For evidence of how much has changed for the Washington Huskies in one week’s time, consult the newly released college football betting lines.
The Huskies, who nine days ago played their worst game of the season in an ugly loss at Stanford, currently find themselves favored by 1 1/2 points over 13th-ranked Utah, which visits Husky Stadium for a 4:30 p.m. game Saturday.
But maybe such a spread isn’t quite as surprising after what the Huskies did to Arizona over the weekend, beating the Wildcats 49-3 in what was almost certainly UW’s most complete performance to date under second-year coach Chris Petersen.
A loss in that game would have dropped Washington’s overall record to 3-5. Bowl eligibility would have become an exceedingly tenuous proposition, if not a borderline impossibility.
But now, at 4-4, the Huskies need only to win two of their final four games — against Utah, at Arizona State, at Oregon State and at home against Washington State — to qualify for their sixth consecutive bowl appearance.
A 6-6 final record and a lower-tier bowl game, on average, are not enough to excite Washington’s fan base. But such a finish might rate as an encouraging achievement this season, considering the modest preseason expectations born from UW’s youth.
At times, that youth has been painfully apparent, especially on offense, where the Huskies average just 27.1 points per game and had scored only one first-half touchdown against Pac-12 competition prior to Saturday’s blowout.
Against Arizona, though, the Huskies displayed the kind of promise they hope their young players show consistently in the future. That was certainly true of freshman quarterback Jake Browning, who returned from a shoulder injury and played his most impressive conference game yet, throwing for 263 yards and four touchdowns (plus a 12-yard touchdown run) without an interception.
Washington’s defense, which allows just 16.9 points per game (good for 15th nationally), held Arizona to 3.8 yards per play and didn’t allow a touchdown. The Wildcats entered the game as the nation’s ninth-highest scoring team.
In all, Petersen said: “That’s what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve seen it; we see how these guys practice. We know we have it in us. We just have some young guys that are inconsistent. It’s not a big thing, but those little things add up to big things and make us stumble on ourselves. So we’ve been waiting for this and hopefully we can build on it.”
Washington’s only first-quarter touchdown in its first seven games came in a Sept. 26 loss to California. That score also was the Huskies’ only first-half touchdown against a Pac-12 team, until they scored three of them against Arizona.
“We just came out with better energy, and I think that’s big for us,” Browning said. “Obviously, a big thing for us has been starting fast and finishing fast. We’ve been doing well in the second half, but we had to start doing better in the first half and I thought we did that today. That was good to see.”
Browning lamented having to sit out against Stanford, describing that experience as “miserable.”
“It sucked,” he said. “You just sit there and watch. … But that made it feel that much better to come back in this game.”
He’s likely not the only Husky feeling better than he did a week ago.
“I think our team kind of felt the urgency this week,” Petersen said, “that we needed to get something done in a hurry.”