From the opening kickoff, we knew this was going to be a hard year to predict for the Washington Huskies. Coming off a record-breaking season, and not records you want to break, it appeared that the Huskies could only go up.
Heading into the bye week standing with a record of 3-5, this team hasn’t gotten any easier to figure out. While the new found energy and optimism around the program is undeniable, the results show this is very much still a work in progress.
Starting in week one UW came out with a chip on their shoulder determined to prove that his was not last year’s 0-12 squad. A new coaching staff brings eternal optimism especially coming off of a depressingly bad season where the coach appeared to all but give up on his squad.
Fate did not appear to be kind for the Huskies when SEC power LSU came to the shores of Lake Washington to open the season.
Excitement was in the air, and there was a sense of optimism, but still an overwhelming feeling of, “well hopefully we can keep it close” was still dominate for most of the crowd. The Huskies came to play that night however, and although the tempered optimism and hopes of keeping it close were accurate, UW showed signs of improvement and toughness that had been lacking over the past few years.
For the first time in what felt like forever, an opponent left Husky Stadium respecting Washington, feeling like they might have just escaped with a win from a highly underrated team.
After a week of being congratulated on how close they played LSU, which Coach Sarkisian found odd and not something to get used to, it was time for the Huskies to take the field against the Idaho Vandals.
This game set up well for Washington in that they have dominated the Vandals and gave the Huskies an excellent opportunity to end their 15-game losing streak. UW did just that defeating the Vandals 42-23 powered by Jake Lockers 253 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 68 percent completion percentage.
Given confidence by a solid performance against LSU and a win against Idaho the Huskies prepared for the USC Trojans to roll into Husky Stadium. Sitting at No. 3 in the nation and coming off a big win against Ohio State University it appeared that the Trojans should just roll through the Huskies.
However, there were several factors coming into this game that gave fans the idea that it might not be exactly what they were expecting. Out were starting quarterback Matt Barkley and safety Taylor Mays. For a USC team that has suffered inexplicable Pac-10 losses the last few years, it wasn’t out of the realm out possibility that history could repeat itself.
Especially considering the Trojans were facing a coaching staff that would know them as well as any in the country having coached there prior to jumping to Washington. Despite these factors there was still an overwhelming sense of Trojan confidence at Husky Stadium and just hopeful optimism coming from the locals.
On paper it should not have been even close. The game started with USC racing down the field and it appeared it was going to be another one of those long days Washington fans have felt over the last several years. Then something happened and the Trojan offense met a scrappy Washington Red Zone defense and could not put away the Huskies who benefited from turnovers and poor execution on USC’s part.
Playing to a standstill until the final possession Jake Locker led his squad down the field for a game winning field goal that sent Husky Stadium into a frenzy. An excitement that has not witnessed in years that culminated in the crowd spilling onto the field in celebration.
The atmosphere after the game was electric, and there was a feeling that this was the turning point for the program. After all, if UW can hang with the 2007 National Champion LSU and defeat the mighty men from Troy, then why in the world is a bowl game not possible?
The athletic department felt so strongly about it they released t-shirts to commemorate the upset win and released a DVD of the game the following week. Everyone was ready to embrace the return of the Dawgs.
There turned out to be two problems with the pronouncement that Washington was back; they had to go on the road, and Stanford didn’t get the memo that Washington was back. Traveling to the farm the Huskies came in with a lot of optimism and expectations only to find themselves run over by Toby Gerhart and the Stanford Cardinal.
Locker, who had been showing vast signs of improvement, threw two INTs and the entire offense sputtered to just 14 points. Stanford on the other hand ran for over 321 yards, pounding the Huskies into submission and sent them on their way. This left the Huskies to re-evaluate all the optimism and progress shown in the prior three games at Husky Stadium.
After being shocked back into reality the Huskies regrouped and headed to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish. Engaging in a high scoring battle both teams showed offensive power, but struggles ultimately on the defensive side of the ball.
Washington had their chances at this game, and one point being denied on the goal after multiple attempts. Although there was some controversy on a replay call as to if Washington’s Chris Polk (who had an outstanding overall game) scored, Washington still had other chances to punch the ball in and were just unable to do so.
