If you are a Washington Huskies fan frustrated by the lack of tangible progress achieved by second-year coach Chris Petersen so far, pause for a moment and consider what Oregon State supporters must feel like about their own coaching transition.
Petersen’s Huskies are 12-12 through their first 24 games under the new boss, a disappointing mark perhaps made more exasperating due to the number of winnable games UW has lost this season.
But the Huskies are at least in contention for a bowl game, and Petersen has assembled enough young talent to believe that better days could arrive as soon as next season.
In Corvallis, the process has been more painful. Gary Andersen, in his first year as OSU’s coach after Mike Riley left for Nebraska, inherited a roster with few proven offensive playmakers, little defensive experience and three freshmen quarterbacks.
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And it’s only gotten worse as the season has progressed: injuries have thrashed the Beavers’ depth; they’re starting backup, redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Mitchell after an injury to freshman starter Seth Collins; they’ve lost seven consecutive games, scoring only 49 points total in their past four losses; and they look for all the world like a team that simply needs this season to end.
So here come the Huskies for a 3 p.m. game Saturday at Reser Stadium, needing to win their final two games — they host Washington State next weekend — to ensure bowl eligibility for a sixth consecutive season.
There is, of course, no such thing as a sure thing in the Pac-12. But Oregon State, the only team in the league that hasn’t defeated a conference opponent, is darn close. Out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, OSU ranks 102nd or worse in scoring offense, scoring defense, yards per play, yards per play allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, yards per rush allowed and a handful of other statistical categories.
Asked several times this week to evaluate Oregon State, Petersen has repeated that “they play hard,” which is a nice way of saying that the Beavers are at least trying, if nothing else.
Petersen seems to have a healthy respect for Andersen, who coached Utah State from 2009-12 before a two-year stint at Wisconsin, and now has a significant rebuild on his plate.
But Petersen says the Huskies aren’t thinking much about the Beavers this week, instead focusing on themselves. And he hopes they’re not thinking about their two-win mandate to make a bowl game, either.
“I think they know what’s at stake,” Petersen said, “and it’s not really focusing about that. It’s not going to make them play any harder or execute any better. What’s going to make them execute better is to think about their assignment and prepare like they’ve never prepared before. I think this week was good.”
The Huskies (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) are coming off their most disheartening loss of the season, a 27-17 defeat at Arizona State in which they led 17-0 in the first half.
The collapse was a reminder of just how far this young team still has to go. But Saturday’s visit to OSU provides an opportunity for an immediate, and emphatic, recovery.
The Beavers, of course, hope for the opposite, for something to feel good about as a strenuous offseason approaches. Speaking with reporters in Corvallis earlier this week, days after OSU’s 54-24 loss to California, Andersen spoke of not giving up.
“We still have to remember that we expect a lot of good things to come our way in the next two weeks,” Andersen said. “That’s imperative for the seniors, for every kid on the football team that’s on the travel squad and every young guy that’s not. I expect them to get better. And every coach, I expect them to get better through the next 14 days.”
It’s the Huskies’ job, then, to avoid being the victim of such tangible improvement.
Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple
WASHINGTON (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) AT OREGON STATE (2-8, 0-7)
3 p.m., Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM
The series: Washington leads the all-time series 61-34-4.
What to watch: The Beavers are having a hard-luck season. They’ve lost several starters to injury, including freshman quarterback Seth Collins, who injured his knee and has missed the team’s past three games. In his place, OSU has started redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Mitchell, an alum of Mount Si High School. He has completed 48.1 percent of his passes for 571 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. … The Beavers’ top receiver is Jordan Villamin, who has caught 38 passes for 569 yards and five touchdowns. He is 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, and could be a matchup problem for the Huskies’ secondary. … OSU senior RB Storm Woods is second in rushing on the team with 486 yards on 95 carries. Collins leads the Beavers with 541 yards on 99 carries. … The last time the Huskies visited Corvallis (in 2013), they won 69-27, and running back Deontae Cooper rushed for a career-best 166 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Oregon State hasn’t beaten Washington since 2011.
The pick: Washington 31, Oregon State 10.
Threw career-high 52 passes last week vs. Arizona State.
Rushed for 108 yards on 18 carries vs. Sun Devils.
Can he return this week from ankle injury?
Second in Pac-12 with seven sacks
Listed as probable and should make fourth career start.
Second on team with 95 carries, 486 yards rushing.
Has 38 catches, 569 receiving yards, 5 TDs this season.
Has 70 tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks.