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Sunday, October 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:02 A.M.
Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor
EUGENE, Ore. The losses pile up, the pressure mounts, Keith Gilbertson slumps against a concrete wall in the visitors dressing room of the new and expanded Autzen Stadium.
"It's a nightmare that we keep reliving," he said after seven more turnovers last night, after losing to Oregon 31-6 in a game the Huskies actually had a chance to win, after failing to cover the point spread for the eighth time this season.
To think the Huskies who used to put nearly as many fans in this stadium as the Ducks for the rivalry game could be 20-point underdogs to a so-so Oregon team is unfathomable. To think that wouldn't be enough points is worse than that.
The defense plays hard enough to keep Gilbertson, who stepped into a desperate situation in the summer of 2003, from being fired during the season.
But there is no doubt the pressure is on. Todd Turner, the new athletic director, as much as said so before the game.
Turner and the new university president, Mark Emmert, look for the football team to highlight the university and provide funds for the athletic department.
"We have high expectations for football," said Turner. "We've had such a great tradition at Washington, but to be honest with you, we've neglected football in the recent past."
Rather than take Gilbertson off the hook, that puts him squarely on it.
Football is big business. Turner looks at modernizing Husky Stadium. He looks at a weight room that is now middle-of-the-road, at football offices that are nothing special when compared to other Pac-10 schools.
The Ducks spent $90 million expanding Autzen Stadium. They have excited a community.
The Huskies are frustrating a community.
The job Jeff Tedford has done at California suggests that people, not facilities, shape football programs. But at Cal or anywhere, the money and excitement have to be generated or the coach goes somewhere that it will happen.
There is no indication that the Huskies will move to fire Gilbertson before the end of the season. What would be the purpose? What can be accomplished now that can't be accomplished in early December?
Gilbertson, who inherited a difficult situation after Rick Neuheisel was fired, deserves to finish what he started.
But history says Emmert will move quickly if he makes a change. In his first year at Louisiana State, he fired Gerry DiNardo with a game left in the season. He said later there were problems with players off the field, as well as in class.
The Huskies don't appear to have problems off the field. They haven't given up on their coach. But neither have they played particularly well, let alone forge the upset that might buy Gilbertson time to develop the freshman class he recruited.
Gilbertson hasn't helped himself by suggesting that the uncertainty surrounding his job has hindered recruiting. He won't get a vote of confidence from a new athletic director and a new president when his only victory is over San Jose State.
It is up to Gilbertson to convince supporters that he should and will endure.
It probably also won't help that he named Casey Paus the starting quarterback when the hope for a better future seems to be in the young legs and arms of Isaiah Stanback and Carl Bonnell.
For a while last night, it looked as if Gilbertson had made a good move by playing Paus and giving wide receiver Craig Chambers a chance to play at all.
But perhaps nothing was more symbolic of Washington's frustration than a first-and-goal situation at the Oregon 1-yard line in the third quarter that turned into an interception.
Trailing 17-6, who knows what might have happened to the Huskies had they scored. Their plucky defense throttled Oregon the entire second half.
But remember UW was inside the 3-yard line against Oregon State twice and didn't score.
The fateful series this time was set up by a leaping catch by redshirt freshman Chambers, the wonderfully talented-but-so-far-unproductive receiver from Jackson High School in Mill Creek.
It ended with Paus' pass to Bobby Whithorne being picked off by Ramone Reed.
The Huskies tried just about everything, except Stanback. At this point, they need more than Paus can give.
There were larger problems than those at quarterback, of course. Like seven turnovers. The Huskies have lost the ball 30 times in eight games this season, 10 more than they did during the entire championship season of 1991.
They rushed for a net of 45 yards. They are last in the Pac-10 in passing, last in turnovers, last in punt returns and ninth in kickoff returns.
Their scoring drive in the first half was 2 yards in four plays.
In the end, the Ducks went out to dance on the "O" in the middle of the field, showing their contempt for a UW celebration here two years ago.
But it was not done with the same kind of enthusiasm. Beating Washington this season just wasn't that big of a deal.
The aura surrounding the Huskies is gone, just at a time a new administration wants it to flower like never before.
The timing couldn't be worse.
Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com.
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