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15 in '15: The Desert Road Still Haunts Huskies Football

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Peyote is bad. So are road trips to the PAC 12 desert schools.

Chris Petersen scratches his head as he contemplates the finer points of the Copper State Curse.
Chris Petersen scratches his head as he contemplates the finer points of the Copper State Curse.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Our journey through the top 15 story lines that comprised the 2015 season would be incomplete without putting some scrutiny on the streak.

No, not that streak.  The other one.

It's not that the run of futility that UW is experiencing against Oregon is inconsequential. It certainly is about as enjoyable as having bamboo shoots hammered up your fingernails while your assailant blasts you with Sarah Palin sound bytes from her 2012 2008 vice presidential campaign. But when you consider the trajectory that Oregon football has been on over the past 15 years, the twelve-year streak that the Ducks have mounted against Washington is at least comprehensible.

Pardon me while I rinse the puke out of my mouth.

The struggle that I find eminently more niggling is the farcical one that UW has endured against both Arizona and Arizona State over the past 15 years. In particular, I'm bewildered by the insanity that occurs whenever UW travels into the arid air of the south.

Since the last time that UW defeated both the Sun Devils and Wildcats in the same season - a streak that dates back to 2001 - the Huskies are an absurd 8-17 against the two desert schools. Even worse? That record includes a preposterous 2-13 record in road games (both wins came against Arizona in consecutive seasons in '05-06).

Inconceivable.

"For what are myths if not the imposing of order on phenomena that do not possess order in themselves? And all myths, however they differ from philosophical systems and scientific theories, share this with them, that they negate the principle of randomness in the world." -Stanisław Lem, Highcastle: A Remembrance

What's more is that neither of those Arizona teams have been juggernauts worthy of owning such success over UW or any team, for that matter. The average wins per season for the Sun Devils and Wildcats combined over that 15 year time frame is 6.4 - barely breaking the barrier of bowl eligibility. In fact, the Devils and Wildcats combined have only reached a postseason game in about half the seasons (16 out of a combined 30) spanning this streak. Yet the domination has been undeniable.  Arizona's average home-game victory margin over UW has been 21 points while ASU's has been just over 15.

Inconceivable.

These numbers don't even do justice to the nature of these games. UW has found every conceivable way to lose games in the desert. They've made Average Joes into superstars and turned their own guys into goats. Whether we are talking about Taylor Kelly breaking loose for 352 yards and four TDs in 2013...or surrendering a 50-yard bomb from some guy named Sullivan to some guy named McGaha for a game winning TD with 5 seconds to play in 2009...or allowing a tight end named Gronk to set a school TD record (at the time) in 2008, every trip we've made to the Copper State for the better part of the past decade and a half has been a complete disaster.

Seriously....Inconceivable.

Perhaps. But what in the name of holy peyote is going on with Washington Football and their struggles in the desert?

I'm not sure that anybody can really explain the oddity of it all. It's utter nonsense...all of it. Thankfully, Chris Petersen is not the kind of head coach who suffers nonsense very well. That is, he didn't suffer nonsense until he made his first trip to the state of Arizona in 2014.

In what will go down forever as the game in which we discovered that the coaching staff had an extra member, some fella named "Da Charte," the Huskies found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a manner that would make Coug fans blush. With the ball at midfield, a two-point lead, a first down and 1:23 left on the clock, Husky tailback Deontae Cooper would commit the first (only) turnover of his career and put Arizona in a position to win the game with a last-second field goal. It was likely the clumsiest and most bizarre defeat in Chris Petersen's life.

That was until he returned to the desert again in 2015.

The Huskies dominated every aspect of the game in Tempe during the first half. The offense was getting every open look it wanted while the defense was flustering the Sun Devils and their senior QB Mike Bercovici on their way to a 17-0 first-half lead.

But then the second half happened. Husky receivers, who had already suffered a bout of the "dropsies" in the first half, pretty much lost whatever was left of their composure in the second half. The coaching staff completely abandoned the run game and exposed their freshman QB to a litany of blitzes and physical punishment (and, please, if we want to continue the argument of "Gaskin was ineffective," please compare and contrast his early-game performance in this one to the Apple Cup). Jake Browning lost his cool on the way to three second-half interceptions. The Sun Devils dominated the second half in every way, overcoming the 17-point deficit to win 27-17.

"If you hear a "prominent" economist using the word 'equilibrium,' or 'normal distribution,' do not argue with him; just ignore him, or try to put a rat down his shirt." ―Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

In short, the game became a shit-show of epic proportions and trumped the 2014 Arizona loss as, probably, the most bizarre defeat in Chris Petersen's life.

Is 2016 the year that the madness comes to an end? Or is the desert bound to become the Washington Husky version of the Curse of the Billy Goat? Are not the Huskies due for a regression to the mean? Is it not time for the tables to turn and order to be restored to the rivalries that UW enjoys with both of the Arizona schools? Perhaps. But the thing about accounts balancing out is mostly a myth perpetuated by sports fans looking for reasons to remain optimistic.

There aren't too many ways to spin the story line of the "Copper State Curse." It is a bizarre story making up one of the most frustrating stretches in the history of the Washington program. Even with the long shadow cast by the Oregon losing streak ever present, it is the Copper State Curse that truly confounds. Against programs of modest accomplishment, against players of average capability and spanning coaches of varying competence, road trips to Arizona continue to serve up the most outlandish of results.

2015 was no exception.