Five times in the post-game press conference, Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen used the word “elite” to describe the Washington Huskies, who moved to 7-0 on the season with a 41-17 win over the Beavers Saturday night at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
With five games left on the schedule, Washington looks on track to win its first Pac-12 title since 2000 when the Huskies split the conference crown with Oregon and Oregon State. They also are in position to become the second Pac-12 team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
“Obviously that’s a very good football team we played,” Andersen said. “What I thought we’d get, which is not really a weakness out there, and they come to play every week. They’re a mature football team that is sprinkled in with a little bit of youth, they’re very talented.”
Less than a decade ago, in 2008 to be exact, the Huskies were anything but elite. In fact, back then the Dawgs were helpless puppies who didn’t have a bark and certainly didn’t have a bite; they went winless for the entire 2008 season.
Now in 2016, the Pac-12 has no choice but to “Bow Down to Washington.”
“When facing a team like this you have to be more disciplined,” said sophomore linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu. “We can’t make any mistakes and we have to capitalize on their mistakes.”
It’s just one of those years in the Pac-12. Stanford and Oregon, who had a stranglehold on the Pac-12 North, are a combined 2-7 in conference play. Colorado–a perennial doormat since they joined the Pac-12–are now bowl eligible and could be the team that meets Washington in the Pac-12 Championship.
At a point where frustration could have overtaken the team (when the Beavers fell to 1-12 in conference play in the Gary Andersen era) there wasn’t any finger pointing at teammates or coaches.
That will change.
But what doesn’t need to change is this team’s attitude. Yes, Washington probably called off the dogs in the second half, but Oregon State outscored Washington 17-10 in the final 30 minutes.
“Personally I think I could have done a lot better,” said sophomore quarterback Marcus McMaryion who finished 12-for-26 for 148 yards with two interceptions in his second career start. “I left a lot on the field tonight. The guys around me did a great job. They did everything they could tonight.”
Oregon State’s injury list grows larger each week. Without leading rushers Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, the Beavers had to turn to Plan C.
In his first extended action at running back, Tim Cook ran into the heart of the Washington defense for 108 yards and score against a stout defense.
“If you watch college football or care about defense or care about the Pac-12 on defense, you know how good those guys are up front and they are elite,” Andersen said. “So our ability to be able to move around a little bit there was positive.”
Andersen was right when he continued to call Washington elite. And he is right that Oregon State has a ways to go before they reach that level. But the foundation for Oregon State to be a successful program is being set. Taking ownership when things go wrong, taking advantage when you are called upon, and working to improve despite the situation–all of those are traits of good football teams.
“Sometimes you get outclassed, you have better teams and you win or you lose or whatever comes with it,” Andersen said. “But the signs that I see is the way that they carry themselves throughout the week and the way they continue to work to get better and take coaching.
“After a loss it’s hard to bring a smile to my face,” he continued. “But the fact that I can say brings a smile to my face.”
Andersen has this program headed in the right direction. Before too long, his smiles won’t be because of moral victory. Instead, they will be for actual victory.
On Twitter @brathbone3