Downfall of Washington began with '03 loss at Ohio State Print
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Thursday, 13 September 2007 12:54
NCAAF Headline News

 SEATTLE (AP) -The matchup was supposed to be a showcase - the defending national champions of Ohio State against talent-laden Washington - with a national television audience watching.
Instead, that August night in 2003 in Columbus, Ohio, when the Buckeyes easily handled the Huskies 28-9, became the first step in the downfall of Washington's program.
``Oh, man. Oh, they were coming off a national championship and they were really good. And we were in turmoil,'' said Washington's coach then, Keith Gilbertson, now an assistant with the Seattle Seahawks.
Almost serving as a bookend to that game in 2003, the Huskies and Buckeyes meet for the first time since on Saturday, with Washington showing signs of resurgence under coach Tyrone Willingham.
The Huskies are 2-0 for the first time since 2001, including last week's 24-10 upset of Boise State, snapping the Broncos' 14-game win streak, the longest in the nation.
``I think you're going to see by the end of the year that Washington is going to be a very highly rated football team,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
This weekend in college football, top 25 teams started early when No. 4 West Virginia played at Maryland on Thursday night.
On Saturday, the big games between ranked teams will begin with No. 5 Florida against No. 22 Tennessee, followed by two night games. Top-ranked Southern California is at No. 14 Nebraska and No. 15 Georgia Tech hosts No. 21 Boston College.
Other anticipated games with ranked teams are No. 10 Ohio State at Washington; No. 16 Arkansas at Alabama, 6:45 p.m.; and No. 9 Louisville at Kentucky.
M vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
While the No. 10 Buckeyes (2-0) have remained among the nation's elite, last year playing for the national title and producing Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, Saturday's game marks a significant opportunity for Washington to return to the national stage.
Turmoil might be a kind way to describe the state of the Huskies program when the 2003 season began. Coach Rick Neuheisel had just been fired by the school for taking part in an NCAA tournament pool. Gilbertson was handed the program on July 29, one month and one day before facing the Buckeyes.
There was talent for Gilbertson to work with. Quarterback Cody Pickett was coming off a school-record 4,458 yards passing in 2002 and his favorite target, Reggie Williams, was back as well. The Huskies went 7-6 in 2002, losing to Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
Despite the bowl loss, it was Washington's 26th consecutive non-losing season. Gilbertson was expected to continue that tradition of success.
Instead, the program crumbled, beginning with the game against the Buckeyes. Ohio State's defense kept Washington's potent offense out of the end zone until the final four minutes when Pickett scored on a short run. The Huskies ran for only 7 yards, one of the lowest totals in school history.
The complete domination showed just how far Washington had fallen from the elite level. And the downward spiral was just beginning.
``I think we went into that game thinking we were going to win it,'' said Randy Hart, Washington's defensive line coach, who played at Ohio State in the late 1960s.
The Huskies regrouped following the loss, winning their next three games. They lost 46-16 at UCLA in early October, a defeat that knocked Washington from the top 25, and followed with a stunning 28-17 loss at home to Nevada.
``I would just say it was an exercise in crisis management,'' Gilbertson said of the 2003 season, ``trying to put a good face on a crisis.''
Gilbertson finished his first year 6-6, but was fired after going 1-10 in 2004. Willingham is 9-16 in his 25 games at Washington.
Between the loss to Ohio State in 2003 and this Saturday's game, the Huskies have gone 16-31. Ohio State is 42-9 over the same period. A win over the Buckeyes would surely get Washington back into the national rankings for the first time since that trying 2003 season.
``This is their saving game,'' Ohio State center Jim Cordle said. ``I can remember coach Willingham at Notre Dame, he recruited me. He was a good coach. I thought, 'This is a coach I could play for.' He's got that program back on track, he's got them back where they need to be.
``This is a game that they can all of a sudden be on a pedestal nationally. They can show who they are.''
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AP Sports Writers Gregg Bell and Rusty Miller contributed to this report.
 

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