Nov. 15, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - His coach is calling this week "gut-check" time for the Huskies.
That's great news for Cort Dennison. He knows all about gut checks against Oregon State.
Washington's middle linebacker harassed the Beavers' Joe Halahuni before the game-winning pass went off the tight end's chest in the end zone on a two-point conversion try to end the Huskies' wild, 35-34 victory over the Beavers last Oct. 16. It remains the only multiple-overtime game in the 91-year history of Husky Stadium.
The Huskies blew a 21-point lead then stormed the field in celebration that night -- twice. The first time came prematurely in the second overtime while not realizing a game-extending flag for pass interference against them was laying in the end zone. They had to clear the field and watch Jacquizz Rodgers, run for a touchdown from 2 yards. That made it 35-34.
Oregon State came out in PAT kick formation. Then Beavers coach Mike Riley then called time out and decided to go for two points and the win, rather than kick for the single point to force a third overtime. During time out, Dennison said the Dawgs called two plays: one to defend the extra-point kick and another to be in base defense. The Beavers came out in an empty backfield behind quarterback Ryan Katz, with receivers all over. It was a set UW would usually combat with extra defensive backs, and failure against it would have meant a loss.
Now that's a gut check.
"It was loud," Dennison, the Pac-12's leader in tackles this season as a senior co-captain, recalled following Tuesday night's practice. "Halahuni, the tight end, came just right up the middle. And in that call we were in I was in the middle of the field. I kind of had to patrol everything. I just kind of read Katz's eyes and then tried to make a break on it and disrupt his catch as much as I could."
Asked if he actually touched the pass, Dennison flashed a wry smile and said, "I thought I hit something, but all that matters is that we won the game.
"I just tried to go at him as hard as possible."
Now, 13 months later, Dennison is trying to get his teammates to go as hard as possible following consecutive losses to nationally ranked Oregon and USC.
Sarkisian, in fact, is demanding it.
"I think really we haven't played with a real sense of purpose the past two weeks. We've been out-physicaled. Our sense of urgency hasn't been what I've been accustomed to. And we have to get back to that," Sarkisian said. "As I touched on earlier, this is gut-check time to me.
"Shoot, we're going to Reser Stadium, it's Senior Night for Oregon State. They are going to be fired up. We've got to bring it. We've got to bring it -- mentally, emotionally, and physically."
Dennison, along with co-captains Senio Kelemete, Jermaine Kearse and Alameda Ta'amu, started bringing it on Monday. The team's underclassmen say they noticed a surge in intensity from their leaders starting then.
"I feel like my teammates have picked me and the three other kids to be captains. We have an obligation to fill the leadership roles and get this team going. We take pride in that," Dennison said. "And we need to do a good job with that this week.
"We realize we've only got two weeks at the end of the (regular season), so it's all or nothing for us. Everything is on the table."
The Huskies have been here before - and have won their final two games in each of the previous two regular seasons under Sarkisian.
Dennison said he doesn't know why a Huskies team that was 5-1 and nationally ranked last month has suddenly lost urgency and intensity while losing three of its last four, including at Stanford. The win was 42-31 over Arizona on Oct. 29 when UW forced four turnovers.
"I wish I did (know)," the senior from Salt Lake City said before his 28th career start for Washington. "But we can't worry about the last couple weeks. We just have to worry about the present, this week and these couple games."
QUICK HITS: Starting QB Keith Price was on the field in full pads but did not take snaps in team drills while Nick Montana again ran the first-team offense. Sarkisian said Tuesday morning Price's MRI exam showed no structural damage to his sprained left knee but that he still don't know whether Price or Montana will start on Saturday. Price, who sprained his left knee while getting sacked in the third quarter last weekend at USC, had a brace over it as he went over play sheets and consulted with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier during practice. ... The Huskies are 17-9 all-time in Corvallis and 15-6 at Reser Stadium, which used to be called Parker Stadium. The series with Oregon State is the second-longest in Washington history. It began on Dec. 4, 1897. UW played Stanford for the first time to end the 1893 season.