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Originally published Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

In front of a thin crowd, the Huskies find some things that work

Out of modest surroundings, stunning accomplishments materialize. Or something like that.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

At times like this, the common mantra of struggling football teams — OK, bad football teams — is, "All we had was each other."

That was pretty much true Saturday night at Husky Stadium, where maybe 18,000 were gathered for the national anthem. By the time Washington and Arizona State had joined the little get-together, there might have been 25,000 in the house. At that point, there were 11 people — honestly — in the section directly behind the goal posts in the west end zone.

But out of modest surroundings, stunning accomplishments materialize. Or something like that. Could there possibly be a Washington victory on this blustery evening, ending a 10-game losing streak with a win coming 357 days after the last one?

Nah. The Sun Devils blew a hole in Washington's aspirations, 39-19. Washington, however, competed well for three quarters and introduced some suspense to the outcome. In this Stephen King novel of a season, that represents progress.

Still, by the end, the game had adopted a theme all too familiar: a referendum on Tyrone Willingham's capabilities. A year ago in this game in Tempe, the Huskies turned a 17-13 halftime lead into a 44-20 loss.

On this night, the Huskies, after leading 19-16 in the third quarter, were trounced 23-0 the rest of the way, leading some of those in the stadium — and no doubt, many of those out of it — to wonder what masterminding went on at intermission.

"First half went well," mumbled Washington offensive tackle Ben Ossai. "Third quarter went well. Fourth quarter went downhill."

In fact, it tumbled downhill so fast that the finish served to obscure that this had been one of Washington's stoutest efforts in the losing streak.

"Before we went out, we had this little attitude," said cornerback Matt Mosley. "We were jumping around, getting real excited. Usually we're kind of uptight and focused."

Arizona State's Dennis Erickson, in his ninth job, college and pro, finally got his first victory in the place where he used to watch Bob Schloredt as a kid from Everett.

He was gracious to the Huskies, saying, "That's hard when a coaching change has already been made and you have to get those kids ready to play, and I'll tell you what, they did that."

Lo and behold, a game broke out, even in the wake of the past two games, when the Washington offense dribbled out 124 yards against Notre Dame and 184 versus USC.

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The Huskies protected Ronnie Fouch pretty well against the ASU blitzes, and defensively, they got enough pressure on 40-game Sun Devils starter Rudy Carpenter to make him look old and antsy in the pocket. Washington opened the gimmick box and tried all sorts of stuff.

Midway through the third quarter, Washington led by three and you startled yourself with this hypothesis: The Huskies looked every bit a physical match for the Sun Devils.

Then two things happened: Arizona State committed to the run; Keegan Herring had 100 of his 144 yards after intermission. And no doubt the Huskies realized where they were — in the game — and flubbed their lines down the stretch. Teams with yearlong losing streaks do this.

The Sun Devils put it on cruise and the crowd exited, in no danger of encountering a traffic jam. Referring to the sparse attendance, Mosley said, "We definitely noticed that. We were very disappointed driving up. We see the tailgates and all that, and we were definitely disappointed in the fan turnout. But we put that on ourselves because of our record."

This was the scene inside the final minute: The Huskies threw on four downs from the ASU 3, failing to punch in the touchdown that would cover the spread. Gulls circled the field, and there might have been 3,000 people to see it.

At the entrance to the tunnel, somebody hoisted a sign that said "Fire Ty Now." But that train has long since left the station. It took a lot of fans with it.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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