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Focus is all on the finish as Huskies try to get back on track

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Focus is all on the finish as Huskies try to get back on track

Washington's Cameron Williams tackles Utah's Zack Moss in the second half of Washington’s 33-28 loss to Utah at Husky Stadium on Nov. 2, 2019.

On a losing streak for the first time in four years, the Washington football team knows just how close it has come to upsets over top-10 teams in back-to-back games.

“You know you have it, and we couldn’t execute several plays,” senior center Nick Harris said. “There’s only one winner and one loser in a football game. It happens. There can’t be two winners. You have to brush it off and reload, ready for the next week.”

And for the UW, most of those plays are coming at the end of games.

The Huskies (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) took single-digit leads into the fourth quarter in games against both No. 7 Oregon and No. 8 Utah. Both ended up as losses. That’s been the theme all year long.

Washington has found the early fireworks it had been looking for the past three years, outscoring opponents 104-13 in the first quarter. Fast forward to the end of the game, and it’s a different story, with the Dawgs only outscoring their opponents 56-44 in the fourth quarter. Take away a 24-point barrage to end a blowout win over Arizona, and that comparison goes down to 34-32 for the other team.

“We just have to finish, because we start off really solid,” senior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman said. “Then when it matters, we’re not executing.”

Through nine games, Washington has won the fourth quarter just three times. Twice, they’ve tied the opponent in the final period: 0-0 both times.

And in the four remaining games, the UW has lost the fourth quarter. Three of those times, they lost the game.

The past two weeks have been near opposites in how the end of the game has gone badly. Against Oregon, the Washington offense put up 414 yards and scored on five of its first eight drives, but two late three-and-outs gave the Ducks enough of a window to blow past the UW defense. Last weekend, it was the other way around, with the defense forcing two second-half turnovers, but the offense shutting down, not cashing in on either opportunity, and giving Utah points on a pick-six. 

“Losing’s terrible, but we’re not going to dwell on it; we’re just going to keep getting better,” Bowman said.

So in the week leading up to their next matchup, in Corvallis against Oregon State on a short week, the focus in practice has been all in the finish.

“The way our practices are set up, we have certain periods at the end of practice that are like the end-of-game situations,” Harris said. “When we have those scenarios in practice, we just have to make sure that we execute as if it is the game, and make sure that we have the same energy that we had at the beginning of practice at the end of practice when we’re all tired.”

Washington will kick off against Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, with the game airing on FS1.

Facing “Smitty” again

Friday will be the second time Washington has faced Oregon State since Jonathan Smith — the UW’s offensive coordinator from 2014-17 — took over as the Beavers’ head coach.

Smith was Chris Petersen’s first OC at Washington and led the offense on the 2016 team that made the College Football Playoff.

“I think he had a great feel,” offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan said. “Smitty was never too high or too low, no matter how good or bad it was. He just kind of stayed neutral. That allowed us to get through a lot.”

Under Smith, the Beavers (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) are well on their way on the climb out of the basement of the Pac-12 North, with an offense that ranks in the top-50 in the FBS. 

Reach Managing Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum

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