By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SAN FRANCISCO – Marques Tuiasosopo looked around the bayside home stadium of baseball’s San Francisco Giants and grinned. He walked from what is usually left field, away from the WASHINGTON painted in purple and gold in the north end zone of the temporary football field, and basked for a moment in California’s warm winter sun.
The interim head coach’s players had already gotten to see their locker room for Friday, the Giants’ home clubhouse; “I got Barry Bonds’ locker!” one shouted upon entering.
(Actually, six Huskies have been assigned space in the retired slugger’s expansive locker area from when he played for San Francisco).
|Three Keys For UW vs. BYU|
|Use Sankey as a weapon. And an occupier|
|Brigham Young senior weakside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is inside a 3-4 defense. Van Noy, a senior, is fourth among active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 26 career sacks. He’s No. 3 in tackles for loss (57), so he obviously likes to charge into the backfield. UW likes to run Bishop Sankey off tackle more than any other place along the line. Doing so again with the 1,775-yard rusher and finalist for national running back of the year could occupy Van Noy and keep him from sprinting as carefree across the line.|
|Be strong up the middle|
|BYU has two 1,000-yard rushers: Quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. The Cougars also like to spread the field with their formations and no-huddle pace. That will put a premium on UW defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Evan Hudson, middle linebacker John Timu and safety Sean Parker being stout inside in the many individual blocking matchups that could determine this game’s outcome.|
|Enjoy the moment|
|If there was ever a Husky team that should enjoy just being on the field playing again, it should be this one that will show up Friday. The unity and bonding among the players got even stronger over this tumultuous month. Expect an inspired bunch of Dawgs at the start of this one.|
The Huskies then practiced making catches at the back line of the north end zone then bumping into the padding of the left-field wall, looking like major league outfielders during Thursday’s bowl walkthrough practice at AT&T Park.
“This is going to be FUN!” Tuiasosopo said.
Friday beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Fight Hunger Bowl against Brigham Young, the Huskies finally get to have fun again.
After the abrupt departure of coach Steve Sarkisian for USC this month, the naming of Tuiasosopo as interim head man on Dec. 4, the hiring of Chris Petersen as their new leader two days later and the inherent, ongoing uncertainty of the coaching change – Washington (8-4) is back on the field for the first time since winning the Apple Cup Nov. 29.
“We’ve had a great week,” Tuiasosopo said earlier Thursday inside the Westin St. Francis, prior to a bowl luncheon at that hotel. “The bowl festivities have been a great reprieve from our situation and me being the interim head coach. It’s allowed our team to come together, to enjoy some of the activities such as visiting Alcatraz … our experience at the Glide Memorial Church, being able to serve there and give back on Christmas Day.
“(But) our guys are at the point now where they are ready to go out and play.”
Senior captain Sean Parker and junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, appeared inside Union Square park Thursday morning along with the Husky Band at a pep rally for Washington’s fourth bowl in as many Decembers. That’s the longest streak for UW since a run of eight bowls in eight seasons ended following 2002.
Seferian-Jenkins led the many in purple amid the sun-splashed crowd in the square just off Market Street in a “GO! HUSKIES!” chant.
Parker, a safety who is tied for seventh in school history with 11 career interceptions, told the crowd on the eve of his final college game that “it’s bittersweet.
“I love my team,” Parker said. “I’ve gotten pretty to close to the guys. They are like family to me.”
Parker and the Huskies’ defense will be defending a BYU offense that features two, 1,000-yard rushers -- quarterback Taysom Hill (1,211) and running back Jamaal Williams (1,202) -- plus a fast pace. The Cougars have run 1,012 plays through 12 games, eighth-most in the nation. That’s an average of 85 plays per game.
BYU employs a variety of spread formations, as have many of Washington’s opponents this season. And the Huskies have fast, no-huddle tempos this fall against California (1,045 plays), Boise State (1,029) and Arizona State (1,024). But this challenge Friday will be new: Having to spread the field against an offense that will then try to come right at them with downhill running from two 1,000-yard backs.
No, this is not the pass-happy BYU offenses of old. This one is averaging 275 yards rushing per game.
Parker, middle linebacker John Timu plus defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Evan Hudson will have to be especially huge up the middle in one-on-one battles against the run if Washington is to finish with nine wins. That would be the most since Tuiasosopo was the Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player to finish UW’s 11-1 season of 2000.
On offense, the Huskies must be aware on all downs where BYU weakside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is inside a 3-4 defense. Van Noy, a senior, is fourth among active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 26 career sacks. He’s No. 3 in tackles for loss (57), so he obviously likes to charge into the backfield.
The Huskies like to run 1,775-yard rusher Bishop Sankey, a finalist this season for the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back, off tackle. Doing that effectively again Friday could help keep Van Noy honest in his responsibilities instead of freelancing on pass rushes.
“He’s a big, physical, explosive player,” Tuiasosopo said of the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Van Noy. “We have to find where he is.”
This Fight Hunger Bowl is also the final game for Keith Price as a Husky. The fifth-year senior owns 10 UW passing records, including for career touchdown throws (74), career completion percentage (.637) and career passing efficiency (143.4).
The sun was shining on Price’s characteristic smile during Thursday’s walkthrough practice. Tuiasosopo, Price’s position coach until taking over the entire team for this month, believes no matter what the result Friday in his Husky finale that the quarterback’s legacy – and that of all of this team’s seniors -- should shine, as well.
Tuiasosopo noted again Thursday during the rally in Union Square how Price, Parker and fellow seniors such as wide receiver Kevin Smith (45 receptions this season, second on the team to Jaydon Mickens’ 62) came to Washington “when it wasn’t cool to be a Husky” five or so years ago.
“I think their legacy is that regardless of what the situation is, if you work hard you will leave knowing that you achieved something,” Tuiasosopo said.
He specified that includes accomplishments on and off the field.
“Obviously at 8-4 their aspirations were probably a little bit higher, just like every school in this country. But I think that if you look at the bigger picture of their class, it’s a tremendous point, I think, in University of Washington football history,” Tuiasosopo said. “It was really tough. It was, I think, the lowest point in the history of the school there (in 2008). Now we are at 8-4.
“My hope is that, as a former player, the younger guys really focus on that. That what these guys have done has set the stage for them, and that they keep that legacy going with their hard work and dedication.”