SEATTLE – This feeling is all too familiar to Washington.
A promising start. A hopeful horizon. A belief this is the year they re-join the Pac-12 elite.
And then it's gone. Poof. Scuttled by a three-game midseason losing streak that's become an unwelcome, constant visitor for nearly a decade.
Steve Sarkisian is in this place again after the Huskies were routed 53-24 at Arizona State on Saturday, a third straight loss after Washington's promising 4-0 start. The Top 25 ranking: gone. The national recognition: gone. The belief this was the year the Huskies were truly contenders in the Pac-12 North Division: gone.
"Fortunately, but unfortunately we've been here before," Sarkisian said Monday. "We've always responded. We've always responded and we've always bounced back and we'll do it again. I don't have a shadow of a doubt that our guys are going to come out and play a great football game on Saturday night. What I do know to be different is a year from now today, it will be a different press conference. This won't happen again."
Almost like clockwork, the Huskies (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) have gone on a midseason tumble. Every year since 2004, Washington has found itself on at least a three-game losing skid. Many of those seasons, the losses were expected as Washington was outclassed.
This was the year the Huskies finally looked like they would shed the problems of the past.
They started 4-0 for the first time since 2001 then nearly pulled off a massive road upset at Stanford. But the loss to the Cardinal was a taxing setback and started the Huskies back down the losing path. They were outgunned by No. 2 Oregon at home 45-24 then completely fell flat at Arizona State.
It's been a brutal stretch for the Huskies. But the final results were not acceptable to Sarkisian.
"This isn't going to go away. We're going to play Stanford and Oregon every year. If we have to play them in back-to-back weeks so be it. It's that next game after those hard-fought, emotional battles, how we deal with it," Sarkisian said. "Obviously, we haven't dealt with them well enough yet up to this point."
A break is coming for the Huskies with struggling California coming to Seattle on Saturday night, followed by Washington's second bye week of the season and then a home game against Colorado. The lingering question for Washington is whether quarterback Keith Price will be healthy enough to go against the Golden Bears. Price was sacked seven times by Arizona State and left the game in the fourth quarter, limping to the locker room.
The concern is that Price's thumb on his throwing hand was injured against Stanford and has not improved. Sarkisian said Monday there is swelling in a different spot on the thumb than before. The Huskies cancelled practice Monday and Sarkisian said he wouldn't be able to assess where Price is health-wise until Tuesday.
If Price isn't deemed healthy enough to go, redshirt freshman Cyler Miles would get the start. Resting a battered quarterback isn't unprecedented for Sarkisian, having done it once before with Price and once with Jake Locker when both were limited by injuries.
Whoever the quarterback is, they'll probably be handing off a lot to running back Bishop Sankey, who was held to 22 yards on 13 carries against the Sun Devils after entering the game as the national leader in yards rushing per game.
"I love running the ball and I love giving the ball to Bishop and to go in and ... look at the stat sheet and he has 13 carries after a critical ball game in the season, that's not enough," Sarkisian said.
Some of the sting from Washington's most recent slide was redirected over the weekend after longtime Huskies coach Don James died Sunday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. The outpouring of emotion over James' passing continued Monday as the school announced plans to honor the former coach with a public memorial service on Sunday. There will also be tributes to James during Saturday's game against California.
"I don't know if there is a more iconic figure in Seattle and obviously when you speak of the University of Washington football program," Sarkisian said.