Washington entered last weeks road game against Oregon State with hopes of stopping the backslide the team has been on since their embarrassing performance at Stanford. Instead, the game turned out to be more of the same for the Huskies, as they were unable to provide any spark in a 17 point loss to an Oregon State team that had only managed to win two games up until that point.
That loss sets up an Apple Cup that has suddenly become a must win for the Huskies. Making a bowl game a second strait year should be a clear sign of progress, but what has been unfolding is shockingly similar to the free-fall that Arizona ended the 2010 season with.
Arizona started the 2010 season by winning 7 of their first 8 games. They followed up the fast start with 5 consecutive losses to end the season. The Wildcats ended the season with a bowl, but it was an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State, and the vibe at the end of the season was decidedly negative.
It came as no surprise as Mike Stoops entered the 2011 season on the hot seat, and did not last through the season. It wasn't the first time his program had gained bowl eligibility by loading up on easy OOC games. This might seem like a good idea at first, especially for a team that has not been a bowl regular as of late, but after the second or third time it is more indicative of a stagnate program. They were never able to make the next step.
Washington goes into this match up with Washington State with three consecutive losses, and a very real possibility of finishing the season on a five game losing streak, in the same manor that Arizona did in 2010.
Sarkisian and his Husky team are to early in their tenure to say this is a pattern as it had become in Arizona. The Huskies still control their own fate as to how their season is viewed. Lose the Apple cup and the bowl game, and it is going to be hard to point exactly where this team progressed from 2010.
This Husky team won the majority of games against teams they were supposed to be beat, and have fallen flat on their faces when facing top 15 teams. They have shown signs of life, keeping the Nebraska and Oregon game closer than the blowouts against Stanford and USC, but that is very close to what the Huskies did last year in the reverse order.
Last year Washington had their back against the wall and fought to a bowl game, but it was also a case of the schedule being easier at the end than in the beginning. It came across as a strong finish, and hopes were high for the 2011 season. Just a week ago, the Huskies had a chance to live up to those higher expectations with a chance to finish the regular season 8-4.
Now the Huskies must regroup and finish strong , starting with the Apple Cup. The perception of the team is not one that is on the rise, but rather one that has managed to stay around .500 for the second strait season. Certainly an improvement over most of the previous decade, but more than a little disappointing considering Washington is in third year of the Sarkisian Era.
The first two seasons Washington took noticeable steps forward. This season it is getting harder and harder to find evidence that in year three the program took another step forward. Going into this season no one expected Washington to competitive for a PAC-12 title, but what was expected was that the Huskies would play competitively. The blow outs by 5 touchdowns were supposed to be a thing of the past.
Those blow out losses are still going to sting regardless of how the Huskies finish, but after the loss to Oregon State, Washington NEEDS to win the Apple Cup. The Huskies need to end the losing streak at three games. If for no other reason than to show that Washington's rebuilding project is ahead of Washington State's. What seemed obvious at the beginning of the season is now becoming harder to see. The Huskies need to step up now, show their mental toughness, and take it to WSU to reverse the negative momentum that has been building up in recent weeks.
The good news is that Washington is more than capable of beating the Cougars this Saturday. Look for Chris Polk to once again plow the defense of Washington State, and for the Huskies to break out of their current funk.