TEMPE, Ariz. – Not again.
Not another road disaster.
Not another hope-hindering losing streak.
You thought the Washington football team had graduated from its annual angst. You thought the Huskies were legit. You thought they were a true top 25 team that could play with anyone and refrain from the unprepared and uninspiring performances that have left you so flummoxed in recent years.
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Sorry, they’re not there yet.
Arizona State 53, Washington 24.
Sorry, all of the early-season enthusiasm is now in the recycling bin.
Total yards: Arizona State 585, Washington 212.
Sorry, as much as there is to like about this team, they’re about to be dubbed the same ol’ depressing Huskies.
“That was embarrassing,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That was embarrassing.”
This blowout loss wasn’t just a punch to the gut. It was a roundhouse to the perception of progress for the program. The Huskies can’t declare themselves different or fixed or whole anymore. You’ve seen this game too many times, a showing that makes you sarcastically wonder why the Huskies even bothered to practice all week.
Yes, UW still has five regular-season games left, and if it can recover, it can change the story again. But right now, you can only see a team that has endured another three-game losing streak and suffered another humiliating road performance against an opponent that is supposed to be on its level.
So, there goes the No. 20 national ranking. There goes the good vibe of a 4-0 start. The Huskies are 4-3, and the program has had at least a three-game losing streak in every season since 2004. Coach Steve Sarkisian is now 5 for 5 in autumnal swoons during his Washington tenure. You complain about the Huskies being inconsistent, but they’re consistent when it comes to midseason misery. You can write it in ink on your calendar.
It shouldn’t be like this, not in Year 5 under Sark. The program is well past the climb back from an 0-12 record in 2008, Tyrone Willingham’s final season. The Huskies are no longer trying to rid themselves of a losing culture. The mediocrity they’re experiencing currently is something that Sarkisian must own and eradicate before he burns too much of the goodwill he has accumulated in leading the Huskies to three consecutive bowl appearances.
No excuses will do. No explanation will seem reasonable. The Huskies weren’t ready to fight Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. And that’s on the head coach.
It felt like last season’s 52-17 loss at Arizona. It felt like the 38-21 loss at Oregon State in 2011. It felt like the 44-14 loss at Arizona in 2010, or the 48-21 loss at Oregon State in 2009.
Every year, there is one of these. It’s a trend, not an anomaly. And until the Huskies stop losing their minds like this, they won’t return to prominence.
There was failure all over the field Saturday. Of the 585 yards the Huskies allowed, 314 came on the ground. Oregon gained 631 yards against Washington last week, but this was easily the Huskies’ worst defensive effort of the season. They missed too many tackles, gave up too many explosive plays and put up little resistance against Arizona State’s offensive line. They watched Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly control the game with his arm (271 passing yards, two touchdowns) and his legs (84 rushing yards, two touchdowns). They couldn’t stop Marion Grice, who rushed for 158 yards.
The Huskies have now given up a ridiculous 1,216 total yards in the past two games after having one of the nation’s best defenses in the first five games.
“We did not play physical tonight,” frustrated Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said afterward.
As much as the Washington defense struggled, the offense was even worse. The Huskies played at their normal speedy pace, but that only meant they were quick to get off the field, putting the defense in difficult situations by letting Arizona State control the ball for nearly 39 of the 60 minutes. The offense had six three-and-outs in the first half, after having only nine all season coming into the game.
Keith Price, battling a thumb injury, was inaccurate. He missed open receivers. Then he absorbed punishing hit after punishing hit because of poor offensive-line play. He completed only 16 of 39 passes for 217 yards before injuries forced him to leave the game early in the fourth quarter.
Bishop Sankey, who entered averaging an FBS-leading 149.8 rushing yards per game, had nowhere to run. He finished with just 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils shut down the Huskies’ run game, and the entire offense fell apart without Sankey serving as the anchor. The Huskies finished with a negative-5 rushing yards, tied for their fifth-lowest total in program history.
“We’re disappointed,” defensive tackle Cory Littleton said. “We didn’t play up to our potential in any way tonight.”
It was an apt explanation. They’re better than this. Now, though, they must prove it all over again. It starts with Sarkisian, who is back in a familiar role of trying to encourage resiliency. He has recovered from swoons in each of his first four seasons, but this was supposed to be the year the Huskies played from ahead.
“We all can be better, and I’m talking to myself first,” the coach said.
That is certain to be a long, difficult one-way conversation.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org