This one may have saved the season. Now, with a 4-4 record, the Huskies have games against California, Utah, Colorado, and Washington State, four teams that have one thing in common: losing records. Though three of those games are on the road, where the Huskies have struggled immensely this season, they will most likely be favored in all four of those games. If they take care of business, they will carry an 8-4 record into their bowl game, with a chance to finish the year with nine wins. Even after all the drama, the struggles, and calls for Coach Sarkisian’s firing, that would still be progress. It would still be about as good as anyone reasonably predicted preseason.
How did the win happen? Defense. Specifically, big performances from a number of defensive backs. Shaq Thompson had a sack. Desmond Trufant tackled extremely well in the open field and shut down whichever wide receiver he covered. Sean Parker had an interception in the end zone and a monster hit on Markus Wheaton that knocked the Oregon State wide receiver out of the game, and knocked the ball into the hands of Justin Glenn for another interception. As a unit, the defense picked off Sean Mannion four times, forcing a fourth quarter switch to Cody Vaz. Even if Vaz managed to throw for a late touchdown, surrendering a mere 17 points is a resounding victory by any standard.
On the offensive side of the ball, things were not as positive. Keith Price struggled throughout the night, finishing 18/30 for 182 yards and a pick, but he was able to make a handful of clutch throws to Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins late in the game that put the Huskies in a position to keep the lead. Bishop Sankey was, for most of the game, the only reliable source of yardage. He carried the ball 25 times for 92 yards and the only two Husky touchdowns of the night.
While this is a win to be celebrated, there are still a lot of things to work out. Penalties were a constant issue in the second half, and while the fans booed the referees constantly, the majority of the calls were legitimate. The offense still cannot be depended on to generate points without the defense bailing them out with turnovers and great field position, though Oregon State is an elite defense. Also, the disparity between road and home performances is worrying.
Overall, against the next four opponents, Washington needs to have more discipline as a team, the ability to play CenturyLink-level defense on the road, and a version of Keith Price that can move the chains. But, most of all, they need to continue to take care of the football like they did tonight, with Price’s interception being the lone turnover. This is a team that went from doomsday to season-saving victory, but there is much more work to be done.
More on the game tomorrow morning!