At 4:50 p.m. on Saturday, exactly one hour after Justin Herbert took a knee to seal another Oregon victory, a rainbow arced through the spitting Seattle drizzle and landed inside Husky Stadium.
Its arrival was ironic, of course, considering the circumstances. Washington had just suffered its third loss of the season, and its second at home in conference play. It had let a rivalry win over Oregon slip through its fingers — or paws? — for the second consecutive year. College Football Playoff hopes were mere memories, and any chance of a repeat Pac-12 championship had been swept away in the storm.
Washington was 5-3, a dinghy taking on water, wading gracelessly against the tide towards an underwhelming, anonymous bowl game.
And yet, the rainbow arrived nonetheless.
And maybe that means something. That Washington’s season is not over. That something can be salvaged from the storm. That, despite the fleeting frustration, better days are ahead.
Or maybe it was just a rainbow.
But Chris Petersen doesn’t think so.
“I don’t. I don’t,” Washington’s sixth-year head coach said on Saturday, when asked if he worries his players might lose motivation. “We just keep playing. I don’t worry if we win, and I don’t worry if we lose … in terms of, like, what this means.
“There’s just a lot of football left to play, and I think we’ve got a lot more to us. We can continue to keep growing and getting these guys better.”
That should start with tackling, a fundamental that second-year defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake’s young unit has yet to consistently conquer. Through eight games, UW ranks 69th nationally in opponent yards per carry (4.19) and 58th in rushing defense (147.63 yards per game).
“It’s always hard when you try to fix something and it doesn’t end up being fixed,” said senior safety Myles Bryant, who contributed seven tackles in the Oregon loss. “All you can do is keep trying to fix it. You can’t just give up now, since there’s still a lot of football left. So that’s something we’re going to try to do.
“I feel like we got a good team and we got guys who really love the process of everything. We’re going to stay true to the process, keep grinding and whatever happens, happens.”
On the other side, Washington’s offense has appeared to make significant strides in its last two games. But there’s work left to be done. UW converted just 3 of 13 third downs on Saturday, and that’s indicative of a larger trend. The Huskies are currently converting just 35.35% of their third downs on the season, which ranks 101st out of 130 teams nationally and dead last in the Pac-12.
Utah, which UW will host after a bye, is allowing opponents to move the chains on just 27.38% of third down tries — which ranks sixth nationally and first in the Pac-12.
The Huskies are also scoring touchdowns on just 54.29% of their red zone trips, good (or bad) for 97th nationally and ninth in the conference.
So, yes, there’s work left to be done. But are these Huskies are willing to do it?
“We just have to hold each other accountable, and it starts with the leaders of the team,” said senior center Nick Harris. “We’ve just got to make sure everybody’s mind is still set (on winning). We have to have some pride and some dignity.
“Even though (a Pac-12 title) might not be an option anymore, we’ve still got a lot of football to play. So we’ve got to hold each other accountable in that department, and we’ve just got to make sure we attack every week the same.”
It remains to be seen how the Huskies will rebound from another gutting rivalry loss. This team is talented enough, it seems, to win the remainder of its games. It’s also young enough and inconsistent enough to lay down and lose them.
Right now, the sky is dark in all directions. The disappointments are piling up. The storm is relentless.
But Washington football fans are waiting on a rainbow.
“It’s about us,” junior quarterback Jacob Eason said on Saturday afternoon. “That outside noise … you guys can do what you want with that. It’s about us. We work to get better. We’ll focus on our unit and nothing else.”