SEATTLE – This game could have been different from the others.
Unlike most Saturdays against the national powerhouses, Washington finally was standing toe-to-toe with a football team as good as USC.
Maybe this would be the game that turned everything – the season, the program – around.
Just when you thought it was time to start demanding more from a Steve Sarkisian-coached team, it looked as if they were delivering it.
On this dreary late afternoon, after falling behind 24-7, this Washington team, unlike the one that lost at LSU and crumbled at Oregon, was fighting back.
Down 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, Washington had second-and-goal from the 3-yard line. The way the defense was playing, if Washington could punch in this touchdown it still had a chance.
And then Keith Price, who is having a sophomore jinx of a season in his junior year, fumbled the ball.
He rolled to his left on a read option, cut up field and was clocked by Jawanza Starling. The hit jarred the ball loose. Starling recovered. And the air escaped from CenturyLink Field.
Washington lost to USC 24-14 on Saturday and, despite the comeback that might have breathed life into the second-and-easier half of the season, it seems as if the time has come to ask more from this program.
“Frustrating loss to say the least,” Sarkisian said. “Two consecutive games where we took the field and didn’t respond well to the start of the game.”
They didn’t enter the game ready to play and four years is enough time to expect more than Washington is delivering. Four years is enough time to repair the damage left from the Tyrone Willingham years.
As well as Washington played for much of the second half of this loss, this program should be past the stage of moral victories.
This was a game that Washington could have won, maybe even should have won.
If the Huskies had competed for the full 60 minutes the way they did for the final 30 they could have beaten the Trojans.
Four years into the Sarkisian era, we should expect the full 60. Washington should be able to win a game like this, at home, even against a team as good as USC.
But, too often in these show-me games, the Huskies have been shown up. Washington lost by playing a first half that looked like so many other losses over the past four seasons.
The Huskies trailed 24-7 at halftime, giving up 233 total yards to the Trojans in that half.
They buried themselves in too many third-and-longs. They committed penalties like the holding call on Shane Brostek that negated a first down.
They had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. They had a pass intercepted and, three plays later, USC converted that turnover into a touchdown.
Less than five minutes into the game, USC had a 10-0 lead and there was a sense of deja vu.
Things happen swiftly and surely to the Huskies in these show-me games. The script gets repeated. They fall behind early and never find a way back. The games feel like bad movie sequels.
The game plan gets shredded. The running game is abandoned and the deficit mounts with the mistakes.
Last year there was the 44-point loss to Stanford, a 23-point loss to USC and a 17-point loss to Oregon.
This season there already has been the 38-point, no-show defeat at LSU and the mistake-filled 31-point loss a week ago at Oregon.
This time at least, Washington kept a pulse. This time, the Huskies made halftime adjustments that worked. This time, they fought and won the second half.
Desmond Trufant blocked a field-goal attempt that awakened the crowd and the offense.
After the block Price looked more like himself than he has at any other time in 2012. He rolled to his left, had time to throw and drilled a 34-yard strike to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Playing with a relaxed rhythm that has been missing, Price completed a back-shoulder pass to DiAndre Campbell for a 21-yard gain. Then he stood strong in the pocket, took a hit from Morgan Breslin after releasing the ball and found Seferian-Jenkins for a 29-yard touchdown.
Washington stayed competitive in this game. The defense shuttered USC, putting pressure on Matt Barkley and snuffing USC’s powerful running game.
The Huskies shut out the Trojans in the second half. They won the final 30.
But when they had to make plays, they made turnovers instead. Two interceptions. Two lost fumbles. The blocked punt.
They had this last shot of the season at a signature win. But the Huskies didn’t play the full 60.
It’s time to ask for more.