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Husky football review: Three likes and dislikes about the 20-17 victory over Oregon State
Related column: Hard-nosed Huskies show they're not dead yet
Here are my highs and lows from the Washington football team's upset of then-No. 7 Oregon State on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field:
1. The Huskies were outgained 317-135 in the second half and lost a 10-0 halftime lead. Though Washington finally ended its three-game trend of frustrating slow starts and took control of this game early, it almost fell apart in the second half. After realizing the Huskies were up for the physical challenge in the first half, Oregon State played tougher in the second half and looked dominant at times. But the Huskies had two of their four interceptions at critical moments and mustered enough offense to win at the end. It's hard to nitpick this upset victory too much, especially after watching the Huskies get outscored 128-52 in their previous three games, but the game changed dramatically in the second half. The Huskies were fortunate that quarterback Sean Mannion, who was coming back from a knee injury, was a turnover machine.
2. Two personal-foul penalties after interceptions nearly cost Washington. The Huskies committed eight penalties in the game, which is too many. But you'll most remember two fourth-quarter personal fouls. They came on back-to-back Oregon State possessions and after the Huskies had intercepted passes. First, defensive tackle Danny Shelton's penalty negated an interception return touchdown from linebacker Johnny Timu, and after the offense couldn't capitalize on the turnover, the Huskies wound up punting the ball back to Oregon State -- losing seven points because of a penalty that was both avoidable and inconsequential to Timu's return. Then, after cornerback Marcus Peters intercepted Mannion, defensive end Talia Crichton received a personal foul to push back the Huskies from the 15-yard line to the 30-yard line. But it wasn't as costly because two plays later, the Huskies scored a touchdown to take a 17-10 lead. The low-scoring Huskies can't those types of penalties.
3. The Huskies were 2 of 12 on third-down conversions. The offense had some decent moments, but overall, it produced just 293 total yards and turned in another choppy performance. The inability to convert on third down was a big reason for the lack of flow.
1. Defense leads the way at home once again. I've written plenty about the Huskies' defensive problems on the road, where they are allowing 48.3 points per game. At home, though, they're allowing just 15.8 points per game, and the defense has given up only seven touchdowns in five games. The CenturyLink Field experience has been cumbersome for Husky fans, but perhaps the defense would like to keep playing there. Then again, you could ponder what this defense could do with its normal home-field advantage. In the Oregon State game, the Huskies gave a hard-hitting, opportunistic effort. They allowed only 110 yards in the first half as Washington took a 10-0 lead. They struggled in the second half, surrendering 317 yards after halftime and wound up giving up 427 yards for the game. But intercepting four of Mannion's passes negated a lot of that yardage. The Huskies haven't scored more than 21 points against a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season, they need their defense to keep the score low. They've been able to at home. The Huskies are now 4-1 at CenturyLink Field, including two victories over teams ranked in the top 10 when they faced them -- Stanford and Oregon State.
2. The offensive line did a much better job. By game's end, the statistics didn't show that the O-line held up against the physical Beavers. The Huskies wound up rushing for only 99 yards and averaging just three yards a carry. But the O-line helped set a tough tone. Eight-eight of those rushing yards came in the first half, which helped establish that the Huskies were ready to play. Keith Price was sacked just twice. The O-line wasn't great, but this is an injury-ravaged group just trying to make the best of what it has. It was just a functional performance, but functional gives the Huskies a chance to compete
3. In the fourth quarter, Keith Price trusted Kasen Williams to go up and make some difficult plays. Finally, during two critical situations, Price threw the ball up and gave Williams -- the high-jumping, athletic and strong receiver -- opportunities to beat defenders. And Williams delivered two spectacular catches in the clutch. His leaping 29-yard catch set up Bishop Sankey's one-yard touchdown run that gave the Huskies a 17-10 lead with 8:19 remaining. And on the Huskies' game-winning drive, Williams jumped into the air again to catch a pass with two defenders on him, bobbled the ball and held on despite getting whacked by Oregon State safety Anthony Watkins, who received a personal foul penalty for "targeting" Williams with that hard hit. The play helped set up Travis Coons' game-winning, 30-yard field goal with 1:20 left in the game. Afterward, coach Steve Sarkisian praised Price for taking those shots. For several weeks, he has been trying to get the quarterback to stop hesitating and take those chances with Williams.
The Huskies won a game they desperately needed after a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 128-52. Now, there's legitimate hope that they could win their final four remaining games and head into bowl season with an 8-4 record and five-game winning streak.
But if you have learned anything about the Huskies this season, it's that you shouldn't do much schedule surfing with this team. They've been good enough to beat two top 10 teams for only the fourth time in school history. But they've been bad enough to lose three road games by at least 30 points. The Huskies are a wild, erratic 4-4 football team capable of almost anything.
While the victory over Oregon State steadies them and creates a pathway to a strong finish, this is still a team that hasn't scored more than 21 points against an FBS foe and hasn't shown it can stop teams on the road. And three of the final four games are on the road.
It's fair to point out that the Huskies' three road games thus far have been against teams currently ranked: No. 2 Oregon, No. 5 LSU and No. 24 Arizona. The Huskies don't play another ranked team, so perhaps we'll get a better gauge of how the defense travels in games at California, Colorado and Washington State.
I'm not sure if the Huskies are good enough, or consistent enough, to get to 8-4. But now, anything less than a 7-5 finish would be greatly disappointing. It's yet another crazy turn of events for a team that was seemingly on death's door just last week.