Analysis: Washington finished strong vs. Oregon State. But can the Huskies finish the season strong?

  • Mon Nov 11th, 2019 6:00pm
  • Sports

By Mike Vorel

The Seattle Times

Imagine the sound a chain saw makes — grinding, revving, roaring, throttling. It crawls inside your skin and rattles your insides. It assaults your eardrums with its shrill, persistent shriek. It unanimously, unapologetically annoys.

And, at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., it does so on every single opponent third down. It is the oft-repeated rallying cry of the Oregon State defense.

And on Friday, it worked — to an extent. Washington (6-4) converted just 5 of 17 third downs in a 19-7 victory, including 1 of 8 in the second half. (Of course, UW has converted just 34.85% of its third downs on the season, which ranks 107th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12. So this was not a new development.) It was an ugly, uneven performance for an inconsistent Husky offense.

But what was the home team’s excuse?

Oregon State — which entered the game having converted 49.06% of its third-down tries, ranking first in the Pac-12 and 14th nationally — moved the chains on 1 of 13 third downs Friday. The suddenly bumbling Beavers gained eight total yards and failed to produce a first down in the second half.

There were no available excuses. No chain saw sounds. No gimmicks. No buzzers or bumping bass or excess of crowd noise. The explanation was simple.

The UW defense dominated, and it finished. Finally.

In the second half of its last two losses, against Utah and Oregon, Washington’s defense surrendered a combined 41 points and 466 total yards in the second half. The Huskies failed to produce a sack in that span, and the Ducks and Utes converted 9 of 15 third downs (60%) and 2 of 2 fourth downs. They completed 80.8% of their passes as well. After UW quarterback Jacob Eason threw a 39-yard pick-six in the third quarter last weekend, the Utah offense piled up back-to-back touchdown drives that totaled 166 yards and took up 10:40 worth of clock.

After Eason surrendered an eerily similar 36-yard pick-six Friday, Oregon State’s offense went three-and-out four consecutive times and gained a grand total of three yards the rest of the game.

That’s a response. That’s how you squash any simmering momentum — on the road, no less. (And, yes, a 60-yard touchdown run by Salvon Ahmed certainly helps.)

“I think our guys played hard. They played physical,” UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “Oregon State is a really good offense and they’ve done some tremendous things this season, but our guys executed really well and we executed down the stretch and really finished in the third and fourth quarter, which we’re really happy about.”

At this point, you might be thinking: “Great, but Oregon State is not Utah or Oregon.”

That’s true! But neither are Colorado or Washington State.

Washington is 6-4. To use one of Chris Petersen’s favorite phrases, the record is what it is. The Huskies can’t crank a DeLorean up to 88 mph and replace losses with wins. They can’t repave the past.

But they finished strong Friday … and the Huskies have an opportunity to finish the season strong as well.

UW’s final two regular season opponents — Colorado and WSU — own a combined conference record of 3-10. Colorado had lost five consecutive Pac-12 games before beating Stanford Saturday, and the Cougars have dropped five of six, with their only win coming over — you guessed it! — Colorado.

Judging by statistics, or records, or recruiting rankings, or rivalry streaks, Washington should win out. Its young, inconsistent defense should continue to come of age. Redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Joe Tryon — who has compiled 13 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his last two games — should continue to wreak havoc. UW’s defensive line should apply more consistent pressure. True freshmen Trent McDuffie, Asa Turner, Cameron Williams and Laiatu Latu should benefit from the extra reps.

Consider the opportunity: With three games (including the postseason) remaining, UW’s defense can ride a tidal wave of momentum into a 2020 season in which almost everyone returns. Inconsistent Husky quarterback Jacob Eason can get statistically healthy against teams that rank 10th (Washington State, 450.3 yards per game) and 11th (Colorado, 480.1 YPG) in the Pac-12 in total defense. Ahmed (886 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) can crack 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit scores for the first time in his career. Underutilized wide receivers Terrell Bynum, Marquis Spiker and Jordan Chin can earn more consistent roles against Pac-12 opponents. The Huskies can win a bowl game for the first time since 2015.

Or, because a Pac-12 title is out the window, they can coast to the Cheez-It Bowl or the Redbox Bowl or the Fill-In-The-Blank Bowl. They can mail it in. They can make excuses — succumb to the chain saw sound.

Washington finished Friday. But the bigger finish is dead ahead.

“We’ve been simulating that in practice — the fourth-quarter stuff,” junior nickelback Elijah Molden said Friday night. “When it came around, we did our thing. We just need to keep on building on that.”