'Work in progress' Huskies seem to be regressing
A couple of weeks ago, after Washington won its sixth game and clinched another bowl bid, coach Steve Sarkisian looked at the rest of the season and said it was a little like "playing with house money." Maybe that sent the wrong message.
Seattle Times staff columnist
LOS ANGELES — Ugh. Again. Thwack. Again.
It shouldn't have been this bad. More should have been expected out of Washington in this last chance in the regular season to go toe-to-toe with a ranked team.
This was the Huskies' final real show-me game before the December bowl season.
But now, after Saturday's over-before-it-was-over, 40-17 loss to 18th-ranked USC, it is apparent that these Huskies have regressed. Over the past month, this "work in progress," as coach Steve Sarkisian calls his team, isn't progressing.
"I don't think the last two weeks, especially on offense, we've progressed," Sarkisian said after the loss. "That's fair to say. We just haven't found a rhythm offensively the past two weeks that's what we're accustomed to. That's the biggest disappointment of where the progress hasn't occurred.
"But the season to me is an entire body of work, and I think there's a lot left out there for us to do and play for and we can assess our progress as a program in January."
First-year starting quarterback Keith Price looks as though he's hit a wall. He's getting beaten up in the pocket. In this loss, he injured his right knee on one hit and his left on another.
Resilient running back Chris Polk isn't finding any holes. He gained just 36 yards on nine carries Saturday. The offensive line was roughed up by USC's very good and very physical defense.
That line has allowed 13 sacks in the past two games, and Sarkisian strongly suggested that changes will be made this week.
And the defense still is missing too many tackles and surrendering way too many yards. USC outgained the Huskies 426-244. The Trojans had a season-high 252 rushing yards.
Washington has lost some of its magic. It isn't playing with the same swagger of September, or the urgency it showed at Utah.
A couple of weeks ago, after Washington won its sixth game and clinched another bowl bid, Sarkisian looked at the rest of the season and said it was a little like "playing with house money."
Maybe that sent the wrong message.
The goal this season was more than six wins. One goal was to get better, week to week. The Huskies haven't. Maybe this is just an inevitable bump on the climb to becoming an elite program, but after three losses in its last four games, Washington (6-4) appears to be unraveling a bit.
And Sarkisian is facing possibly the most difficult test of his young head-coaching career.
"These are the challenges of the season," he said. "We deal with issues and things as they come up and make them our points of emphasis."
The Huskies haven't been sharp for a month. Even their last win, at home against Arizona, was unimpressive.
They committed three pass-interference penalties on fade routes Saturday. They were flagged for 12 penalties that cost them an Oakland Raiders-esque 91 yards. Their run blocking was atrocious, and their pass protection was so bad, even receiver Devin Aguilar was sacked.
The Huskies tried some trickery on their first play from scrimmage. Price threw a backward pass to Aguilar, who was sacked by Lamar Dawson and flagged for intentional grounding.
It was a double dose of bad and a harbinger of the long afternoon to come.
Washington was beaten every which way. It was fooled on a 35-yard fake punt-and-run from Kyle Negrete that led to the second USC touchdown.
It allowed an 88-yard kick return for a touchdown from Marqise Lee to open the second half. And Drew Schaefer's poor snap out of the shotgun, something that has concerned Sarkisian for several weeks, resulted in a safety and the first of Price's knee injuries.
Sure, every discussion about the Huskies should start with the reminder that they were 0-12 three seasons ago. But in all of its measuring-stick games this season, Washington has come up short.
The Huskies still have time to reboot. They will be favored in their last two games. And they will have another Nebraska-like December bowl date (Boise State in Las Vegas?) to prove how far their work in progress has progressed.
Losing streaks like this are part of the natural growing pains of a young program. But in this show-me stretch of the season, Washington's work in progress has screeched to a halt.
On Saturday, against another high-quality team, the Huskies got whacked.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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