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Originally published November 15, 2009 at 10:05 PM | Page modified November 16, 2009 at 9:49 AM

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Huskies' bowl hopes gone, but they still have Apple Cup to attack

The Apple Cup provides an obvious goal as the Huskies have lost two in a row and four of the last five, Washington State's best stretch in the history of the series.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Washington Huskies crawled out of Corvallis Saturday having suffered not only their worst loss of the season but also the death of their biggest goal — to reach a bowl game.

So now the season becomes simple — take this weekend off, then return home to play Washington State on Nov. 28 and California on Dec. 5 and call it a wrap on the first year of the Steve Sarkisian era.

Sarkisian and players, however, insisted there is still a lot out there for this team.

"This is a very prideful group," Sarkisian said. "They'll be motivated. I just want us to come out and play hard and do things right. We've got two weeks to figure out how to get that done and go play well at Husky Stadium in our last two ballgames."

Added quarterback Jake Locker: "We want to send the seniors out right. If you are any kind of competitor, it doesn't matter if you have the opportunity to play in a bowl game or not — there are still two games in front of you and you can win or lose. If you really care about this game, you won't want to lose."

And the Apple Cup provides an obvious goal as the Huskies have lost two in a row and four of the last five, WSU's best stretch in the history of the series. The Cougars have also never won three in a row against UW.

Winning both would also leave the Huskies at 5-7 for the season. And while that would be disappointing in light of the high hopes at midseason, it would be a five-game improvement from last season — and rank as the biggest single-year jump in UW history since 1970, when a Huskies squad led by Sonny Sixkiller went 6-4 following the 1-9 disaster of 1969.

The biggest one-year leap in school history came in 1959, when the Huskies went 10-1 a year after finishing 3-7.

The Huskies, though, didn't look on Saturday like a team that had improved much in playing their most uncompetitive game of the year and losing 48-21.

That fact had Sarkisian hinting that the bye week will be spent undertaking a lot of soul-searching.

"I'm going to go back and try to assess the entire week and then look at our preparation heading into the game from a game-plan standpoint," Sarkisian said. "I have to look at everything we're doing."

Later, he added that "it's not about Xs and Os, it's about our mental focus and the ability to do things right."

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Senior defensive end Darrion Jones said how the Huskies played Saturday "shocked everyone. Because from the first game to now, this is not the way we have played, even though we haven't been winning games. We know we can play better than this, so this is a wake-up call to say, 'Hey, this wasn't ourselves today and we've got to get back to playing Husky football.' "

Or essentially, to get back to playing the way the team did when it beat USC. Sarkisian admitted he'd hoped that game was an immediate launching point back to college football relevance.

Saturday showed there's still a lot of work to do.

"I wished we would just continue to improve and get better and better and better and better until you just can't anymore," Sarkisian said. "But I guess along the way through a process of learning to grow as a football program that you are going to have some steps back. And the key is not to stay there but to fight back and get better."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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