It’s no longer a matter of what might be the better matchup for Washington or where the Huskies might fit in the Pac-12 hierarchy of bowl game associations.
After Washington collapsed in the second half against Arizona State on Saturday, the Huskies no longer have any wiggle room if they intend on playing beyond Thanksgiving weekend. Washington (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) must win its final two games to become bowl eligible and play in the postseason for the sixth straight year.
And that’s not a simple task. The Huskies travel to struggling Oregon State on Saturday but then must turn around on a short week and host surging Washington State in the Apple Cup on Nov. 27.
“We’re down to two big weeks and we’re not even really talking about it in terms of two big weeks,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Monday. “It’s one big week for us to continue to play at a high level on defense and take the next step on offense. Really that’s what we’re talking about.”
Petersen has never been left at home during the bowl season. He took Boise State to a bowl game every year he was in charge there and last year led Washington to a berth in the Cactus Bowl after an 8-5 regular season. The last time Petersen didn’t get to coach in a bowl game in some capacity was 2001, his first year as offensive coordinator at Boise State. The Broncos went 8-4 but missed out on a bowl berth.
Among other things, a bowl represents an opportunity for an inexperienced Huskies squad to get valuable practice time and experience.
“I think that those can be really important,” Petersen said. “I think for the bigger thing, if that happens that means we’re trending upward. We’re playing better football. We’re winning. I think that’s probably the most important thing when I think about a bowl situation. That’s the critical part there.”
Washington looked primed to take the mystery out of its postseason fate with its first-half performance against Arizona State. The Huskies had 341 yards but only led 17-3 at the break after missing on opportunities to get an even bigger lead. That came back to haunt Washington in the second half – and especially the fourth quarter – when the Huskies committed turnovers on their final four possessions and watched Arizona State score 17 fourth-quarter points to pull away.
The entire game was a microcosm of what this Washington team has been: glimpses of promise and potential mixed with maddening inconsistency and youthful mistakes. While the offensive problems in the second half garnered most of the attention, the Huskies may not have been in that situation if not for missed throws, dropped passes and stalled opportunities in the first half.
“Nobody is more frustrated at this situation than the people in this building,” Petersen said. “We can be frustrated all we want, we can’t let that stymie progress. And how do we do that? It comes back to our attention to detail in the meetings and our focus at practice and the speed that we practice with so you can kind of simulate the game situation the best you can.”