The hit from Azeem Victor hardly fazed Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage, who bounced off the would-be tackle, broke two more attempted tackles from Washington defenders and broke free along the right sideline.
Ballage’s 48-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run was the exclamation point in the Huskies’ desert meltdown, a stunning 27-17 victory for the Sun Devils in Tempe on Nov. 14, 2015. UW coach Chris Petersen and quarterback Jake Browning walked off the field together afterward, mostly in silence.
“It’s still on my mind to this day. It still hasn’t left,” said Victor, UW’s junior middle linebacker. “I remember when I missed that tackle. It’s still there. Vivid.”
The Huskies led 17-0 at halftime before a complete collapse, which included three Browning interceptions in the final six minutes, a Joshua Perkins fumble and all those missed tackles.
“I just know that feeling of being ahead and not winning that game was one of the worst feelings you can have,” UW receiver Dante Pettis said last week. “I think we all just knew – that’s not going to happen again.”
The Huskies haven’t lost since.
Looking back, the Huskies say the way they bounced back from that defeat offered glimpses of what was to come this season. The loss to ASU was UW’s fourth over a five-game stretch, and it left the Huskies with a 4-6 record – meaning they had to win their final two regular-season games to become bowl eligible.
And they did just that, blasting Oregon State, 52-7, and thumping Washington State, 45-10. They then ran away from Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, 44-31 to finish the season with a winning record.
“Our team could’ve gone one of two ways,” UW cornerback Kevin King said. “We had two games left and we had to win two games to be bowl eligible. So you either have a team that says, ‘All right, we’re trying to go home for Christmas.’ Or you can have a team that says, ‘Let’s buckle down and get it done.’ There was nobody who had the mindset of trying to go home. Everybody wanted to get it done – and we got it done.
“The preparation for those two weeks (against OSU and WSU) was something I hadn’t seen from the season last year – and it’s kept rolling.”
As they prepare to play Oregon State again this week, the No. 5 Huskies are in a much different position. They’ve won their first six games of the season – and their nine-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest in the nation.
“From that point on,” Victor said of the ASU game, “we played with a chip on our shoulder. That was the biggest thing.”
In a team meeting last week, UW coach Chris Petersen referenced that November turnaround.
“I think it was such an important time,” Petersen said. “I told our team the other day one of my favorite times with these guys was that period, the urgency that they had for everything that they did, to practice and play the games when it was up and down.
“And for those guys to not ever point fingers, to keep fighting and then to finish like we did – that was a good situation. That was fun to be part of coaching those guys. And the nice thing is they’ve picked up where they left off and just kept progressing. But I think that was an important time for us. And I think those kids feel that and know that. I bring that up all the time – that’s what it needs to be like all the time, no matter what our record is. It needs to feel like that.”
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