They can still thrill crowds, still drop jaws and still rack up a double-digit win total.
They can produce first-round picks, upset a nationally ranked foe, and reach a 10th straight bowl.
Over the next few weeks, the Huskies will have plenty of chances to provide themselves and fans with fond memories. But no matter what they accomplish, 2019 will be a disappointing season.
This became all but official when Oregon beat Washington 35-31 on Saturday. In handing the Huskies their third loss, the 12th-ranked Ducks essentially erased UW’s chances of winning the Pac-12 or returning to a New Year’s Six game.
If you were to ask a Husky fan before the season, “Would you be cool with winning 10 games but losing to Oregon and playing in a pedestrian bowl?” — I’d bet three months’ salary the answer would be no. This team can still give its supporters joy, but it can’t leave them satisfied.
“It sucks,” said Washington quarterback Jacob Eason, who finished with 289 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on 23-of-30 passing. “We just got outplayed in the second half.”
Saturday’s result may very well boost Zoloft sales in Seattle for the next couple weeks. Despite leading 28-14 early in the third quarter, and 31-21 late in the third quarter, the 25th-ranked Huskies (5-3, 2-3 in conference) let their chief rival eke out a win.
Washington’s offense went from unstoppable through the first 45 minutes to unbearable in the final 15, when they suffered two three-and-outs and a turnover on downs. That cinematic touchdown drive that would have been enshrined in Husky lore? It just never came.
It’s too bad for fans, because for a while, it looked as though they were witnessing a historic performance. Multiple websites have projected Oregon’s Justin Herbert as the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft, but through the first three quarters, he wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field.
Whether it was launching a 48-yard scoring pass to Jordan Chin, or leading a 75-yard touchdown drive, Eason spent most of Saturday showcasing Sunday talent in front of the whole country. But like his teammates, the man with the masterful long ball came up short.
This loss wasn’t on Eason, though. Oregon (6-1, 4-0) carved the Huskies up on the ground and in the air. Its three running backs finished with 180 yards on 33 carries. Herbert tallied 280 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-38 passing.
A regular image on the television broadcast was a frustrated Jimmy Lake, the UW defensive coordinator whose team forced no turnovers and collected no sacks.
But it wasn’t just what the Ducks were doing to the Huskies. It was what the Huskies were doing to themselves. There was an array of missed tackles, a late hit that led to an Oregon touchdown, and a snap that flew over Eason’s head for a loss of 19 yards. There was the repeated failures in the wildcat formation, including one on a crucial third-and-two midway in the fourth quarter. And there was the miscommunication on the Ducks’ sole rushing TD, when it looked as though Washington had just 10 players on the field.
Yes, Washington receiver Puka Nacua may have been the victim of uncalled pass interference on the Huskies’ last offensive play, which would have given them a first down near Oregon’s 30 with 45 seconds to go. But UW put itself in a tenuous position and has to live with the result.
After the game, I asked Huskies coach Chris Petersen if the Ducks made a defensive adjustment to hinder his team in the fourth quarter. He said no, but added this.
“Sometimes it comes down to willpower, but I have to look at the tape to see exactly what’s going on.”
That’s going to be a tough film session to stomach, just as the season has been so far. Credit Petersen for keeping his program’s expectations high every year, but the Huskies won’t end this one having met them.
With three Pac-12 losses, it’s doubtful they have even a .1% chance of winning the conference title or getting back to a major bowl. And when you mix in a loss to Oregon with that reality, sleep may be hard to come by.
Washington center Nick Harris and safety Myles Bryant stressed that the Huskies still have a lot to play for. That’s true. These situations often test a team’s resolve.
But right now, pride is the primary motivation for the Huskies. Like Saturday’s game, they let their chance at anything more get away from them.