Sept. 23, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - A deflating loss hasn't done it. Neither has a week of pounding practices, or even a workout in a chilling downpour.
None of it has dampened the psyche of the Washington Huskies.
"It's good," senior defensive lineman Cameron Elisara said of his team's mindset in the days following a 56-21 loss to Nebraska. "A lot of people are expecting us to be down, but I think that's our new cornerstone mentality. Guys are right back at it. They are not lingering over last weekend."
Elisara spoke minutes after teammate Nate Williams danced beneath the goal post and fellow defensive back Quinton Richardson whooped it up nearby on the sideline. Both were celebrating the second-team defense ending a rousing scrimmage with a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Music blared, pads smacked and teammates pummeled each other during Wednesday's spirited practice of more than two hours. Then came Thursday's 90 minutes of work in a driving rain at Husky Stadium. Coach Steve Sarkisian could have held the practice indoors, but he joked the soaking practice was the players' "reward" for having the next three days off.
"We were able to get our psyche right to compete in this conference," Sarkisian said when asked what his team accomplished in its well-timed bye week.
Sarkisian thinks his Huskies (1-2) are showing resolve.
"I feel we're hardened right now," he said. "I think our jaws are still a little tight - but that's a good thing. Our brows are still a little low. I think we're hungry."
But not so hungry that the coach wishes they could play again this weekend. Sarkisian said the competitor in the Huskies originally had them wishing their next game was coming immediately, but now he's glad UW doesn't play again until Oct. 2 at USC. The players get Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday off before they have a team meeting that night to begin preparing for their Pac-10 opener.
"We had some things that needed to be fixed, part of which was our psyche," Sarkisian said. "It's easy to be upbeat, energetic and play with great effort when you are winning or are in a tight game. The challenging part is, when you are faced with a little bit of adversity or fall behind we shouldn't change. That's the message to our guys ... that we only know one way to go: 100 miles per hour.
"And we had to get healthy. We needed to work not so much on a game plan but on fundamentals."
This week's practices emphasized tackling drills, and a return to the physicality that marked much of Washington's early season and preseason camp.
"We are a more physical team than we showed (against Nebraska)," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said.
Lead running back Chris Polk took advantage of the bye week to rest a swollen ankle. Linebackers Cort Dennison and Victor Aiyewa plus offensive tackle Senio Kelemete are healthy again. All returned to practice by the middle of the week.
Tight end Chris Izbicki said the Nebraska game may as well have happened two months ago, it's so far out of the Huskies' minds.
"We've come out and practiced very well," Izbicki said. "We're putting it behind us - because we have to.
"You saw how spirited the scrimmage was. Especially because it's a bye week, no one is saving themselves for a game this weekend. We're going all out."
Washington's three days off will be extra relaxing for the players because school doesn't begin until next week.
But not for the coaches. Sarkisian laughed earlier this week when someone asked if he might use the free weekend to go over to Pullman to watch his former USC Trojans play at Washington State.
Not in the middle of the high school football season. Sarkisian will be heading out to intensify his recruiting this weekend.
His staff will be working, too, fanning out across the West Coast to watch high school games Friday and Saturday.