By Danny O’Neil
The Washington Huskies are at a crossroads.
Saturday’s game in Corvallis, Ore., is being cast as one more referendum on the coaching tenure of Steve Sarkisian, a chance for his Huskies to show the program is continuing to make progress with him at the helm.
Kind of like that road game at Stanford earlier this season. Or the home game against Oregon a week later or any of another half a dozen games over the past three seasons that were deemed an opportunity for the Huskies to make a statement and move up the Pac-12 pecking order.
The fact that we’re two games from the end of Sarkisian’s fifth year and still having this conversation says everything you need to know about this program’s ability to take that next step: I don’t think it can. Not under Sarkisian, which is why I’m hoping the Huskies have a new coach next season.
I’m not happy about that conclusion. I even hope that I’ll be proven wrong over the remainder of this season, but I know that a victory at Oregon State for the Huskies’ first conference road win in 2013 won’t be enough to change my mind.
We have five years of history under Sarkisian, more than 60 games, and while his resuscitation of the program should be commended, the inability to get the Huskies beyond conference mediocrity is not only undeniable, but indicative of what the future holds under him.
This team’s inability to develop across the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball and a dumbfounding insistence on committing penalty after penalty has left it high-centered in the Pac-12. Not only is it looking up at Oregon, but this season Arizona State and UCLA – two programs in their second season under new coaches – beat the Huskies decisively.
Washington’s inability to keep quarterback Keith Price upright is an indictment of the coaching staff’s failure to recruit and/or develop talent on the offensive line. (AP)
When Keith Price left last week’s loss with a shoulder injury it placed an exclamation point on this team’s failure up front. No quarterback in the country has been hit more often, and at this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s Washington’s inability to recruit talent along the offensive line or the failure to develop that talent that is to blame for the problems up front. The responsibility is borne, one way or the other, by this coaching staff.
Sarkisian deserves a ton of credit for bringing a pulse back to this program that had flatlined before his arrival. He showed that it could again be a destination and that beautiful new stadium is due in part to the enthusiasm Sarkisian brought back to a program that had all the hope of a condemned building when Tyrone Willingham was fired.
Sarkisian brought Washington from a winless season in 2008 to a bowl game in 2010 and helped Jake Locker become a first-round pick and kept Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams from leaving the state, all of which were so incredibly important for this program.
But Sarkisian has had five years now, and while there have been memorable moments like that home upset of USC in 2009, the closest the Huskies have come to a win that would vault the program into an era of contention was that 2010 Holiday Bowl victory against a decidedly disinterested Nebraska team that had a less-than-healthy quarterback and had beaten Washington by 35 points in Seattle earlier that season.
More than anything, Washington’s record has not improved even as its schedule has gotten easier. Not only is this program no longer playing at LSU or hosting Nebraska, it’s facing lesser-division college football programs like Eastern Washington and Idaho State for the first time in the program’s history.
The Huskies even changed the offense this season, going to an up-tempo approach despite the fact that Sarkisian is one of the better pro-style playcallers in the college game. But Washington wasn’t able to keep pace with teams like Oregon and Arizona State – who already played at that place – and was decisively outmuscled at UCLA a week ago.
Which brings us back to this weekend’s game, the Huskies sitting at 6-4 for the third successive season and everyone pointing to this game at Oregon State as a chance for Washington to show it is making progress.
Trouble is that I’ve been down this road too many times already. I’m ready to turn back.