In their past 10 football games decided by fewer than 10 points, the Washington Huskies are unbeaten.
As the Most Interesting Man in the World might say, the Washington Huskies don’t always play close games. But when they do, they prefer to win them.
And under Steve Sarkisian, they almost always have, a trend continued with last week’s 20-17 victory over Oregon State.
The Oregon State game marked the 10th straight time that UW won a game in which the margin was less than 10 points. Two of the games in that streak came against California, including one of the most memorable, the 16-13 “God’s Play” win in 2010. That’s the last time the Huskies traveled to Berkeley, where they play Friday night.
“We’ve been fortunate in the real tight ballgames here, less than 10 points,” Sarkisian said Wednesday. “We’ve had a pretty good track record of executing and winning those tight games.”
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The streak dates to a 23-17 loss at Brigham Young in the opening game of the 2010 season. Back then, Washington bemoaned its inability to win nail-biters. The Huskies were 2-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less in 2009, Sarkisian’s first season, and then opened the following year with another tight defeat in Provo.
Since then the Huskies have been the kings of the close ones, offsetting an 8-15 record over that span in games decided by 10 points or more.
Washington’s streak of close-game wins began with a 32-31 last-play victory at USC on Oct. 2, 2010.
Not every game has been as dramatic.
Included in that stretch are a couple of games that weren’t necessarily in doubt going down to the end, notably a 21-12 win over San Diego State to open this year and a 40-32 win over Hawaii last season.
But eight games in that stretch could be considered in question until the final minute — and in each UW made the plays at the end to pull it out. Sometimes it was on defense — such as holding off Cal on a fourth-down play at Husky Stadium last year to win 31-23. Or on offense — like the drive to beat Cal in Berkeley in 2010 when Chris Polk scored on a fourth-and-one run as time ran out, on a play that became known as “God’s Play.”
Some games needed big plays late by the offense and defense, such as this year’s 17-13 win over Stanford and last week’s victory over Oregon State. In each of those, UW scored the winning points in the final five minutes, then held off a final drive inside its own territory.
Statisticians might argue that winning the close ones time and again is in part due to luck and that fate will eventually turn. What if Stanford’s Ty Montgomery caught the long pass a couple plays before the Desmond Trufant interception that sealed it?
Sarkisian agrees that “at some point I’d like to score some more points and get ahead of people and win that way, too.”
But he says an offense featuring a young offensive line still finding its way makes close games inevitable. “For the time being, that’s just the way we are built right now,” Sarkisian said.
The Huskies often practice late-game and special situations, which the coach said helps players be prepared when crunchtime arrives.
“We never run plays just for the sake of running plays,” he said. “We try to raise our players’ football IQ and awareness and understanding, whether it’s down and distance, how much time is on the clock, what the score is, what to expect from our opponents, and what we like to do in those situations. And the end result is our guys, when we are in tight ballgames late, they don’t panic.”
Example: Last week the Huskies faced a third-and-seven at their own 48 with four minutes left and the game tied at 17. Keith Price noticed Kasen Williams being defended man-to-man on the edge and threw a pass down the sideline that Williams caught while being hit for a 19-yard gain, plus a 15-yard penalty. It put the Huskies in position for the winning field goal.
Price and Williams also connected for the winning touchdown against Stanford, albeit on a different type of play, with 4:53 remaining.
And while the UW offense has had its struggles, players proved they weren’t fazed by the pressure in those wins.
“We don’t feel added pressure or anything like that,” Williams said. “We are very calm and we just keep our heads high and just keep going and keep driving.”
Trufant has ended two of games with interceptions — a 30-27 win against Eastern Washington last year and the victory over Stanford this year. “If you are a competitor and the game is on the line, you have to step up to the challenge,” he said.
Of late, when it’s late, the Huskies have proved able to do just that.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
The Huskies have won each of their past 10 games that were decided by fewer than 10 points.
2010/at Washington State/35-28
2012/San Diego State/21-12