The University of Washington Huskies performed with extraordinary skill Saturday, Sept. 27, confirming the validity of their ranking of ninth-best in the nation.
Unfortunately for much of the region's sporting public, the "Huskies" to which we refer are the members of the women's volleyball team, which bested both Arizona schools to move to 11-1 in 2008 league play.
The other Husky contingent also is ninth. Alas, it's not a national ranking. Owing to the fact that the Wazzu Cougars probably are even more pitiful at football than the Montlake Dawgs, UW is no worse than second-to-last in the Pac-10, even with a record of 0-4. That mark owes to having been beaten — beaten twice, actually — at home Saturday night, Stanford prevailing 35-28.
Loss number two was sustained when the best UW player, Jake Locker, left the game toward the end of the first half with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. He could return to play quarterback after a six-week healing session. That would qualify him to take the reins of the wobbling Dawg sled in time for the Apple Cup in Pullman on Nov. 22. The classic, such as it is, should determine definitively which of the state's "big-time" college-football programs is less horrible than the other.
As is, the Cougs lost at home to Oregon Saturday. The 63-14 final was the third-worst point spread the WSU program has ever endured — worse, obviously, than the 34-point margin by which the Ducks dispatched the Dawgs Aug. 30. The Huskies, with capable but inexperienced redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch now calling signals, find themselves staring at seven league games plus a home date (Oct. 25) against Notre Dame. The projection is pretty simple: Ty Willingham's final year as Husky coach could wind up 0-12.
The thought was sobering among the otherwise celebratory 62,000 of us who, under unseasonably balmy skies, observed what started as a promising contest for the locals. The Huskies scored halfway through the first quarter and would have gone into the second half 7-7 had it not been for a laughable defensive lapse that allowed Stanford to complete a 61-yard desperation touchdown-pass play with a minute-something left in the second quarter. By then, Locker already had been in the, ahem, locker room for a while. He would emerge later with a taped right hand. After the game, the gifted player actually mused about returning to the playing field in some capacity other than QB, perhaps playing safety for a few games until he can throw again.
Make that until he can try to throw again. Locker was 5-9 passing but at critical junctures he sailed balls, over-throwing open receivers. The evidence of a dozen-odd games in two seasons is that Locker just isn't an impressive passer. Maybe he genuinely belongs in some other position: an all-purpose back who could run, catch, and, on occasion, throw.
The knives that were out for Willingham coming into the game have been put away, exchanged for swords. It's just not possible to see how newly named permanent Athletic Director Scott Woodward or his long-time mentor, UW Prez Mark Emmert, could defend the continuation of a Willingham era that has been an 11-29 disaster.
And yet, better days are ahead in Huskyville. It starts next weekend, when the women's volleyball team hosts Cal and Stanford.