'Gut-check time' for Huskies
Washington -- losers of three of its past four games -- plays Oregon State on Saturday
And that's only one of the things ailing Husky football these days.
While the Huskies received good news Tuesday that there is no structural damage on Price's injured left knee, they still haven't decided whether he's healthy enough to start Saturday at Oregon State. An even bigger question is whether UW is in the midst of a midseason swoon or just coming out of a recent run of bouts against heavyweight title contenders.
"Three of the last four weeks, we've played some really good football teams," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team has lost three of its last four games -- all to ranked teams that have each beaten the Huskies by margins of at least 17 points. "I don't want to not give them credit; they are good teams. Stanford, Oregon, (USC) -- those are good teams. But I also know that we are better than that way we played."
While Sarkisian may know it, there are those who are beginning to wonder. Three blowout losses in less than a month has a team that started 5-1 and was actually in the race for the Rose Bowl just thankful to have bowl eligibility.
The murderers row of opponents is behind UW, so Sarkisian is hoping that his team can get right in time for games against struggling Oregon State and Washington State on the next two Saturdays.
"This is gut-check time," he said this week, as his team prepares for a Saturday game at OSU (2-8 overall, 2-5 in the Pacific-12 Conference). "We're going to find out if we're a resilient group or not. It's easy to say that we are; now we have to go out and prove it."
The Huskies may very well have to do that without the services of their starting quarterback. Price hurt his left knee in the third quarter of Saturday's loss at USC and has yet to practice this week -- although he was in uniform Tuesday and threw a few passes before team drills began. Redshirt freshman Nick Montana is next in line to start, should Price be unable to play Saturday.
While Price has struggled during UW's four-week fall from grace, he's not the only Husky to see his season take a turn for the worse. The offensive line has been manhandled in back-to-back losses, while running back Chris Polk has seen his long shot Heisman Trophy chances go up in smoke with 116 total rushing yards in the past two games. Receivers Jermaine Kearse (five receptions) and Devin Aguilar (two) have also been rather quiet in the losses to Oregon and USC.
The Huskies (6-4, 4-3) have three easy excuses for their recent struggles in No. 4 Oregon, No. 8 Stanford and No. 18 USC. But the UW players aren't interested in using the level of competition as a reason for their four-week fall from grace.
"We have played some really good football teams, but we feel like we're a really good football team too," senior linebacker Cort Dennison said. "It's totally inexcusable. I guarantee every other kid on this team, and our coaches, would say it's inexcusable to play how we've played. We're a better team than we showed."
Dennison and some of the other veterans on the UW football team have sent vocal reminders of that throughout this week.
"A lot of our leaders are stepping up, even harder than they have been," freshman linebacker Johnny Timu said. "I feel the fire coming up. Practices are getting more intense as we're going."
Dennison, who's always prided himself on being a vocal leader, admits that his message has been delivered at an even louder volume than usual this week.
"We obviously are disappointed in how the last couple of games have gone, and we need to do something about it," the senior middle linebacker said. "And it starts with the leaders. They pick us captains for a reason: it's our duty to rise up to the challenge and lead the team. I take pride in that, I know the other guys do, and we're going to get everybody going this week."
The loudest voice, of course, belongs to Sarkisian. The coach has sent a message to the team that it's time to get back on track this week, and the fact that the Huskies get a reprieve from nationally-ranked competition should certainly help matters.
"It's gut-check for us," Timu said. "We've got to step it up. I know it's late in the season, and we should've done it earlier, but every game is just as important as the next one.
"We've got to play hard, know our stuff and come out and be ready to play."
Price was in pads during Tuesday's practice but did not participate in any of the team drills. He wore a brace on his left knee and walked with only a slightly noticeable limp. ... Defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu continues to wear protection on a dislocated thumb. Although the senior downplayed the significance of the injury this time last week, defensive coordinator Nick Holt said Tuesday that it affected Ta'amu's ability to shed blockers in the USC game.
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