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Hard-nosed Huskies show they're not dead yet
Washington's aggressiveness was the key to beating Oregon State on Saturday, one of the most important victories of coach Steve Sarkisian's UW tenure.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The Washington football team is neither dead nor in crisis. The Huskies just love to play possum, it seems. And after they rose Saturday night for another how'd-they-do-that? performance, fan unrest turned into fans rushing the field.
The Huskies upset No. 7 Oregon State 20-17 before 60,842 at CenturyLink Field to end the pain of a three-game losing streak and resurrect a season that had never really been lost. After a week of criticism and doubt, after three consecutive losses by a combined score of 128-52, the Huskies saved their competitiveness for the most critical time. They played with a kind of conviction that had been lacking during that skid, when they let games get away from them early and suffered head-scratching, double-digit losses.
Not this time. From the beginning, Washington (4-4) was as aggressive as it has been all season, answering the call to play tough against an undefeated team that has manhandled the Huskies in the past. And when a creaky offense made timely plays, the Huskies produced one of the most important victories of coach Steve Sarkisian's four seasons.
"We needed it just for our own well-being," Sarkisian said. "It was about what's inside of us. Pride is a powerful thing. You earn pride. It's not given to you. And we earned it."
They earned it via a hard-hitting defense that intercepted four passes from Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who was returning to action after missing two weeks with a knee injury. The Huskies needed to show life, and they needed to do it against an opponent this good. The blowouts had to stop. The questions about the direction of Sarkisian's program had to stop.
At the end of this pride-check game, the Huskies were screaming and bouncing and grinning on the field as giddy fans ran toward them.
"Our pride is definitely through the roof now," wide receiver Kasen Williams said.
If you had to define the Huskies with one play, Williams' incredible 19-yard reception on their game-winning drive would be the pick. He helped set up Travis Coons' 30-yard field goal with 1:20 remaining with the play of the game. With two defenders on him, he leapt to catch a Keith Price pass, bobbled the ball, caught it and held on despite a punishing hit from Oregon State safety Anthony Watkins, who received a 15-yard personal-foul penalty for thumping Williams.
That play is so Huskies. Williams took the big hit because of his bobble, but it also helped him pull off the spectacular. This team is imperfect, but always redeemable. The Huskies are flawed and frustrating — but sometimes, they're fabulous.
Put this victory with a triumph over then-No. 8 Stanford, and the Huskies have recorded two wins over top-10 teams this season. It's only the fourth time in school history they've done that. The other years: 1982, 1984 and 1991.
Who would've imagined that this frustrating, inconsistent, blowout-prone team could be capable of such a feat? Despite the odd season, the Huskies have shown that they're a good team at home, at least.
They're now 4-1 at home this season, and they're allowing only 15.8 points per game at CenturyLink Field. In three road games, they're giving up 48.3 points per game. At home, they've always been able to make big plays at opportune times.
After three weeks of slow starts, the Huskies came out energized, focused and intense. They took control of a defensive slugfest early, determined to run the ball and get physical with Oregon State's gifted receivers, Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. They led 10-0 at halftime.
They didn't play soft, which had been a problem. That softness led Oregonian columnist John Canzano to dub the Huskies "the softest, least resilient team in the Pac-12" earlier in the week. As angry as that designation made them, the Huskies did need to man up and match the brawn of an Oregon State team that has mauled them plenty of times in the recent past. And they did it in impressive fashion.
Soft? The Huskies were the most physical team on the field on this night.
Lost? They found their way.
Dead? Suddenly, they're as alive as we've seen them this season.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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