Maybe a bit of the inspiration was leftover euphoria from having the most powerful man in America – President Barack Obama – standing near the University of Washington football meeting rooms Thursday.
Or maybe Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian is locking into must-win mode – the same fever he had while coaching at Southern California.
For a change, as another week of practice came to an end Sarkisian talked about the importance of today’s Pacific-10 Conference showdown in the desert at 15th-ranked Arizona.
“It’s a playoff game,” the second-year UW coach said. “It’s playoff time, second half of the season.”
When was the last time the Huskies sang that tune?
Sure, it’s only mid-October. But if the UW fancies any thought of moving up through the standings, a victory over the Wildcats – tied with the Huskies for second place behind runaway leader Oregon – is a must.
“I’d like to see us up there at the end of the season,” UW safety Nate Fellner said. “It’s early, and we’ve got to keep fighting. Hopefully, we can get some wins down the stretch.”
First, a bit of last year’s drama has become one of the story lines heading into tonight’s game.
The Wildcats were in prime position to win in Seattle. They had the ball. They had the lead. They had the ball in quarterback Nick Foles’ hands.
But when Foles’ pass deflected off the shoe of former receiver Delashaun Dean and into the hands of Mason Foster, who rumbled 37 yards for the winning touchdown with about 21/2 minutes remaining, it instantly became one of the all-time highlights for UW fans.
The first question posed to Foster this week was ... well, that play.
“The ‘Shoe Play?’ ” Foster asked with a grin on his face. “It’s cool. To do that, and be a part of a big play like that, and win in Husky Stadium ... it’s always a great memory for me.”
Not so much for the Wildcats.
“We certainly haven’t forgotten about it,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “You always remember.”
Dean is gone, Foles is sidelined with a knee injury, and Foster is the only player from that memorable sequence suiting up and playing tonight.
A bit of luster is gone from the Wildcats’ league-leading passing attack with backup Matt Scott taking the reins tonight. But the offense could be a better ball-control unit because Scott can run.
UW players and coaches say facing Scott in zone-read running situations is much like facing their own star quarterback, Jake Locker.
“At the end of the day, they are going to run their plays,” Sarkisian said. “They are going to use (Keola) Antolin and (Nic) Grigsby to run the ball, and they are going to get the ball to (Juron) Criner and those other wideouts.”
Last season, the Huskies had a pair of two-game winning streaks – the last one to close out the schedule with home victories over Washington State and California.
They have yet to accomplish that in 2010 and would like nothing more than to get on a roll coming back home next weekend to face Stanford.
“Sometimes, maybe, we put a little too much pressure on ourselves, like, ‘OK, we won – now we can go win two in a row,’ ” Sarkisian said. “Let’s just go play, forget what just happened last week and what might occur if we win or don’t win. Let’s go play the game ... and see what happens.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
WASHINGTON (3-3, 2-1 PAC-10) AT NO. 15 ARIZONA (5-1, 2-1)
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m., Arizona Stadium, at Tucson, Ariz.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: UW leads 17-8-1 and has won 10 of the past 15 games, including a 36-33 triumph last season in Seattle. The Huskies have won on two of their past three trips to Tucson – 38-14 in 2005 and 21-10 in 2006.
What to watch: How will the Huskies deal with Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, Arizona’s pass-rushing fiends? In last week’s offensive line reshuffle, one of the aims was getting more athletic blockers on the outside to take on quality defensive ends, and now Drew Schaefer is out at right tackle instead of center. ... How is Matt Scott different from the injured Nick Foles at quarterback for the Wildcats? Scott is a stronger runner whereas Foles can make any deep throw. The area in which Scott is vastly underrated is his accuracy in the short passing game, which has been a troublesome spot for the UW. ... Will Jake Locker (leg bruise, overall soreness) be limited tonight? He limped through various practices this week but was very sharp Thursday. He is ready to go.
What’s at stake? The last time the Huskies beat three ranked opponents in a season was 2001 (wins over No. 11 Michigan, No. 10 Stanford and No. 9 Washington State). They can match that with a win tonight. More important, they would stay in second place chasing Oregon – with a matchup against the Ducks looming in a few weeks.
TNT pick: Wildcats, 32-28.
1Chris Polk (RB)5-11/214Sophomore
He’s capable of putting up 100 yards on any Pac-10 defense.
6Desmond Trufant (CB)6-0/177Sophomore
Juron Criner best of Arizona’s good receiving corps. Tru knows.
15Jermaine Kearse (WR)6-2/205Junior
If Jake Locker can escape Arizona’s front four, he’ll be targeted – a lot.
40Mason Foster (OLB)6-2/242Senior
His 72 tackles is 17 more than next-best in Pac-10 – teammate Nate Williams.
52Hau’oli Jamora (DE)6-3/238Freshman
Teammates rave about his motor, his time arriving sooner than later.
4Matt Scott (QB)6-3/195Junior
Directed wins against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona last season.
5Nic Grigsby (RB)5-10/190Senior
Shifty runner; his 2,764 career rushing yards are 14th among active tailbacks.
6Travis Cobb (KR)6-0/180Senior
Somebody is going to bust a long return against UW; it could be this speedster.
43Justin Washington (DT)6-2/275Freshman
Forgotten man on the defensive line, his 81/2 tackles for loss lead Wildcats.
78Adam Grant (LT)6-6/325Senior
Sixth-year senior from Puyallup moved in offseason from right side. Todd Milles, staff writer