Washington hopes to snap a three-game losing streak Saturday when it plays No. 7 Oregon State at CenturyLink Field.
College football seasons go fast. Washington will be two-thirds of the way through its regular season after Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field against Oregon State.
So do college football careers, as Washington senior cornerback Desmond Trufant was reminded this week.
“It’s unreal to think about,” he said. “Five (regular-season) games left. I just want to finish strong. You are remembered by what you do last, so I’m just approaching it like that.”
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Trufant knows the most recent memory of UW football is an unpleasant one — a 52-17 thrashing at Arizona last week that elicited the most grumbling about the program since Steve Sarkisian took over as coach before the 2009 season.
Washington is 3-4 and needs to win three of its last five games to become bowl-eligible. And at 1-3 in Pac-12 play, all that’s realistically left for UW is getting into a middle-tier bowl game.
A fast finish beginning with a win against the Beavers would help quiet the critics — such as a columnist for The Oregonian who this week called the Huskies the “softest, least resilient” team in the Pac-12. Sarkisian surely let his players know of those comments. He also planned to have former Huskies Dave Hoffmann and Lawyer Milloy — each standout defensive players from the early 1990s glory years who are being inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame this week — speak to the team Friday.
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue.
But as Sarkisian said, “Now we’ve got to go play.”
And on paper, many of the checkmarks go the way of the Beavers, the surprise team in the Pac-12 at 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll.
Oregon State was picked last in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll, but has emerged as one of the steadiest teams in the conference, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 16.5 points per game, second in rushing defense at 80.8 yards per game, and third in passing offense at 310.7 yards per game.
The Beavers are a team that makes opponents work for every point while looking for opportunities to strike quickly through the air. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns to the starting job after missing the past two games with a knee injury (with Cody Vaz leading the Beavers to wins over Brigham Young and Utah). Mannion will often throw to receivers Brandin Cooks (second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards at 111 per game) and Markus Wheaton (third at 109).
“They take a lot of shots down field, so we’ve got to be ready,” Trufant said.
Sarkisian hinted that the Huskies might try to take their share, as well, against an OSU team that is difficult to run on. The Beavers haven’t been much easier to pass against.
But Sarkisian made clear his faith in struggling quarterback Keith Price, and said he saw signs of a turnaround the past few weeks despite critical turnovers — Price has 10 in the past three games.
Price had three against Arizona, and afterward Sarkisian said he wanted Price to have greater belief and trust in the team’s system. That’s been difficult for Price to do at times because of protection issues. And that could be a challenge Saturday against an Oregon State team featuring a solid defensive front.
But Price said this week Sarkisian’s message had come through clear.
“Man, just play,” he said of what Sarkisian told him. “Throw the ball with conviction and continue to play. The team is looking up to me, the offense is looking up to me and just keep striving, and he knows things are going to get on track for me.”
Sarkisian said the team was bouncing back well from the loss at Arizona, the team’s third in a row, by a combined score of 128-52. He said practices Tuesday and Wednesday were among the best the team has had all season, featuring physical drills usually reserved for spring and fall camp.
“I thought there was a purpose to the practices and the guys competing,” he said.
The loss to Arizona dropped Sarkisian’s career record at UW to 22-23, and 15-16 in Pac-12 play.
Price said he and the team weren’t worried about the critics, and he thinks a turnaround is coming.
“When I’m doing good, they’ll jump back on the bandwagon,” he said. “When we start winning some games, there’s going to be a lot of happy fans.”