In hindsight, more often than not you can circle a singular moment on a timeline and proclaim that was the point where everything changed. You see this in almost every facet of life, from people's stories of when they knew they were in love, or when they knew they weren't in love any longer, to stories of triumph in war and when businesses became officially dead in the water. When stuff becomes either great or awful, there's almost always one key moment in particular, but whether we know it at the time or not is a different story all together.
It's impossible to know the future, but that's never stopped any of us from trying to predict it. One of our favorite past times is trying to see how high the hill in front of us extends above the clouds, when we know deep down that it's more often a molehill than a mountain.
So, Washington fans, was last week's victory the first step on a long climb towards greatness or a meaningless spike in the topography of the rebuilding process?
A Less Offensive Offense
It was the first 40+ performance by a Chris Petersen coached Washington team against a conference opponent. You can try and twist this however you would like, but a 40+ outburst in this conference is going to be enough for you to win more often than not, and that's the point of all these games. Not even considering this Washington defense is one of the premier units in the conference, this offense proved it can hold up its end of the bargain, finally. For weeks, we saw an offense that was just awful. There's no sugar coating it, they were not very good since at least September, if you're being nice. Yet in one game, everything looked how it is supposed to and it all came together to produce an explosion of yards and points.
As a team, Washington had its highest rushing output against an FBS opponent, with 201 yards and three rushing touchdowns, while also putting up 267 yards passing and four more touchdowns through the air, both season highs against conference opponents. This balanced output is promising for the future of the team.
Protect The Ball
Washington had two turnovers during the four games it played during the month of October, and they haven't had a single turnover in two straight games. For a team that gave the ball away five times in a heartbreaking and jersey-ripping-in-frustration loss against California, that's quite the turnaround. Some may argue that turnovers are unpredictable and can plague a team at any moment, but that's more an argument for offense recovered fumbles and dropped interceptions. I don't have those stats readily available, but ball security doesn't seem to be an issue for this team, unless I've blocked out every time the ball has hit the turf. This team though, like many (or all, from as far as I can go back) of its Boise State predecessors, is up positive in the turnover margin, and that's a recipe for winning football.
The Defense and Special Teams Were Already There
Two of the three phases were already playing a top-of-the-conference, elite brand of football, with many indicators and statistics indicating that there was no defense in the Pac-12 that was better, period. This team was not in need of a full makeover, just a nose job and maybe a little botox. If that metaphor doesn't do it for you, think about when Chris Pratt went from lovable, hilarious, charismatic, but chubby and unassuming Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation to equally lovable, hilarious, charismatic but now ripped and handsome Jurassic World & Guardian of the Galaxy lead Chris Pratt, and you know you made it in Hollywood when you're referred to by your real name and not as "[character name] from [TV show or movie]", and he made it.
Nothing else was out of order, they just needed a few small things to go from "meh" to "lead actor in Hollywood action movies" great. The dead weight may finally be gone and this team could very well be in the fast lane for great successes.
Not a Turning Point
Arizona Might Not Be Good
The biggest fear. What if it was more their shortcomings and less of a Washington breakthrough performance? They are a team that has given up 40+ 4 times and 50+ twice, which makes this offensive performance more of an indication that Washington is just part of the pack, and not all that special. Arizona also hasn't had a bye week and their best defender was sitting on a couch in Tuscon, hurt. This Wildcats team has been spotty and high variance against conference opponents, but their only wins are against Oregon State and Colorado, the perennial cellar dwellers of their respective divisions. It's a positive that Washington doesn't join those two as teams that Arizona defeated, but anything else other than that might be a stretch.
One Game Samples Are Tricky
Weird things can happen any given Saturday. Sure, Washington probably wins that game seven or eight times out of ten, but if you were to hypothetically simulate this game ten times, how often would it end 49-3? Once? Twice? And does that really even matter?
You can play the what-if game until you're blue in the face, but we'll never know how much better one team is. We'll always have the score, stats, and game tape, but with how many variables are at play on every single play, one game just isn't enough of a sample to trust. If this game happened in September in week two, would it still have the same meaning or would we still be cautious about trusting this offense to do anything more than throw it away a couple times, shift, and potentially score field goals? At the same time though, it didn't happen in week two, it happened in week nine, when all the chips were on the table and it was virtually a must-win for Washington if they want to go to a bowl game, the true barometer for whether or not a team is even relevant.
How much can you pull for any one week performance?
Washington Isn't Creating Points Off Opponent Turnovers
The most alarming statistic is following the 15 turnovers Washington has forced thus far, they have only scored five touchdowns, and 35 points overall. With turnovers creating short fields and sudden change situations, you'd expect that number to be higher, but it's not. Even this past week, with four turnovers forced, only one turned into points on the other side (Baker's interception was at the end of the first half, so that didn't create an opportunity) which falls right along with how they've been the entire season.
Teams take pride in their sudden change plays, and this coaching staff especially has a love for the trick play coming off a turnover. It's who they are and arguably the difference in the USC game, where Marvin Hall's touchdown pass could be seen as what won Washington that game. But they're just too ineffective at this point in these situations to trust long term, offensively.