At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Oregon State placekicker Everett Hayes drilled a 24-yard field goal to snap Washington’s nine-game winning streak in the series, sending students over the barricade and onto the field inside a convivial Reser Stadium.
At 9:48 p.m., second baseman Abraham Toro caught the final out in a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over the Angels that kept the Mariners’ wild-card hopes alive entering the final game of the regular season at a sold-out T-Mobile Park.
The alternate timelines reveal an absolute truth:
Folks, these Huskies are no Mariners.
The Mariners maximize the talent on their roster. They’re not as star-laden as the Yankees, or Red Sox, or Blue Jays, or Astros, or White Sox, but manager Scott Servais and Co., have put players in positions to succeed. The same can’t be said of a Husky roster flooded with four-star talent that already has lost to the likes of Montana and Oregon State.
Last Monday, Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said second-year freshman wide receiver Rome Odunze “is fast, he’s our tallest receiver, he can jump, he’s competitive. You’re going to see him progress again, I think, this week. He’s going to have even more opportunities to go make some big-splash plays.”
Was Odunze — who caught three mostly meaningless passes for 20 yards — put in positions to succeed Saturday? What about Jalen McMillan (two catches for 18 yards) or Taj Davis (one catch for 5 yards)?
“We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to improve,” Lake said Saturday night while the Mariners were mounting their comeback 250 miles away. “We have really good players who still have a lot of room for improvement. Obviously us as coaches, we have to make sure as coaches we’re putting them in position to go out there and make plays.”
The Mariners excel in close games, posting a 90-71 record despite owning a run differential of minus-47. The Huskies, meanwhile, crumbled in the fourth quarter against Montana and Oregon State (and were a missed 55-yard field goal away from suffering the same fate against California as well).
The Mariners’ offense comes through in the clutch. And when Washington had an opportunity to secure a victory Saturday, its quarterback sneak was promptly stuffed on fourth-and-one (though Lake disputed the spot). The Huskies also produced a punt, a turnover on downs and an interception in the fourth quarter against FCS Montana, and they were called for a delay-of-game penalty on the opening play of a nationally televised defeat against Michigan the following week. Outside of an overtime touchdown against Cal, the Huskies have been as clutch as a plastic fork in a gun fight.
“We’re trying to score points,” Lake said. “That’s the goal. We’re trying to score points. So the last three weeks we scored more points than the first two weeks. So mission accomplished there, but we want to score more points. We reevaluated after the Michigan game and the Montana game. With some of the adjustments that we’ve made, we’ve made some good strides, but not good enough. So we’ve got to continue to tweak and make sure we’re putting our players in position to make plays and put points on the board.”
Added running back Sean McGrew, who did his part with 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State: “It’s obviously frustrating, because you see the spurts of greatness. You see the spurts of what our offense can do. If we just keep executing and doing what we know how to do, I don’t think anyone can stop us.”
While the rag-tag Mariners can’t be stopped, these Huskies have a habit of stopping themselves.
The Mariners’ defense can be counted on. Its fielding percentage (.987) ranks seventh in all of MLB. The Husky defense, meanwhile, surrendered 242 more rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns Saturday night. And that’s after Michigan filleted UW’s front seven for 343 rushing yards and four scores in a convincing 31-10 victory three weeks earlier.
Through five games, the Diet Coke of UW Death Row defenses ranks 101st nationally in opponent yards per carry (4.56) and 102nd in rushing defense (182.2 yards per game).
And while Washington’s pass defense is legitimate — ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.1), fifth in opponent pass efficiency rating (96.12) and eighth in yards per game (147.2) — it’s an outlier among errors. The Huskies currently are sixth in the Pac-12 in sacks per game (1.8) and eighth in tackles for loss per game (5.0). When they needed a stop against Montana, they couldn’t get one. When they needed a stop against Michigan, they couldn’t get one. When they needed a stop against Oregon State … well, the students ended up storming the field.
Not that many Seattle sports fans probably were watching when they did (which is not intended as a dig at the Pac-12 Networks). Why would they, when the Mariners were in the midst of another comeback? When so much was at stake? When Servais’ team had done so much more (for months) to actually earn their attention?
Regardless of what happens Sunday, Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, Ty France and crew have shaken awake a sleeping giant. After two decades of empty Octobers, the Mariners have made their fans believe — football coaches included.
“It’s so exciting,” Lake said last week when asked about the Mariners’ miracle run. “You could feel the passion of the fans through the TV screen. And Scott Servais, what a job he’s done. It’s going to be fun final games to watch down the stretch here.”
Can the same be said of the Husky football season?