SEATTLE — When he finished addressing the media Saturday night after his team’s 27-24 loss to USC, Washington cornerback Roy Lewis stood to leave the room, but was first greeted by Tyrone Willingham.
“Every year coach,” an upset Lewis said to his coach. “Every year.”
After too many years of losing, after too many heartbreaking finishes, the fifth year senior summed up what so many of the Huskies were feeling Saturday night.
The Huskies had just given the nation’s top-ranked team a huge scare. They had just played the Trojans closer than anyone outside of the Washington locker room believed possible, but there was no satisfaction in that.
“I am extremely proud of our football team,” Willingham said after the game. “But in saying that, I do not take any solace that we came close and didn’t win. We only teach one thing, and that’s to win. And that’s the only way you play.”
At 2-3, with a bye week to heal the physical and emotional damage inflicted by USC Saturday, the Huskies are now at a crossroads. Their latest loss, the third in as many weeks, is a game that by the end of the year they may look back upon as a turning point.
The best thing Husky fans should take out of Saturday night’s game isn’t the fact that Washington came so close to beating USC. It’s how utterly unsatisfying that feat was to the team.
“We expected to win this game,” said quarterback Jake Locker. “We didn’t come in expecting to hold them close, or maybe make a game out of it. We expected to come in and win.”
The Huskies are close. They played Ohio State and UCLA close before letting games slip away in the second half. They fought to the end with USC despite being statistically dominated. Now it’s time to start winning. Washington doesn’t want to be the scrappy team that scares the Pac-10 powers. The Huskies are ready to start beating them.
“At some point, our football team has to have the same picture of itself that I have,” said Willingham. “And that is that we could have beaten Ohio State, we could have beaten UCLA, and we could have beaten USC.”
Now is the perfect time for the Huskies to become the team Willingham is picturing. They have an extra week to prepare for what should be another tough test at Arizona State. They need to use that extra week to help Locker fix whatever problems he’s having throwing the ball.
The defense needs to use that week to fix its tackling problems. For all the good things the defense did Saturday, creating turnovers, coming up with big stops in the second half, the fact that USC had a pair of 100-yard rushers — the second team in as many weeks to do so — screams that there are problems still to be addressed.
“That’s the second week in row that we haven’t tackled well, and that’s on us,” said senior tackle Jordan Reffett. “That’s nobody but the guys out there on the field. We’ve got to make plays. It doesn’t matter how good their backs are or their blockers. If you get your hands on them, you’ve got to bring them down.
There have been too many seasons of almosts and what ifs. It’s time for the Huskies to start winning. Going to a bowl game, one of the team’s stated goals at the beginning of the season, will require at least a 5-3 finish. Certainly no easy task, but not an impossible one either.
It’s good that the Huskies are angry about losing to a top-ranked team by only a field goal. Now it’s time to do something about it.
“Yeah it’s frustrating, because I think it’s happened two or three weeks, and that’s something that our guys on our football team, we needed to come together and start making plays and stop making mistakes,” said Reffett. “It’s a good time for a bye week. We’re going to get the guys together and we’re going to get ready to win.”
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at email@example.com. For more on University of Washington Sports, check out the Huskies blog at www.heraldnet.com/huskiesblog