Gold: Like it or not, style points matter for Huskies, who only have a month to leave a lasting impression
On the football field, it is simple, as clear as day, binary code, win or lose. In that way it is like a golf, or a hockey, not really left up for interpretation.
But when it comes to the College Football Playoff, like it or not, style points matter. You’ve got to not only pull off the flip but look good doing it. It even helps to give the judges a little wink.
Well, save for a Week 7 win over Oregon — 1 of the 5 biggest wins in college football this year — the Washington football team has done anything but stick the landing the last month.
After storming out of the gate with 4 respectable wins by a combined margin of victory of 199-70 — including blowouts of Boise State and Michigan State — the Huskies’ past 4 wins have been by a combined 27 points. Basically a good halftime showing in the first month.
If Washington had played the likes of Oregon for reach of those games, maybe we’re not sweating it.
But in addition to a 3-point win over the Ducks, the Huskies eked by Arizona, 24-27, needed a late defensive touchdown to sneak by Arizona State, 15-7, and — just this past Saturday — didn’t put away a lowly 2-6 Stanford team until after the 2-minute warning in a 42-33 win.
The “win” over Stanford was particular galling. This was not like the Sun Devils, who have inexplicably had the Huskies’ number for years. This is a bad Cardinal team Washington led hang around, with 2 fourth-quarter turnovers that nearly turned into complete disaster. The Huskies had 7 penalties for 77 yards, including 5 on the defensive side, and a handful of dropped passes. Michael Penix Jr., who played just about flawless football the first month, continued to have issues against interior pressure, though he wasn’t just under pressure but under the weather.
“We’ve had some turnovers in the red zone, and those are the points that keep you from extending leads,” Kalen DeBoer said. “It’s not like you’re getting 3 points, you’re getting zero. In the second half, I thought we were starting to play FB the way we know it. But those turnovers were what kept us from getting us off the field.”
But however they got here — this is not the conduct becoming of a true CFP contender.
Ask anyone out of Seattle, and they’ll tell you Oregon would be the better pick for a potential Pac-12 Playoff rep.
How can that be? How can the team Washington beat not 3 weeks ago have so much positive karma?
That’s what happens when you play with your food. And the Huskies, of all teams, should know better.
The next 4 weeks should really tell us all we need to know about DeBoer’s suddenly uninspiring squad.
At USC. Hosting Utah. At Oregon State. Hosting Washington State.
Four good albeit flawed teams. Four squads that could probably out a scare into 125 FBS teams.
There isn’t an Arizona State or a Stanford in the bunch — though Wazzu is trending that way. Beat the Trojans on their home field, and no matter how many Alex Grinch’s are on that field, it’s still a big win. Take out any Kyle Whittingham-led team, and you’ll get your flowers. Put a hurting on Jonathan Smith’s solid Beavers squad, and that’s worth something. Even a significant Apple Cup win would be something to savor, even if the Cougars have fallen very far from their early season rankings after losing 4 straight.
Call it opportunities for redemption. Call it a chance to sway a voter or two. Call it a chance to right the ship.
Someway, somehow, either Washington reminds us of the team that took college football by storm for a month, or we’ll know for sure it doesn’t deserve to hang with the big boys.
It all starts this Saturday in the Los Angeles Coliseum for a game that just a month ago would have been the biggest Week 10 game on the schedule.
Had USC kept up its end of the bargain, this may have been a top-10 title fight the likes of which could have propelled the Huskies into the top 4 with a win.
Alas, the Grinchified-Trojans needed a blown 2-point conversion call by Cal coaches to avoid its 3rd straight crushing loss, joining their debacle in South Bend and a 2-point loss to a widely wounded Utes squad. The Bears put up 49 points on a deflated USC defense, and it took yet another heroic Caleb Williams to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
Williams is just about the only imposing facet about the Trojans at this point, something of which DeBoer is well aware.
“Elite playmaker, can make all the throws, eyes are downfield, buys time, not afraid to make any throw on the run,” DeBoer said. “We have to do a really good job of just staying on receivers, especially when he escapes the pocket.”
But on the whole, USC is not the team we thought it was, but it is certainly still scary enough to put a jolt into the Huskies if they don’t clean things up.
And they need to clean things up, if they have any hope of a Playoff bid.
If it was only about wins and losses, sloppy football might not matter.
It’s not. It’s about so much more, and the Huskies might find out the hard way.
“Those games that we just sent through, every undefeated season I’ve ever went though has these games,” DeBoer said. “Games where you’re down 14-0 in the first quarter and you somehow grind it out. Games we won 11-10 in some tough weather. There are seasons you’re putting up 40 points or more and those come up. For me, it’s about the fight in the guys and working through those times in the season when it’s not perfect. All championship teams have those close games.”