After the Washington Huskies shocking defeat of USC in Los Angeles, the team returned to its place among the Pac-10’s poor-to-mediocre in an ugly, uninspiring 24-14 loss at home to Arizona State Saturday night.
Stacy joined me in Tucson for the American Journalism Historians Association conference, where I presented a paper on Saturday afternoon.
After the presentation, we booked it over to the stadium and caught most of the Oregon State-Arizona game. Shortly before the fourth quarter, we left to find a sports bar, or somewhere we could actually sit and watch the game.
We should have stayed out and partied with the Arizona parents visiting for Parents Weekend. Is this still a hangover from that awful 0-12 team of 2008? Has the sun already set on Jake Locker‘s college career? Is Steve Sarkisian‘s play-calling and decision-making as inconsistent as his defense?
I fear the answer to all of the above is a resounding YES.
When I left Seattle, I wrote that the Huskies program was in the deepest, darkest hole Seattle sports has known — NOT because it was the longest or worst run of losing seasons for a Seattle sports team, but because the fan base is so used to winning it can’t help itself but place unreasonable expectations on its favorite program.
Two seasons ago, Tyrone Willingham‘s last in Seattle, the Huskies sleep-walked through a season. The players would have rather skinny-dipped in Lake Washington in November than played that season out. Despite all Sarkisian’s enthusiastic quips and all the new talent he has brought in, that season is not out of this program’s blood. The fans remember it. Look at the message boards. It isn’t forgotten! The players remember it. It seeps out of their post-game rhetoric. The hangover is not completely gone. Thankfully it is disappearing, but like one of those two-day jobs where you can’t lift your head, there is still a little nausea when you stand up.
I’m telling you right now, I love Locker. He is one of the nicest, most sincere, down to earth kids you would ever want to meet. He has more physical gifts than any athlete I have ever seen. He is a leader. If I had a son, I’d want him to be like Jake. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to marry someone like Jake. But Jake — by no fault of his own — is not going to lead this program out of the dumps. He has tried, and he will continue to do everything he can. Please understand, I’m not knocking him. But he came at the wrong time and it shows.
When Locker needed to be defining himself, the offense did not have a definition. When he needed to be experiencing the game, he was on the sidelines. When he needed to be learning a new system and improving, he was being leaned upon. And when he needed to be finding himself, he was thrust into a publicity campaign.
Now, in the middle of what will surely be a disappointing season, the Huskies are looking to him to save it — something Huskies’ fans have been doing since he was in high school. The dependence on Jake is unrealistic. And, God bless him, he keeps trying and will do some good things before he gets out of here, but flashes of brilliance and some jaw-dropping moments are the most we can really expect. Locker isn’t going to flip out and grab the microphone at a press conference and promise the world ala Tim Tebow NOT because he doesn’t want to give the Huskies the world, but because he simply knows there isn’t enough on the field or on the sidelines to provide it.
Locker will be remembered as a great Husky — and an even better man — but this program will not fully be out of its deep, dark hole until the team sees the quarterback as a leader among its own, not as a savior.
Finally, Sarkisian is all over the place. He is clearly smarter than Lane Kiffin and uses his offensive-inclined brain in a lot of crafty ways (see the USC game, for example.) But his gut isn’t nearly as impressive. Going for it on ill-timed fourth downs, fake field goals, and some other head-scratchers have me wondering what the hell this guy is doing. He looks like a freshman cornerback that wants to bump-and-run on Randy Moss and the bravado is failing.
Yes, we know Sark was a prolific quarterback at BYU and that rearing baby quarterbacks into Heisman winners is his bread and butter. But what’s wrong with playing what you have? What’s wrong with becoming a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of guy every now and then, like on, oh say, rainy nights in Seattle? I’m telling you, Chris Polk is TOUGH. He averages almost six yards per carry. He finds yards when they don’t seem to be there. Switching him up with a little change-of-pace back like Jesse Callier and you’ve got something! (And if Locker is sick, why not stick with these guys and just dial Locker’s number to keep the defense honest?)
The Huskies have a big problem over the next four weeks — namely, they aren’t going to win.
Washington hasn’t sniffed the Oregon schools in years. You might see that score from a few years back in Corvallis — the one in which Locker got drilled by Al Afalava and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. But, I was there and that game wasn’t really close at all.
Oregon State might be the best coached team in the Pac-10. Stacy and I watched Ryan Katz mature before us Saturday afternoon in the desert. He was patient, waited for seams to open up, made good decisions as to when to run, and showed off his canon of an arm. Sure, James Rodgers won’t be on the field, but his little brother Jacquizz will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the little squirt ran for 200 yards. The Huskies haven’t shown they can stop the run all season and, with a double threat, it’s even scarier.
Arizona at their Homecoming the next week? This may be the best chance the Huskies have to pick up a win in October, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Arizona looked solid on both sides of the ball — even in a loss. The defense took a step back against the Beavs, but the offense gained nearly 550 yards. Here’s my question: If Arizona can rack up that many yards against a good defense, what is it going to do against the Huskies’ bad defense?
Stanford. Maybe this is the best chance to grab an upset win, but I don’t see it happening. Stanford is so much more physical than Washington. Quarterback Andrew Luck is playing well. He is clutch, he is polished.
And, let’s not even talk about the Ducks. Seriously. It’s almost a victory when the Huskies get within three touchdowns. Wait… I’m being Debbie Downer. Lots can happen between now and then. LaMichael James could, I dunno, get arrested, or something.
I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but it’s going to be a long march to the bridge as it is.