Thanks to an extended goal line stand (due to a penalty) Notre Dame was able to remain in control. Even then Washington had another opportunity after putting the game into overtime after the tying field goal. It was not meant to be as Notre Dame pulled out the overtime victory sending Washington back to Seattle with a 0-2 record on the road, and a 2-3 record overall.
Coming off the heartbreak of the overtime loss to the Irish the Huskies prepared to host the Arizona Wildcats. In another game that featured more offense than defense it appeared the Huskies were going to suffer back to back losses. Jake Locker marched the team down the field late throwing a touchdown pass to Kavario Middleton putting Washington within five points.
Even then it appeared that Arizona was going to milk the clock and walk away with a victory. It wasn’t meant to be as by a stroke of luck that has escaped this team for so long the Huskies were the recipient of an incredible interception deflecting off foot of the Arizona receiver into the hands of Mason Foster who raced down the field for the go ahead score.
A two-point conversion gave the Huskies a three-point lead and the victory. Once again sparking hopes for a return to post season play after two tough losses had shook the faith that there were six winnable games on this schedule.
A re-energized Washington team headed down to Tempe to try to cure their road blues in what looked to be a very winnable game. It indeed turned out to be a game that was very winnable, but in the end turned into yet another learning experience for the young Huskies.
Despite struggles running the ball and two interceptions by Locker the Huskies were still in position to send the game into overtime when they punted the ball with only 22 seconds remaining. Perhaps looking ahead to an overtime period, Washington allowed Arizona State to get off a 50-yard hail mary to a wide open Chris McGaha.
For the second straight week Washington’s game ended with an amazing play. While the loss was as shocking as the win at home over Arizona was it showed a UW team that played whistle to whistle and outside of the Stanford game had been in every game right until the very end.
While discouraged by the continue road troubles, Washington packed up and headed home for homecoming against the rival Oregon Ducks.
Optimism for this game rose and fell a lot during the first seven games. After the upset of USC there was a feeling that UW could play with anybody this year including the hated Ducks. For a such a heated border war the emotions that have defined the rivalry has died down in the late 2000s.
It tends to work that way when one team takes over. While Washington still holds a commanding lead in the overall record, the last five years have belonged to the Ducks. The same Ducks who since the end of the '90s have tore off an impressive run for the 2000s that rivals Washington’s run in the '90s.
With resurgence in confidence the Washington faithful were once again looking forward to this game, but not as much as if it had followed the USC game. Optimistic may be to strong a word, but there was a feeling that Washington would be able to put up a fight against the Ducks.
It turns out this was the game USC felt they should have had against Washington. Scoring at will and running an efficient offense Oregon put up 43 points in a game that was never even in contention. Washington’s offense failed to provide a spark, hindered by a thigh injury to Locker was unable to provide points to keep the game in contention...The quarterback doesn't feel it made a big difference, but he appeared slower on the run.
There was a brief moment early in the game when it looked like Washington could try to play a shootout, but a blocked punt returned for a touchdown killed any idea of momentum and Oregon rolled to their sixth straight victory over the Washington Huskies.
The first eight games have been a up and down ride for the 2009 Washington Huskies. Going from the amazing highs of upsetting the No. 3 team in the nation it appeared the corner was about to be turned for this team.
Then to the lows of being pounded by a hatred rival for the sixth straight year left Husky faithful wondering if this squad is really all that much better than last years.
It is a big project for a team that won zero games the year before. This coaching staff has had to instill a new positive attitude, confidence in their ability to win, and most importantly coaching and conditioning.
There have been great strides this year as the Huskies have played nearly every opponent until the end. While there are signs of regression, the overall picture is one of progress.
While it may not be as quick of a turnaround as fans hoped at midseason, it is still a season that is working towards the right direction. It would be great to go a bowl game, but that is a possibility that is slipping farther and farther away with games against UCLA, OSU, WSU, and CAL to finish the season.
It is a daunting task to pull of three victories in those four games, but it is not impossible yet. The team is keeping hopes alive, and until mathematically eliminated, so should the fans.
It isn’t quite the year a lot of people were hoping for after a encouraging start,there is still a lot to build from and these last four games should show how resilient this team is, and give us an idea about what to expect from next year’s team.
This still isn’t the WASHINGTON we knew from before, but they are at least providing some excitement to a fan base in dire need of some.