Washington can gain quite a bit with this latest trip to the desert.
It’s a bit of a contrast considering what happened the last time UW (10-2) played in the state of Arizona. UW opened the season 6-0 only to lose 13-7 to Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium.
Questions were quickly raised within minutes of the loss. Can the Huskies still score points? Are their hopes for the College Football Playoff shot? Is this team doomed now that Trey Adams and Jordan Miller are out for the year?
UW, after a few changes, finished 16th in scoring offense. The Huskies did take another loss but are in their second straight New Year’s Six bowl game and UW found a way to make it work without two of its trust starters.
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“I would say we learned about the game but more about your teammates and who they are,” redshirt senior linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “When I went back and watched the film, I went back and watched it a few times. I wanted to understand what happened.
“We missed some big plays but honestly, they had a great game. ... We understand people are going to their best at us.”
Bierria said the team “didn’t play with any quit in them” and he liked the effort he saw.
“I know me and Vita (Vea) are sitting there, smiling at each other and saying, ‘This is what we want,’” Bierria recalled. “We want to be challenged. We want to compete. We want to go out there and know we gotta go get it and make something happen.”
Junior linebacker Tevis Bartlett said one of the biggest takeaways from the loss was seeing how teammates responded.
UW had to find a way to replace Adams, its star left tackle who was being projected as a first-round pick.
At first, the Huskies used a rotation of senior Andrew Kirkland and redshirt freshman Luke Wattenberg against UCLA to fill the void.
They each performed so well that UW kept Wattenberg at left tackle and moved Kirkland to left guard. With Adams said to return for his senior year, it’s possible he could be paired with Wattenberg for 2018.
UW was already without Byron Murphy but losing Miller meant Myles Bryant, Jomon Dotson and Austin Joyner took on greater roles.
All three gained the kind of playing experience which gives will give the Huskies one of the deepest secondaries in the nation next season.
“I think we always kind of talk about ‘carry the flag’ and that next man up mentality,” Bartlett said. “I think after that game, it was like we have to be about it. We can’t talk about it. ... You just see those guys step on defense.
“You see Luke and Andrew Kirkland come in on the offensive line and running the ball all over people.”
The Huskies, for one reason or another, haven’t quite found the consistency to move the ball through the air.
They have, however, ran the ball with success. Star junior tailback Myles Gaskin rushed for more than 120 yards and 11 touchdowns in four of the Huskies’ final five games.
It’s why UW finds itself facing off against No. 9 Penn State (10-2) in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
A NY6 bowl victory against Penn State would further cement UW’s credentials as a potential CFP front runner for next season.
“I’d have to say just going back to it, we learned to never underestimate anybody. Especially in this conference,” Vea said. “We got caught that game. ... That loss, it changed our whole season in a lot of different ways.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark