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Larry Stone: Despite down season, Huskies show pride and poise in win over Oregon State

Washington tailback Salvon Ahmed (26) and wide receiver Andre Baccellia (5) greet the crowd following an NCAA college football game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Amanda Loman / AP)
Washington tailback Salvon Ahmed (26) and wide receiver Andre Baccellia (5) greet the crowd following an NCAA college football game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Amanda Loman / AP)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It was a disaster waiting to happen, one that would have been the most devastating blow in a season that has seen the Huskies’ hopes and dreams slip away, one by one.

When Jacob Eason threw a pick-six in the third quarter on Friday night, his second in as many games, pulling Oregon State within six points, you could sense where this one was headed: Squarely toward anguish, anger, regret – and a mind-numbing .500 record for Washington, 10 games into the season.

But it never got there. That’s a tribute to a Husky defense that played with the sort of purpose, vigor and efficiency that has been elusive this season – a nearly flawless performance. And it’s a tribute to Salvon Ahmed, who stemmed the rising tide of Beaver momentum with a 60-yard touchdown run in the aftermath of that stunning OSU touchdown and then helped sock the game away for good with his battering running. Ahmed had 174 yards and two scores on 25 carries.

You could see the spirit rising on the Beaver sideline after the pick-six, and you could sense it being deflated after Ahmed’s run. And the Husky defense made sure to squash any hope that remained by completing an utterly dominating performance against a multifaceted Oregon State team that hung 56 on Arizona just last week.

The Huskies prevailed, 19-7, averting what could have been a disastrous defeat and showing that the disillusioning events of this season have not buried them.

“Knowing we could have won each game we were in is our motivating factor,” said linebacker Joe Tryon “It’s irritating we lost those games, but at the end of the day, we have football games to win. We can’t think about what we can’t do. We just need wins.”

It had been a lingering question this week, one that figures to inform the remainder of an indisputably disappointing Husky football season.

Namely, how would they respond when their most prominent and visible goals have been yanked away?

National playoff contention departed long ago, on a lightning-laced Seattle night against Cal. A Pac-12 title all but fizzled with the Oregon loss. A 10-win season went by the wayside in last week’s collapse against Utah.

Would the Huskies be able to still summon the pride and poise to soldier forward and make the best of this massive letdown, when juxtaposed against the high hopes with which the season began? Or would they yield to the disappointment?

On Friday, at Reser Stadium, the Huskies gave an emphatic answer to that question – at least on the defensive side of the ball. Facing an upstart Oregon State team coach Chris Petersen described earlier in the week as “kind of laying in the weeds down there,” the Huskies could easily have recorded a shutout. As it is, they held their opponent’s offense out of the end zone for the first time since Sacramento State in 2015.

“Well, spectacular performance by our defense,” Petersen said afterward. “We had a couple of wrinkles for those guys. Our guys were pretty creative in getting some things going, getting some pressure on those guys. On offense, we ran the ball well. We could have run it better if we had anything going in the pass game. But for whatever reason, it was out of sync…That made it tough sledding on the offense.”

The Huskies played like a team hungry to prove that they still had their defensive chops, railing against the notion that they had lost it. In particular, Tryon continues to emerge as a dynamic pass-rusher, a hugely positive development for a team that has allowed much of the recent focus to be on their shortcomings. For the second week in a row, Tryon had a pair of first-half sacks as the Huskies got to Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton three times before intermission, four in total.

Tryon finished with 4 1/2 tackles for loss, and then tried to explain his breakout.

“Just believing,” he said with a shrug. “Having the mindset you can get past the dude in front of you and get to the quarterback.”

Said Petersen: “He’s really gaining confidence. This game is such a game of confidence, right? Our defense had it, and Joe Tryon’s leading the way. You can just feel him picking up steam.”

Facing one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Luton , a lethal receiver in Isaiah Hodgins, and a stout two-headed running game, the Huskies had an answer for every Beaver foray. And also an antidote for each Washington offensive mistake.

The storyline of Washington’s most damaging losses this season had been its inability to finish the game. That was not the case at all on Friday, when their defense rose to the moment in the second half, holding the Beavers without a first down after intermission. The Beavers had just 119 total yards and were 1 for 13 on third downs. Tryon said that all week, the Huskies had simulated playing in the fourth quarter and emphasized the need to avoid a letdown.

“Being able to act like we were about to finish a game in practice, and then going out and doing that in the real game is real special,” he said.

The Huskies may not finish with all that they had dreamed of this year. But on Friday, they showed they still have found something to play for.

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