Oct. 31, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - This is no normal game week at Washington.
Players from the 1991 co-national champion Huskies are returning for a reunion. This season's veterans are being honored on Senior Night. Legendary coach Don James, the "Dawgfather" himself, is coming back to officiate the coin toss immediately before Saturday night's 7:40 p.m. game between the Dawgs (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) and Oregon (7-1, 5-0).
It will be on ROOT Sports regionally, Fox Sports Network nationally, the Washington IMG College radio network regionally, ESPN radio nationally, and here on GoHuskies.com with another live game chat.
That chat will describe all the color, the special ceremonials and nearly a century's worth of remembrances that will come with Saturday's final game at Husky Stadium before renovations begin on the 91-year-old icon on Lake Washington's shores.
Through it all, Steve Sarkisian has a team to coach, and it has a game to play. That is huge task in itself. UW is trying to beat the high-flying Ducks for the first time in eight meetings between the Northwest neighbors who don't exactly love each other.
"All the things going on -- the '91 team coming back, Coach James doing the coin toss, Senior Day -- all the stuff that's coming into the game, one of the unique challenges for us to focus on the task at hand," Sarkisian said Monday. "And that's playing the Oregon Ducks, with LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, and DeAnthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, and defenders (Josh) Kaddu, Dion Jordan, (John) Boyett. All the stuff they have.
"We have to make sure that we're focused on the team of the Oregon Ducks and not get caught up in all the things that are surrounding the ball game."
Sarkisian began emphasizing that in his first team meeting of the week with the players Monday afternoon, before their one-hour practice at Dempsey Indoor."For us to play well Saturday night, we have to practice well ... we can't get caught up in the things that are going on around us," the third-year coach said of the game unlike any other in Husky Stadium's history.
"Our focus has to be on that game. And that has to start (now)."
Loose, they've learned, is best.
The Huskies were tight for the game for first place in the Pac-12 North two weeks ago heading into Stanford, and didn't play with enough physicality or aggressiveness to stay with the Cardinal. Sarkisian spent all last week pounding increased intensity into his team -- then he watched the Huskies' offense sputter in an uncharacteristic start at home against Arizona.
Washington fell behind 10-0 early. Kearse was flagged for a late hit, a rarity for a wide receiver - and especially for UW's team leader. Usually steady center Drew Schaefer had a errant shotgun snap to Keith Price, who was sacked to end the Huskies' first drive and then misfired on two passes to end a second consecutive three-and-out drive in the first quarter.
Washington eventually rallied behind five touchdowns, another 100-yard rushing night and even 100 yards receiving from Chris Polk to beat the Wildcats 42-31.
The Huskies are living the lesson this week.
"I thought our kids played hard. They played with a lot of passion, played physical... but we can play much better," Sarkisian said. "I don't think we played -- or executed -- nearly enough to what we're capable of. And so that part is something we need to address. We're better than the way we played Saturday night.
"We were trying too hard. We were too jarred up. Maybe I was trying to make it a point that we were going to come out and play passionate, energetic football -- and we tried too hard."
QUICK HITS: Sarkisian said the only injury from the Arizona game that may linger into Saturday versus Oregon is WR James Johnson's sprained ankle. The junior, who caught a pass for 16 yards and once lined up at tailback behind Polk on a short-yardage play, was wearing a walking boot over his right foot and ankle during practice. ... Sarkisian thinks starting S Justin Glenn, who missed last week's game with a foot injury, will be back for Oregon. ... CB Anthony Gobern, who got plenty of action against Arizona as the Huskies stayed in nickel defenses, was back practicing after getting knocked woozy briefly Saturday. Sarkisian thinks Gobern will be available against Oregon, adding to the depth the Huskies need as they substitute early and often against the fast-paced Ducks' offense.