Published October 29, 2012
SEATTLE – For the first time since sharing the national title in 1991, Washington has knocked off two teams ranked in the AP Top 10 in the same season thanks to its 20-17 win over then-No. 7 Oregon State on Saturday to go along with the Huskies' upset of Stanford in late September.
Despite those highlights, it's been a maddeningly inconsistent season at Washington.
The Huskies enter the final third of the season at 4-4. They've lost all three of their road games by at least 30 points and haven't won outside Seattle since Oct. 1, 2011. They are the only team from a BCS conference that has yet to score more than 21 points this season against an FBS team.
Yet if Washington (2-3 Pac-12) can solve its problems playing on the road, beginning with a rare Friday night game at California, its final four opponents have just a combined record of 9-24. Three of those final four will come on the road, meaning Washington needs at least one road victory to reach bowl eligibility for the third straight season.
And knowing these Huskies, they won't make it easy on themselves in the final weeks.
"More than anything it's understanding what the challenge is and embracing it. It's not something to shy away from," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. "It's a great opportunity for our football team to mature, to take another step in the right direction of understanding the focus that is needed when you go on the road as a team."
The Huskies' upset of Oregon State on Saturday night featured another strong defensive effort at home, making up for the continued lagging of Washington's offense. The Huskies forced a season-high four turnovers, all interceptions of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion that helped balance giving up 427 total yards.
It was a significant improvement over the lackluster, half-hearted effort put forward a week earlier in a 52-17 loss at Arizona during which the Wildcats rolled up 533 total yards on Washington and created concerns that the Huskies' season was spiraling out of control.
Those concerns have been tempered for the moment, with the focus now on fixing an offense that continues to show very little pop.
"I'm waiting for the game to come where we put it all together and play consistently disciplined and executing plays down after down after down, because when we do we'll be pretty good," Sarkisian said. "It's never too late to get there."
Washington is the only team from a BCS conference that has yet to score more than 21 points this season against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. The Huskies scored 52 in their win over Portland State of the Big Sky Conference, but otherwise their season-high is 21 points in a win over San Diego State and their loss at Oregon.
Five of the defenses the Huskies have faced rank in the top 50 nationally in total defense, but the lack of scoring is a frustrating trend for an offensive coach like Sarkisian.
"It's on us. Granted we have played some pretty good teams, but our inconsistency is just glaring to me. It's not one guy, it's not two guys. I just feel like we keep taking our turns. Sometimes it's the play-caller that takes his turn," Sarkisian said. "It takes 11 guys executing on every snap to win that snap and for whatever reason or another we just stub our own toes with mistakes we really shouldn't be making. That's the fight for us. I know that we are better than the way we have been playing."
One offensive highlight of the Huskies' win over Oregon State was the more consistent play of quarterback Keith Price. After committing 10 turnovers in the previous three games, Price had only one miscue against the Beavers, an interception that was the fault of a receiver who stopped his route.
Sarkisian's game plan was to rely on the run game. The plan worked as Bishop Sankey ran for a pair of scores and Price was only asked to make a few critical throws.
"I thought our guys really matched the physicality that was needed in that game," Sarkisian said.