As eager media members swarmed around Washington safety Sean Parker following the UW’s 20-17 win over No. 7 Oregon State on Saturday night, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox announced to no one in particular, “This guy right here had a great game,” pointing directly at Parker, before adding, “I’m proud of him.”
Talk about an understatement.
Parker set the tone early, knocking Markus Wheaton — probably Oregon State’s best receiver — out of the game with a bone-jarring hit that led immediately and directly to an interception by Justin Glenn.
Then he set the tone again. Whenever the Beavers started to gain any offensive momentum, Parker unleashed another blast, changing the atmosphere and prompting his teammates to level pad-crunchers of their own. For the rest of the half, Oregon State receivers dropped the ball as often as they caught it, unwilling to be participants in another highlight real hit.
“You know we can beat any team we play,” Parker said. “We’ve just got to show up and execute. That’s the biggest thing — we’ve just got to show up and get better.”
Parker’s actions were a form of effective leadership that words can seldom match, and the defense’s inspired play led to a win the Huskies needed more for their psyche than for the standings.
“We needed it just for our own well-being,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It wasn’t so much about the record at the end; it was for what’s inside of us.”
The Huskies had already shown they could win a tough game against a good opponent when they toppled Stanford back in September. But in that game, they merely took advantage of the opportunities they were given.
Against Oregon State, for the first time seemingly in years, the Huskies took adversity out behind the woodshed. Time and again fortune frowned upon the Huskies, and time and again, they responded.
When the Huskies had a defensive touchdown called back due to a penalty, they simply got another interception.
When the Beavers tied it up late into the game, the Huskies marched down the field and took the lead on Travis Coons’ field goal that flew into the rain and wind.
And when Oregon State was precipitously close to tying the game with a field goal, the Huskies came up with a sack and a penalty to force fourth and 19, effectively ending the ballgame on an incomplete pass.
“That’s the great thing about football,” Wilcox said. “You want to win every play. You’re probably not going to win every one, but you’ve got to fight back, rally each other.”
And the Huskies are learning to fight. Despite three blowout road losses, the team is starting to respond when it could have buckled. The Huskies have knocked off two top-10 teams and given themselves a shot against USC.
But with the meat of their schedule behind them, the Huskies have got a real shot at eight wins if they continue to play with the toughness exhibited Saturday.
And if they can close the season strong with a five-game winning streak — which would put their now-defunct three-game losing streak squarely in the rearview mirror — then the blowouts won’t matter.
It’s up to the Huskies now to make sure that Parker’s jarring hits weren’t just a catalyst for this game but for the rest of their season.
Reach columnist Jacob Thorpe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Jacob_B_Thorpe
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