The Washington Huskies football team is officially in the middle of their much-needed bye week after a long ten weeks.
Leading up to this point, the Huskies have been a beat up team physically and mentally. The chance to rejuvenate and recharge the batteries before the final stretch of the season is greatly welcomed by the entire team.
Heading into the season, the Huskies had high expectations bestowed upon them my national analysts and also by themselves.
Making the College Football Playoff was the projection for the team and taking that next step as a program was the benchmark.
With a 7-3 overall record on the season, the chance for making the College Football Playoff was over several weeks ago.
Yesterday, the Huskies barely cracked the top 25 in the latest College Football Playoff weekly rankings coming in at #25.
Several factors have attributed to the Huskies decline this season and now they have newly aligned goals to finish out the season.
Injuries have played a major role in the level of play on the field this season for the Huskies.
Players like Trey Adams (LT), Shane Bowman (DL), Quinten Pounds (WR), Jordan Miller (DB), Hunter Bryant (TE), DJ Beavers (ILB), Myles Gaskin (RB), Salvon Ahmed (RB), Jordan Chin (WR) and Chico McClatcher (WR) have been injured throughout the season which has tested the depth of the roster.
Two players were forced to medically retire as well. Austin Joyner (DB) suffered a concussion during the Arizona State game and was later advised to retire from football by team doctors.
Jared Pulu (DL), who had been sidelined all season dating back to Fall Camp, was forced to retire due to a rare kidney condition.
Just recently, fan favorite Chico McClatcher chose to step away from the football program due to personal reasons and there is no guarantee for his return.
Another aspect that has ailed the team this season has been the lack of production on offense.
Breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Bush Hamdan has played a role, as many Husky fans remember that former offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith had a two-year learning curve before he figured things out. Smith almost lost his job when the Husky offense wasn’t performing up to head coach Chris Petersen‘s standards, and Petersen only gave him a one-year extension when all the other assistants got two-year deals.
Then there is the mental aspect to the game. All offseason, the Huskies were preparing for their big showdown on the national stage against Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. They played quite well in that game and fell just short with a 21-16 loss.
A few weeks ago, the Huskies headed to Eugene to face off against their bitter rival the Oregon Ducks. The game was a nail biter with the Huskies losing a heartbreaker 30-27 in a game they had multiple opportunities to win.
Heading into the Cal Bears game recently, the Huskies were 17 point favorites on the road but suffered a crushing 12-10 defeat in a game where the offense couldn’t get anything going, ending in the abrupt benching of quarterback Jake Browning.
Ever since the loss at Oregon, the Huskies haven’t been the same. The loss took something out of them emotionally and the first half against Stanford this past weekend, was the first time the team had shown that fire that has been so desperately missing this season.
Fast forward to present day and here we are…..
The bye week is officially here and the Huskies are planning and strategizing their rebirth for the rest of the season.
“I really think at this point in the season the benefit is more mental than physical anyway. We’ve cut down practice. Most coaches have. We don’t spend as much time on the practice field. We don’t spend as much time in full pads, certainly. So all that, physically we’re very, very aware of, OK, how reps and how many reps do they have in the game? Does this guy need less reps? We’re on that pretty good. I think it’s all mental. Certainly, the grind of this season has taken a toll on a lot of guys, so to get a couple days to catch your breath and not think about football is really healthy.” Petersen said recently.
What has been lost in all of this is one important and exciting fact for the Huskies.
They still control their own destiny the rest of the season and can still finish with a tremendous season.
“It’s not even worth talking about. I’ve said it forever. We control everything. We control our happiness. We control how we practice. We control our improvement. All those things. That’s just always the message. Even if we didn’t control anything, even if we had nothing…no games, nothing…I would expect us to like ‘how are we going to get better.’ That’s who we are in our core.” Petersen said recently.
If the Huskies win their remaining two regular season games then they earn a berth into the Pac-12 Championship game plain and simple.
That’s a great position to be in with having a 7-3 overall record and rebounding from their loss against the Cal Bears.
With some teams having a bye week so late in the season like the Huskies, there is sometimes nothing to play for after the break because their season is already over.
Not the Huskies!! They have everything to play for the rest of the season and the entire team from coaches to players know that!
It all starts with maximizing the entire bye week and squeezing every ounce of physical rest, mental health and refocus that the team needs to function with.
“When we say get away, what we really mean is get out of this building a little more. We got school and all those type of things. We have a practice this week. They have a little bit of weights. But other than that, time is definitely minimized and I definitely want them not thinking about football here for the next handful of days if we can. I think that’s important.” Petersen said.
When they return, they will face off against the Oregon State Beavers at home which reunites Petersen with former pupil Jonathan Smith. The Huskies will be heavily favored in that game and will probably play some of their best football of the season with looking like a rested team.
After that matchup, the Huskies will have their much-anticipated matchup with the Washington State Cougars in a contest that will decide the Pac-12 North Division Title, and who gets to play in the Pac-12 Championship game.
The caveat to the Apple Cup is the game will take place in Pullman this year and the Cougars are currently ranked #8 in the nation, with everything to play for themselves. They are having their best season under the Mike Leach era and believe they can finally beat the Huskies this season.
Make no mistake, Petersen will have the Huskies ready to finish the season after the bye week and with so much to play for, the Huskies couldn’t have gotten the bye week at a better time.
“I think you’d always prefer for it to be kind of somewhere in the middle. We’re happy to have it now. It seems very strange to have it this late for sure. That’s kind of how the schedules go. I don’t know any coach that looks at their schedule and goes, ‘I really like this schedule, who we’re playing when and where the byes are.’ I’m glad we have it now. I think ideally it would’ve been somewhere more in the middle.” Petersen said recently about the timing of the bye week.
In analyzing the season, Husky fans surely feel let down because of all the high expectations of making the College Football Playoff but maybe the fans need this bye week to recharge themselves and gain perspective too.
The Huskies have a chance of finishing the season with an overall record of 11-3. What that would entail is beating the Beavers, Cougars, winning the Pac-12 Championship and earning a victory in the Rose Bowl game.
For many years, the benchmark for Washington Husky Football was winning Pac-12 Championships and getting to the Rose Bowl each season, dating back to the Don James era.
A couple of years ago, Petersen was able to remarkably get the Huskies into the College Football Playoff in just year three of his tenure at Washington.
Since then, that has been the expectation of the program after getting a taste of being at the “roundtable” so to speak.
The reality of it is, there are only four teams out of one-hundred thirty FBS programs each season that make the College Football Playoff. For that to happen, all the stars have to align with schedules, injuries, etc. and two years ago it did for the Huskies.
First and foremost, winning Pac-12 Championships and Rose Bowls is still the definition of an amazing season. Until Petersen and staff can get the program consistently into the College Football Playoff, the alternative is still fantastic and would be praised by even “The Dawgfather” himself.
The Huskies have a tremendous opportunity to finish off the season with a spectacular finish and put their owns stamp on it!
Buckle up Husky Nation…..The rest of the season will be a thrill ride. Excellence is still within arms reach!