SEATTLE -- Wacky doesn't begin to describe Steve Sarkisian's first eight games as a head coach.
Crazy, nauseating, gut-wrenching, ulcer-inducing -- all would be considered appropriate to define how the first two months have gone under Sarkisian's watch at Washington.
Maybe even book-worthy?
"The stuff these guys have experienced, that we've experienced, you can't write a book better than this," Sarkisian said. "From interceptions off toes, to last-second field goals, to goal line stands, to another last-second field goal, to overtime, to another touchdown pass; it's amazing what we've been through."
Washington (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10) arrives at its first break of the season this week, giving the Huskies an opportunity to evaluate a roller coaster first eight games filled with euphoric highs and spirit-sapping lows.
Of course, nothing was higher than the Huskies' stunning 16-13 upset of then-No. 3 Southern California, when Washington knocked off a ranked team from a BCS conference for the first time since 2003 and its fans were finally allowed to release their past frustrations by charging the field in a wild scrum.
The upset of USC and a 2-1 start instantly raised the expectations. No longer was just a handful of wins and competitiveness an acceptable outcome for fans who had gone 22 months between Washington victories. Instantly the talk became of the postseason and Washington's return to a bowl game for the first time in seven years.
But few could have anticipated the gut-wrenching highs and lows the Huskies experienced, beginning with that upset of the Trojans:
- The expected letdown a week later at Stanford in a 34-14 loss.
- The impressive effort at Notre Dame, only to see an inability to score inside the Irish 5 come back to bite the Huskies in a 37-30 overtime loss.
- A stunning late victory over Arizona when a pass deflected off the foot of an Arizona receiver landed in the arms of linebacker Mason Foster, who returned the turnover for the winning touchdown. The wacky play capped a rally from a 12-point deficit with less than 5 minutes remaining.
- An equally shocking defensive breakdown in the final seconds that allowed Arizona State to beat the Huskies 24-17 on a 50-yard TD pass with 5 seconds left.
- And finally, last Saturday's third-quarter blitz when Oregon simply left behind a tired and worn down Washington defense, turning a close game at halftime into a rout.
Those five games have tested the already shaky psyche of a team less than a full calendar year removed from the stain of an 0-12 season.
"I think we're a fragile team physically, and I think we're a fragile team, somewhat, mentally," Sarkisian said. "Adversity can come in a lot of different shapes, forms, sizes in football games. And we've been faced with a boatload of adversity this year. Sometimes we've responded well, and other times we haven't. So the challenge for us to assess is how do we rebound?"
The Huskies are still holding bowl aspirations, and those hopes will be largely determined by their first game following the bye on Nov. 7 at UCLA. A win there and the idea of getting to six wins and becoming bowl eligible seems plausible, especially with a home game remaining against struggling Washington State.
"Our goals are still there. We just got to refocus and just don't give up on ourselves," running back Chris Polk said. "We got to stay positive and keep on grinding it out cause we still have more games left. We can still make something great of the season."
Aside from trying to get to six wins, much of the focus the final month of the season will be on quarterback Jake Locker's continued growth in Sarkisian's offense, and whether a defense still giving up 423.5 yards per game can improve.
A bend-but-don't-break defensive approach has kept the Huskies close in all but two of their games, giving Locker and the offense chances. Locker leads the Pac-10 with 12 passing touchdowns and has curbed his running to become more of a passer.
Locker has said he won't even think about the NFL until after the season, but having seen what happened to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with injuries could have Locker considering a jump to the next level.
"It's part of the game and it happens. But we talked about it after the second or third week -- it's not something I'm thinking about now," Locker said. "I feel bad for him and I think he's a great player. I know it will all work out for him. It's tough to see a guy miss a season due to injury. ... But it's not something I'm focused on right now."