STANFORD, CALIF. — Keith Price sat in a chair with a cellphone to his ear, still wearing his yellow practice jersey after the conclusion of Washington’s workout on Wednesday.
As UW coach Steve Sarkisian strolled past, he asked his quarterback: “Who are you talking to?”
“Sports Illustrated,” Price responded.
An ESPN photo shoot also awaited Price after the fifth-year senior quarterback spent a few minutes answering questions from local media.
These are the spoils — attention, national headlines and such — that accompany an unbeaten start and top-15 national ranking. Both of those achievements are on the line Saturday night when the Huskies travel to face No. 5 Stanford, a Pac-12 North and national championship contender that also boasts a 4-0 record. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
If Sarkisian had his way, the
Huskies would remain blissfully unaware of any of the aforementioned stakes. That has been the goal for the fifth-year coach since the beginning of preseason camp: no distractions, no looking past each repetition, each practice, each meeting.
“I don’t feel like they’re making this game out to be bigger than it is,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “It’s a football game that we get to play at 7:30 on Saturday.”
That hasn’t always been the attitude of Sarkisian’s teams as they’ve prepared for big games. In years past, he said, there might have been too many players worrying about the ramifications of wins or losses against high-profile opponents such as Stanford or Oregon.
But Sarkisian thinks the Huskies have grown up. He credits players such as Price for that turnaround, and the fact that the team is led by seniors and juniors.
“I think this is where we should be, getting a lot of attention,” Price said as ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi watched from the track inside the Dempsey indoor facility. “But we understand that’s not what’s going to make us win games. We understand the preparation it took to get to this point. We’re not going to forget what happened last season. I think this team still has a chip on their shoulder. I know I still do, personally.”
Last year, there was a 41-3 pasting at No. 3 LSU and a 52-21 loss at No. 2 Oregon. The year before, the Huskies’ performance in big-time road games against top-25 teams was no different: a 51-38 loss at No. 11 Nebraska, a 65-21 drubbing at No. 7 Stanford and a 67-56 shootout loss to No. 12 Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
Those teams were loaded with talent, and each was favored to beat the Huskies. But it’s hard to argue there were a couple in which UW simply didn’t look ready to play.
“I feel like we’d get into some of these games, we’d like to listen to what people had to say about us, or if we were supposed to win or not supposed to win,” Sarkisian said. “Any of those types of things are potential distractions — what if we win, what if we lose? Those are all things that I think used to get in our way a little bit. I think now our team doesn’t think like that.”
There’s certainly plenty to think about. The Huskies barely have time to breathe, win or lose, after playing Stanford. A visit from No. 2 Oregon is on the schedule for next week, and a trip to No. 22 Arizona State follows.
It’s a gauntlet that will test whether the Huskies’ offense can continue its fourth-in-the-nation pace against defenses more talented than Idaho State and Illinois.
And whether the defense looks as fast and imposing as it has through four weeks, a span in which it has limited opponents to 10.8 points per game.
And, too, whether the Huskies’ approach changes based on who they’re playing.
“It shouldn’t,” fourth-year junior defensive end Hauoli Kikaha said. “I’m not going to say that it doesn’t for some people. If everybody’s buying into what the coach is preaching and instilling, we should be treating it like anyone else.”