenge for the Huskies as they attempt to make 2011 another season of significant growth.
Their mission: End the ugliness against elite competition. No more ridiculous blowouts.
The Huskies, who earned their first bowl appearance in eight years last season, have shown tremendous progress, but they still have a considerable distance to travel. While they're doing a better job of winning the games they're supposed to win, the Huskies can improve their reputation tremendously by being more competitive against the really good teams.
I hacked off the bottom 10 of the top 25 and raised the standard to the top 15 because it divides the truly elite from the very good. The Huskies have their share of victories against teams ranked in the lower half of the top 25 at the time they played. Let's just look at the Sarkisian tenure. Last season, they beat USC (ranked No. 18 then), Oregon State (No. 24) and Nebraska (No. 18). In addition to the landmark USC win in 2009, the Huskies also whipped No. 19 California 42-10 to end Sark's first season in charge.
But we're not talking about good wins. We're talking about great wins, or short of that, quality performances against elite teams.
The Huskies visit No. 11 Nebraska on Saturday, and this is their first chance in 2011 to show they've advanced beyond being a doormat to elite teams. A win might be too much to ask, but going into the fourth quarter with the game in doubt isn't.
No doubt, even that is a tremendous challenge. The Cornhuskers are a legit BCS bowl contender. They could win the Big Ten in their first season in the conference. This is Rose Bowl-caliber competition, but Washington is talented enough to be competitive in this game. Heck, the Huskies beat Nebraska 19-7 in last year's Holiday Bowl.
It's time for a program on a six-game winning streak to take another stop in its development. Fans are eagerly waiting for the moment when there's no longer a cap on expectations for the Huskies. They're inching closer to that moment. A huge leap in competitiveness is needed, however.
"I don't think it's a fluke that we're on a six-game winning streak right now," Sarkisian said. "I think that we've gotten better."
I don't think it's a fluke, either. Maybe I'm too bullish on the Huskies, but I love the overall direction of the program and think it's only a matter of time before Sarkisian returns Washington to the elite.
But so far, Sark and the Huskies have only graduated to pretty good, a couple of notches above mediocre. They still have plenty to prove. As wonderful as last season was for what it represented -- the end of rampant losing, the bridge to something new -- the Huskies still lost their four games against top-15 teams by a combined score of 194-51.
That's an average score of 49-13, which is also known as terrible.
During this 1-19 span against top-15 teams, only seven of those 20 games have been on the road. The Huskies have been outscored 273-114 in road games, which amounts to an average score of 39-16. So, interestingly, the majority of their deflating losses against elite teams have come at Husky Stadium.
But this is a new season, and this trip to Nebraska presents a fresh opportunity. The Huskies should be good enough to win some of these kinds of games. And when they don't win, they should be competitive, at least.
The 56-21, 41-0 and 53-16 losses must end. The Huskies should be better than that now. The only thing left is to prove it.
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