As much as the University of Washington faithful lean on the worn clichés – players win games, for example – it’s clear whom the onus is squarely on today as the Huskies open their 2010 football season at Brigham Young.
Coach Steve Sarkisian.
It’s year No. 2 under Sarkisian, the man the UW lured away from Southern California late in 2008. The man the athletic department has invested millions of dollars in to return the Huskies to prominence.
Signs of a recovery came late last season when the Huskies dominated Washington State and California in Seattle to close out the schedule.
Can they carry that over to today?
“We’re embracing the opportunity,” Sarkisian said.
In so many ways, this program has taken strides in the right direction. The UW won five games in 2009. The Huskies took many winnable games into the fourth quarter, only to lose in the final minutes.
There’s been an uptick in their tempo over the course of 12 months. Their attitude has changed. Their swagger is close to returning. Their outlook is optimistic heading into today’s matchup.
“The attitude and approach to the game has changed around here, and guys are excited and have bought into the same program across the board,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “And when you can do that as a football team, that makes you powerful.”
On the line today is plenty. With a win, UW would snap a 12-game road skid, dating back to 2007, in an atmosphere few of these players have seen – in high altitude and amid scorching-hot temperatures.
Not to mention, the debut comes against Sarkisian’s alma mater – BYU – in Provo, Utah.
“It’s about the first game,” Huskies offensive guard Gregory Christine said. “We know everything (Sarkisian) has been telling us is what’s going to happen. Having that knowledge behind us is huge, and I think we’ll get it done.”
Late last week, to get his team in a road-warrior mindset, Sarkisian staged a “mock” road trip. The team went through a walkthrough at the Seattle Seahawks’ facility in Renton, then held meetings – and ended up staying at an unfamiliar hotel locally.
“It was a really good process for us to go through as a football team, for new guys and veterans as well to lock into that, ‘Hey, a week from now, we are going to be somewhere that’s not familiar to us,’” Locker said.
This week in practice, Sarkisian had a level of crowd noise expected to be heard at LaVell Edwards Stadium piped in for the players to get used to.
Today is the true test – one the Huskies would surely like to pass to get their season going in the right direction.
“Our guys have been intense in practice, and they are chomping at the bit,” Sarkisian said.
“We’re kind of like those dogs on the leashes, and we keep pulling and pulling ... and the leash is about to pop. They are antsy, a little grumpy and that’s a good thing. That means they are excited and eager to go out and play.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
HUSKIES GAMEDAY WASHINGTON (0-0) at BRIGHAM YOUNG (0-0)
KICKOFF: 4 p.m. PDT, LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah.
TV: CBS College Sports RADIO: 950-AM
THE SERIES: UW leads, 4-3. The last meeting was 2007 when the then-15th-ranked Cougars eked out a 28-27 victory in Husky Stadium. BYU also won the last game in Provo – 35-28 in 1999 – snapping the UW’s four-game win streak in the series.
WHAT TO WATCH: Which group needs to make the bigger statement to start – the Huskies’ offense or defense? Jake Locker and company should move the ball, so this is a golden chance for the defense to hold up its end – especially against the run, facing a mammoth offensive line and a running back in J.J. Di Luigi who is Jacquizz Rodgers lite. ... What is the best way to attack the BYU defense? Deep in the pass game against inexperienced free safety Steven Thomas, and with tailback Chris Polk against a linebacking corps with no returning starters. ... How much will former Skyline High great Jake Heaps play for the Cougars? It’s a time-share position at quarterback. Heaps arguably had a better camp despite being named the backup. But last season, the UW had its issues against mobile quarterbacks such as Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli – expect junior Riley Nelson to take 60 percent of snaps.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Eyes nationally will be on the much-hyped Locker, who went on a Huskies – and Heisman Trophy – publicity blitz this summer. If he and Huskies don’t play well in early September and help end the UW’s 12-game road skid, he easily could become the forgotten candidate.
TNT PICK: Huskies, 34-28.
No. Name, position Ht./Wt. Year
1 Chris Polk, TB 5-11/214Sophomore Ended last season with four 100-yard rushing games in final five Pac-10 games.
10 Jake Locker, QB 6-3/230 Senior Remember, Jake, hand – don’t flip – the ball to the referee after touchdowns.
13 Will Shamburger, FS 6-0/190Freshman Defense needs his ball-hawking eye, even if it’s mostly in nickel coverage.
15 Jermaine Kearse, WR 6-2/205Junior Likely target on Locker’s aggressive deep passes in play-action calls.
74 Alameda Ta’amu, DT 6-3/330 Junior Interior of BYU’s line has issues and could be exposed by bull-rushing beast.
No. Name, position Ht./Wt. Year
6 McKay Jacobson (WR) 5-11/190Junior Most dynamic threat in deep group, he averaged 24.2 yards per catch in 2009.
7 Brian Logan (CB) 5-6/185 Senior Key veteran in Cougars’ growing trend of recruiting JC defensive backs.
10 J.J. Di Luigi (TB) 5-9/190 Junior Replacing workhorse Harvey Unga, Luigi runs with same surprising power.
37 Vic So’oto (DE) 6-3/261Senior Sixth-year senior is team’s top pass-rusher; originally came in as TE.
70 Matt Reynolds (LT) 6-6/322 Junior Been switching tackle spots, depending on which QB is playing.
Todd Milles, staff writer