Washington coach Chris Petersen arrived at his weekly press conference on Monday with a T-shirt that read, “Stay Positive.”
“I had it on (Sunday), just for myself,” Petersen said. “I could probably use 25 of these, and just keep recycling them every day.”
The message is especially pertinent for No. 15-ranked Washington this week.
The Huskies (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) lost the first overtime contest in the 111-game history of the Oregon-Washington rivalry last week, which dropped them into a four-way tie atop the Pac-12 North and probably out of the College Football Playoff hunt.
Regrouping begins this week for Washington against Colorado (5-1, 2-1), an opponent coming to Husky Stadium off of its own disappointment last week.
Colorado linebackers Nate Landman and Drew Lewis did not have the shirts to reflect the sentiment, but both preached the same mindset as Petersen following the Buffs’ 31-20 loss Saturday at USC.
“This team has grown a lot,” Lewis said. “Last year, people might keep their heads down and let negative energy seep into the week.”
The 2017 Buffs did not start quite as hot as the 2018 team, which broke into the Top 25 briefly on the strength of the program’s first 5-0 opening in 20 years. At 3-0 last year, however, Colorado needed to finish just 3-6 in conference to go bowling.
The Buffs went 2-7.
“This team,” Lewis said confidently, “We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get better.”
Forecasts were not entirely rosy for Colorado coming out of USC, though. The loss dropped the Buffs to 0-13 all-time against the Trojans, but more importantly, put them in a loss-column tie atop the South. USC has the tiebreaker.
What’s more, standout wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. sustained a toe injury that sidelined him late at USC. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said Tuesday Shenault’s status is “day-to-day.”
When asked about a potentially longer-term absence for Shenault — whose 144.5 total yards per game rank sixth in the national — Buffs quarterback Steven Montez bristled.
“Like, if Laviska’s not there, how are we going to get yards, is that the question? If Laviska’s hurt of Laviska’s healthy, we’re going to run our offense,” Montez said. “He’s probably the best player on our team, right? But we’ve got other good players on our team.”
Like Colorado, Washington’s Pac-12 championship fate is not entirely in its own control. The Huskies still play Washington State and Stanford, both of which also have one loss in conference. But by virtue of Saturday’s result, the Huskies need to finish at least one game up on Oregon in the loss column to reach the league title game if those two finish in a two-way tie for first.
And, like Colorado, the Huskies head into Saturday’s meeting with lineup questions as a result of injuries.
The status of running backs Myles Gaskin (shoulder) and Salvon Ahmed (knee) is uncertain.
“That’s how it is this time of season,” Petersen said. “Myles has been so durable and such a workhorse. But in this game, there’s going to be times when you can’t go with your first guys.”
Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant could both be expected to shoulder run-game responsibilities against a Buffs defense that held USC to just 51 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Colorado’s success stopping the run did not translate against the pass against USC, however — not in the game’s second quarter, anyway. The Buffs gave up all three of the Trojans’ offensive scores in the second 15 minutes, and each came via the pass.
Washington’s own passing attack took a hit coming out of Oregon, with one of the wide-receiving corps’ big-play specialists, Quinten Pounds, out for the season with a knee injury. Within Petersen’s message of positivity, however, the coach spotlighted the play of quarterback Jake Browning in recent weeks, and the pass-catching of tight end Drew Sample.
Sample and freshman Cade Otton have each shown potential of late, filling the void left with Hunter Bryant’s injury in the offseason.
But the focal point of Washington’s final stretch will be Browning and how he finishes a career in which he already holds numerous program — and, possibly soon, Pac-12 — records.
“They’ve had a consistent quarterback for four straight years; that makes you a good program,” MacIntyre said.