NEW ORLEANS - Was it that long ago that the Washington Huskies were hosting the LSU Tigers at Husky Stadium in the first game of Steve Sarkisian’s tenure at Montlake?
It has been a little more than three seasons since that debut. Since then, Sarkisian is 20-18. He has had two winning seasons, two big wins over ranked USC teams and two appearances in bowl games.
But he has a chance today to get a signature win as coach of the Huskies.
When Washington rolls into a sold-out Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., with more than 90,000 screaming fans to face No. 3 LSU tonight, there is a chance for Sarkisian and his team to get one of the biggest regular-season wins in program history.
It might be bigger than the 38-20 win over Miami at the Orange Bowl in 1994 – dubbed the “Whammy in Miami” – which ended the Hurricanes’ NCAA-record home win streak at 58 games.
It might be bigger than the 20-11 win over then-No. 4 Michigan at the Big House in 1984.
Or it could be bigger than the 20-10 win at then-No. 2 USC and Ronnie Lott in 1980.
There are a couple of reasons.
The first is Washington isn’t quite at the level it was in 1980 or 1984 or 1994. The landscape of college football is different, and Sarkisian’s quest to rebuild the program after the disastrous Tyrone Willingham era hasn’t happened overnight. Sarkisian chuckled at the thought of playing LSU in that first game, which ended up being much closer than expected – a 31-21 win for the then-No. 11 Tigers.
“Hopefully, we look a little better in pregame warm-ups,” Sarkisian said. “I was ... kind of looking at their side and looking at our side and it didn’t feel like this was a great matchup in pregame warm-ups. I thought our kids played hard that first time around.”
The second reason is the level LSU has reached. The Tigers are a perennial BCS contender despite playing in the Southeastern Conference, the gold standard of college football.
They played in the BCS title game last season and are ranked No. 3 this season because they return two-thirds of last year’s team.
“They’re big up front offensively for sure,” Sarkisian said. “Defensively, they are big in the interior, but on the edge they’re fast. They have a nice combination of size and speed. If you just try to match them size for size, then the speed factor will take its toll on you. I think you need to have balance on the field whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams to match the style of play they play with.”
How difficult with this task be?
Besides the talent on the field, LSU has a history of success in non-conference games. The Tigers have won 38 consecutive non-conference regular-season games – 28 of those under coach Les Miles. A win tonight would equal the NCAA record of 39 set by Kansas State from 1993 to 2003.
At Tiger Stadium, Miles’ teams are 43-6 and have won their past 18 home games. They are 51-4 in night games under Miles.
All those factors result in Washington being a 24-point underdog.
“This isn’t new to us,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a proud history and tradition here at the University of Washington of going and playing in games like this, and we’ll embrace this one just like we have all the other ones for decades. It should be a fun ball game (today).”
It will be fun if the Huskies can play up to their expectations. LSU might have the best defense in the country, but the Huskies believe they can score on anyone. The combination of Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams are as good as any trio of playmakers in the country.
“We will be on our ‘A’ game, trust me,” Price firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish