The Dark Ages are still too painfully close for Washington football fans to be jaded to the importance of the Huskies reaching bowl-eligible status.
With their sixth win of the season, a 34-15 decision over Utah at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night, Washington reached the minimum threshold for advancing to the postseason for the third straight year.
That bowl-less span between 2002 and 2010 is a blight still occupying space in fans’ minds but it has to be diminishing.
The Huskies, 6-4, still have games against Colorado and WSU – the two worst teams in the Pacific-12 Conference – to pad that total and attempt to improve on the 7-6 finishes of the past two seasons.
Utah is an ordinary team, one that lost four straight before racking up recent wins over Cal and Washington State. Against the Utes, the Huskies were able to score their highest point total of the season against an FBS team.
From a practical sense? A bowl appearance creates exposure to recruits.
And bowl teams get to practice for another month, which is equivalent to having another full set of spring practices. The value of this for a young team is considerable.
As this was the final home game of the season, and the last at their temporary home of CenturyLink, it was Senior Night.
Of the eleven Huskies who were playing their last home game, five were fifth-year freshmen who came in during the 0-12 debacle of 2008 overseen by coach Tyrone Willingham. In a way, their graduation finally gets Willingham off the books.
But only three of those seniors started Saturday night, and, in a competitive sense, this would be more accurately called Sophomore Night.
Sophomore back Bishop Sankey picked up 162 rushing yards on 36 carries to continue his string of strong performances (189 yards last week in the win over Cal).
The Gonzaga Prep product was not expected to be the starter this season, but when Jesse Callier went down with an injury in the first game, Sankey got his chance, and has been doing an unexpectedly solid Chris Polk impression ever since. He’s quick to the hole, sharp with his cuts, and has another gear when gets past the first level.
He cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season Saturday night, becoming the 10th Husky to do so.
His fellow sophomore, Kasen Williams, had a pair of exceptional catches in the first half, one a touchdown catch at the end line, and another dancing toe-dragger on the sideline.
Less noticeable but nonetheless important, Williams has proven himself an exceptional blocker. On two of Sankey’s early breakaways, Williams cleared the way by pancaking the cornerback on his side.
A third standout sophomore, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, had a record-setting night with seven catches (99 yards) to up his total to 55 for the season, good for a UW single-season record for a tight end.
It also gave him 96 career catches, to push him past Mark Bruener’s UW career mark for tight ends. And Seferian-Jenkins presumably has two more seasons to add to those totals.
Junior quarterback Keith Price also put together his best game in a while, completing 24 of 33 attempts for 277 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions or fumbles.
On the bowl topic, it might be timely to recall Price’s performance in last year’s Alamo Bowl. Without a hint of defense, the Huskies lost, 67-56, to Baylor, but Price was statistically superior to Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Price completed 23 of 37 for 438 yards and four touchdowns, while running for another three scores.
By the time the Huskies gathered in the south end zone Saturday to sing the school fight song, the stands were practically empty. CenturyLink had been a good home away from home, as they won five of six and knocked off a pair of top-10 ranked teams.
This strength at “home” certainly helped boost them up to that important six-win threshold. And a gang of talented sophomores sent out those few seniors on a winning note.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440