The Huskies are back to having to address deep and dark questions after a troubling loss in the Apple Cup to a downtrodden Cougar team.
In almost any college football season, you are going to lose a game that you shouldn't. It is just the nature of the sport, even Alabama and Oregon, who are probably the two best teams in the country have suffered the fate, but for 11 3/4 games this year, it looked like the Huskies might run the 2012 table without suffering a true upset. Then the wheels came off the wagon, the wagon caught on fire and was pillaged by starving pirates.
It seemed like the Huskies had turned themselves around after hitting a low point after their embarrassing loss at Arizona as they gutted out tough wins against Oregon State and Cal and recovered from slow starts against Utah and Colorado to secure comfortable wins. However, it now appears that the thick cloud of doubt that was hovering over the Husky program a month ago has returned. While this wasn't the worst loss of the Sarkisian era, it was far and away the worst team that the Huskies have lost to under Sarkisian and the worst team the Huskies have lost to since they lost in an equally freakish Apple Cup in 2008.
The bad news this time though is that it will now be at least almost a month or so until the Huskies can put the taste of one of the most confounding and strange losses in recent program history.
Much like the Arizona game, I really have a hard time finding any positives in this game, but there are a few players and plays that deserve to be highlighted.
Cody Bruns - It's too bad that the Husky defense couldn't have rallied and stopped the Cougars from scoring in overtime, because Bruns' play running down Toni Pole and taking the massive defensive tackle down before he reached the goal line would be appreciated as much as it should be. Regardless, Bruns' Don Beebe like hustle extended the game and prevented the Huskies from losing the game in a pathetic and embarrassing fashion. Bruns also was able to field and get down a bad snap on the potential game-winning field goal that Travis Coons missed at the end of regulation.
Justin Glenn - Another unheralded senior who just spent his career quietly making good plays and never making mistakes, Glenn made a very impressive interception early in the game that brought the Huskies to life and got the stagnant offense going.
Wow, where to begin...
Penalties - It is hard to beat almost any team when you have a whopping 18 penalties. Some of this is the result of the Pac-12's flag happy crews that seem to look to find any way to interrupt a game, but most of it falls squarely on the Huskies and their coaching staff. The Huskies offense hurt themselves far too much with holding penalties on one-second runs that went for one yard and the defense couldn't get themselves off the field due to being unable to realize that they were going to get flagged for anything close to pass interference in the fourth quarter after Marcus Peters got away with one earlier in the game.
Special Teams - Obviously the field goal kicking was a problem along with the Huskies inability to get after the much maligned Cougar kick game which is known for giving up blocks. Less obvious than this, but almost as frustrating was the Huskies kick return game the couple of times they got chances. Kickoffs are usually a good way to gauge the overall athleticism or talent of two teams so it was alarming that the Husky returners couldn't get the ball past the 20-yard-line.
Offensive line - You will probably be able to make up an All-Pro NFL defensive line with the guys up front that the Huskies have faced this year from LSU, Stanford, Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Utah, but the Huskies may have actually had the most trouble of any front they have faced with the Cougars hapless defensive line which was missing their best player. The Huskies failed to open even the smallest of seams for Bishop Sankey against the Cougar front which has been gashed by teams all year and also allowed them to get after Keith Price and make plays that changed the game.
Keith Price - Husky fans like Keith Price, they truly want him to succeed, but I think Friday may have been the last straw. The Cougars dared Price to beat them and instead of stepping up and making them pay, he was indecisive, mistake prone and rattled by a meager crowd and a bad defense. Price's jovial behavior at the overtime coin flip is something that might be able to be excused as just part of his laid back personality if the Huskies win, but when you immediately go out, hesitate and then throw an interception to a defensive tackle afterwards, it is really going to raise questions about your leadership and focus.
Coaching - A predictable game that was going much in the way the Huskies would like for the most part, slowly became a freak show in the fourth quarter and the Huskies were never able to respond the Cougar momentum or make a number of game-clinching type plays and a lot of that falls on the coaching staff. One of the main problems was that once again, the Huskies came out flat and gave the Cougars early confidence and then looked helpless on offense unless their defense completely set them up.
Bishop Sankey - Credit needs to go to the Cougar defense for slowing down the Eastern Washington native who spurned his commitment to Washington State for hated Washington, as Sankey didn't even look like the same back he had been in recent weeks. He had developed a knack throughout the year for stretching out poorly blocked plays, making guys miss and breaking tackles but didn't seem to escape a single tackle all day. Were the Cougars simply perfect in stopping Sankey, or was it just a poor performance from the young running back?
Cleaning crew - The Huskies penchant this year for penalties this year finally came to a head and cost them the game. Is it a lack of discipline, or a lack of attention to detail that is leading to the perpetual flags? And will Sarkisian and his staff find a way to stop it?
Bowl Game - The Huskies loss knocks them out of the Top 25 and likely knocks them down to a very low-tier bowl such as the Fight Hunger Bowl or the New Mexico Bowl. Now it will probably be a week or so of sitting around and waiting to see what team the Huskies will face in their third-straight bowl game.