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Jones: Washington Huskies pros at deflecting doubters

 
Washington wide receiver John Ross says he and teammates mostly stay away from social media because of all the naysayers. (Monica Herndon, Times)
Washington wide receiver John Ross says he and teammates mostly stay away from social media because of all the naysayers. (Monica Herndon, Times)
Published Dec. 30, 2016

ATLANTA — Who are you guys, and why are you here?

That's the stink eye the Washington Huskies, party crashers, are getting these days.

They play their games after we go to bed. They play in a crummy conference. Half the country doesn't think they should even be in the College Football Playoff. And try finding anyone who actually believes they can win.

So the country asks Washington, "Who are you?" And not in a friendly, getting-to-know-you kind of way. More like an annoying, you're-lousing-everything-up sort of way.

They're the boyfriend invited over for Christmas, and the rest of the family looks at him with pity and thinks, "You know you're not going to last, right?"

Go ahead. Make fun. Criticize. Tell the Huskies how they're going to get pummeled in Saturday's playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl against big, bad Alabama. That's just how the Huskies want it.

"If we can do this," Washington defensive lineman Elijah Qualls said, "there's nothing anybody can say about us anymore."

Plenty has been said already.

Washington comes in with a 12-1 record, but that comes a boatload of "buts."

But, it played a lousy non­conference schedule. But, the best team it played — USC — beat the Huskies by nearly two touchdowns. But, the Pac-12 was so down that the conference title means nothing.

Sure, nice little season, but many believe Penn State or Michigan should be in this game instead of the Huskies, who are 13½-point underdogs.

"A lot of people were disappointed to find out that we were playing here in Atlanta," Qualls said. "We've been doubted a lot, that we shouldn't even be here. So, I mean, we're preparing and fighting and doing everything we can to upset the No. 1 team in the country basically in their house and basically everything against us."

Washington versus the world? The odds seem even worse than that.

Social media has been so rough on the Huskies that wide receiver John Ross said he and most of his teammates have gone on a social media strike. He gets up, eats breakfast, goes to practice, checks on his family. That's it. No Twitter. No Facebook. No Instagram. Nothing.

"I haven't been (on) just because I know what people are trying to say and I'm not letting that message get to me," Ross said. "Just listening to my coaches and my brothers. We believe in each other."

If the Huskies are rattled, it certainly didn't show during Thursday's media day. Their tone was defiant. They seemed agitated by the line of questioning that suggested Alabama is the magician and Washington is the assistant who gets sawed in half.

The irritated Huskies insist they are not just a small part of the Crimson Tide's show.

"I know it sounds weird coming out of my mouth," coach Chris Petersen said, "but it's another big game, and we've all played in big games."

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Not this big. Washington hasn't played in a game with this much meaning since it went 11-1 in 2000, won the Rose Bowl and finished third in the nation.

That was the last time Washington was relevant. This is a program that went 0-12 as recently as 2008. No wonder the Huskies aren't getting any respect. And no wonder they're playing with a chip the size of a football on their shoulders.

"Absolutely," Qualls said. "We have (played that way) all year just because we came off a 7-6 record last year and no one expected us to be this good. And when we came out and a lot of analysts had us ranked and a lot of people were mad about that, saying we were overrated and everything like that. No matter how good we've been throughout the year, somebody was doubting us. Somebody was saying we weren't good enough."

They have the chance to prove that they are good enough, that they do belong, that they can play with anyone, including Alabama.

Yeah, good luck with that.

"Once you get to this point," Washington quarterback Jake Browning said, "I don't think you're intimidated by anything."

Added linebacker DJ Beavers: "I just let the outside noise talk for itself, and when we get out on the field, we'll talk for ourselves."

Maybe come Saturday, they will talk and they will get to answer the question, "Who are you?"

They hope the answer is: The team that just beat Alabama, that's who.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8544. Follow @TomWJones.