If you want to know where my priorities are today, look no further. The Huskies are BACK, baby!
There’s usually nothing more satisfying than a dominant victory over the Arizona Wildcats. Unfortunately, in my experience, that’s a rarity, and we either get stuck with defeats or eking out wildly close and exciting finishes. The best football game I’ve ever been to in person was the Arizona game in 2009, when Mason Foster picked off a Nick Foles pass that bounced off his receiver’s foot, for a go-ahead touchdown (Desmond Trufant would go on to pick Foles again, deep in Husky territory, on the very next drive to seal the victory in the closing seconds).
We haven’t had much success down in Tucson in recent seasons, but that was set to change Saturday night. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy, and if you expected otherwise, I’m sure the first drive of the game was a shock to the senses. The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and held the ball for 6 minutes before scoring a touchdown. After punting on our first drive, the Wildcats had another 6+ minute drive, but we were able to hold on 4th & goal. From there, the tide really started to shift in our favor.
We traded touchdowns the next three drives to bring it to 14-14. John Ross had a nifty little reverse for a 32-yard touchdown – with help from Jake Browning’s block on a defensive lineman to get him around the corner – and a 12-yard TD reception to give him 7 touchdowns on the season. It was a little frustrating after this stretch, as we missed on a couple of opportunities to take a lead and extend it. We wasted an interception by our defense, and then wasted a muffed punt from the same drive when our kicker missed the first of two field goal attempts on the day.
After halftime, we really rode our running game hard. Specifically Lavon Coleman, who EASILY had the best game of his career: 181 yards on only 11 carries with a touchdown. His 44 yard run on the opening drive of the second half set up Browning for an easy goalline run into the endzone. Then, late in the game, after Arizona had tied it up again at 21-all, Coleman busted out for a 55-yard touchdown to theoretically seal the deal.
But, Arizona was up to the charge. They drove right back down in three minutes to re-tie it at 28, forcing overtime. They won the toss, gave us the ball first, and watched Jake Browning hit Dante Pettis for the go-ahead touchdown. On their possession, they got it as close as our 10-yard line, but the magic ran out and they finally succumbed to a 35-28 Husky victory.
In spite of our road victory, we still fell a spot in the rankings, this time to 10th in the nation. Stanford has held steady at the 7th position to give us what we’ve been waiting for since the start of the season: two Top-10 teams, on Friday night, on ESPN, in front of a national audience, at home, to prove who’s top dog in the Pac-12 North (and, therefore, who’s top dog in the Pac-12 overall).
Now, I know what you’re thinking: this has shades of 2011 written all over it. The Huskies were 5-1, ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in forever, getting ready to face an undefeated, Top-10 Stanford team to see if we’re ready to play with the big boys. And what happened? Well, I was there so I should know: we got demolished 65-21.
Or, maybe you’re thinking: this has shades of 2013 written all over it! The Huskies were 4-0, fresh off a victory over the Arizona Wildcats, ranked 15th in the nation for the first time in forever, getting ready to face an undefeated, Top-10 Stanford team to see if THIS TIME we’re ready to play with the big boys. And what happened? Again, I was there so I should know: we played them tough, but ultimately our comeback attempt bounced just short and we lost 31-28 (we would go on to lose the next two games to Oregon and ASU to fall out of the Top 25 and effectively eliminate any chance at a 10-win season). We lost to every ranked team in our conference that year, which has been a trend since we’ve started to climb out of the muck that was the 2008 season.
Against all ranked teams since 2009, the Huskies have gone 10-26. Our overall record in that span has been 50-41, which means we’ve gone 40-15 against non-ranked teams. Or, in other words, we’ve feasted on the mediocre en route to 6 bowl games in those 7 seasons. What’s been most damning is our 0-7 record against Oregon and our 1-6 record against Stanford. You can’t be the best until you beat the best, and we haven’t beaten the best in quite some time.
The difference with this week’s Stanford game – as opposed to those highly anticipated matchups in 2011 & 2013 – is: we’re at home, and we ARE legitimate. Those other Husky teams were pretenders at best, as you can see from our record against ranked opponents. But, this year, we don’t need to prove ourselves. We don’t need a win on Friday to validate all of our hard work. We just need to take care of business in order to achieve what we’re here to achieve: a Rose Bowl berth. This season is bigger than Stanford. It’s bigger than Oregon even! This season is about Washington, and our re-emergence on the national scene! Win or lose this week, we’re still in a position to win a bunch of games this year. But, if we do win, the world is our oyster. We take a huge lead in the Pac-12 North, we leapfrog one of our direct rivals in the national rankings, and we put ourselves in line for a potential College Football Playoff spot down the road.
Make no mistake, this is the biggest game in YEARS. This is bigger than either of those other Stanford games. Bigger than the 2013 Oregon game where ESPN’s College GameDay came to Seattle. This is, without any hyperbole whatsoever, the biggest game we’ve played in since the 2000 season’s Rose Bowl against Purdue. Truth be told, this is the biggest HOME game we’ve played since earlier in that 2000 season, when the Huskies were 15th in the nation, hosting the #4 Miami Hurricanes. In that game, we defeated the team that would go on to end up #2 in America, handing them their only defeat and preventing them from winning the National Championship; the fact that they ended up ranked one spot ahead of us, when we had the same exact record and we BEAT them that year, is a testament to East Coast Bias being a very real fucking thing, but that’s neither here nor there.
It’s been 16 long years since we’ve been in this position. 16 long years since the Washington Huskies have been legitimately great, and contenders for a major bowl game. If we’re ever going to get over the hump and prove that we belong, it starts this Friday. It starts with beating the everloving snot out of those fucking Stanford NERDS!!!