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Huskies 'On Edge,' Ready To Respond Against Hawai'i
Release: 09/09/2011
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Sept. 9, 2011

PARK & RIDE USERS, PLEASE NOTE: Due to Mercer St. ramp closures this weekend, Metro Service from the Federal Way and Renton Park & Ride locations has been altered. Click here for Federal Way schedule. Click here for Renton schedule. Metro urges fans to arrive at the Park & Ride locations earlier than normal.


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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - We've seen these Huskies revitalize their program. We just saw them whack each other and grow through the most physical training camp of Steve Sarkisian's coaching tenure.

We've seen them endure early, key injuries already this season. Then, we saw them escape.

Now, we get to see how they respond.

Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game against Hawaii (1-0) at sun-splashed Husky Stadium will be an unexpected, early season day of reckoning for Washington (1-0) on ROOT Sports television, the Washington IMG College radio network -- and again here on with the live, exclusive-access game chat.

Not because a win or loss will define the Dawgs' 2011 season of raised standards and expectations. It's because their coach has challenged them physically, mentally and intrinsically since their unsatisfying, 30-27 win over lower-division Eastern Washington last week.

"I think it's been ... I'm searching for the words to describe it ... `on edge,' I think myself included. I think I've been on edge," Sarkisian said of this buck-up week for Huskies he thought played not to lose in the opener. "I know we can play better than we did last week.

"It starts with me, and it's got to get right as fast we can (make it right). We only have 12 more opportunities to do this thing. And I just don't want to accept mediocrity around here. And we won't."

Yes, 12 more opportunities. Sarkisian is characteristically including a potential second consecutive bowl game. Washington had zero of those in seven seasons before winning the Holiday Bowl in December.

But Sarkisian wasn't around for those seven years. He was a top assistant at USC, winning Rose Bowls, winning a national championship and coaching Trojans quarterbacks who became first-round and first-overall draft picks in the NFL.

Sarkisian and his players have set a new standard. So, no, he won't stand for the mere 250 yards his offense had last week against Eastern. He won't take as excuses the facts quarterback 1,000-yard receiver Jermaine Kearse went out in the first quarter with a sprained ankle and Keith Price sprained his knee in the first half then kept playing with a restrictive brace.

And he especially won't tolerate the 504 total yards his defense allowed to an EWU offense that threw quickly on short routes, as Hawaii's will -- but with far more dynamic quarterback Bryant Moniz.

"Coach Sark's a high-octane guy," senior co-captain Cort Dennison said, "with a lot of passion."

Now it's time to see if his Huskies have that, too.

"I think we will be a totally different team," Dennison said.

Hawaii coach Greg McMackin agrees.

"I'm sure that Washington is going to be embarrassed by that game. But the thing is, Eastern Washington is a better team than people think because they won the national championship in their division last year and are the favorites for it this year," he told reporters in Honolulu Monday, two days after Moniz ran for 121 yards and accounted for four scores as Hawaii beat Colorado 34-17.

"Washington is going to be ready to play us because they aren't going to let that happen again.

"They've got better personnel than Colorado does, (that's) our assumption."

Washington must assume the same thing about Hawaii, compared to Eastern Washington.

Dennison, the UW defense's middle linebacker and signal caller, will have to help contain Moniz's running while getting after him when he tries to throw. Huskies defensive end Hau'oli Jamora, a Hawaii native who grew up rooting for the Warriors, got Washington's only sack even though Eastern Washington called 70 pass plays last week.

Jamora, one of five Huskies from Hawaii, knows that won't cut it this week. He has a personal stake in improving immediately: He went home this summer and talked good-natured smack with the high school teammates, friends and even in-laws he has on Hawaii's team.

"It has to come within the team itself, from the guys that are going to be on the field. Guys on the field have to bring it," Jamora said.

"It" specifically is a more aggressive pass rush and better quarterback containment. The Huskies' lone sack last week from Jamora came when Eastern's quarterback stepped up into it. He had time to do that because UW's safety blitz arrived tentatively off the corner. It was one of numerous times the young Huskies, who had 16 players making their major-college debuts, came in unblocked yet hesitated.

Washington worked backup defensive end Andrew Hudson more this week, and Sarkisian says he likes the pass-rush potential Hudson could add Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said that pass rush sometimes "ran all the way around the quarterback" last week. He and his staff have re-emphasized containment responsibilities outside when a passer scrambles. Eastern's Bo Levi Mitchell often did that to buy more time to look downfield in the opener.

"We have to coach that better," Sarkisian said.

The pass coverage adjusted in the second half last week, playing receivers more tightly with better but not perfect results. That effort will get a boost Saturday with the season debut of senior cornerback Quinton Richardson, who missed the opener while recovering from a high ankle sprain. Look for Richardson to start as Washington goes to five and even six defensive backs against Hawaii.

Sarkisian described a three-cornerback scheme with Desmond Trufant, the hero of last week by intercepted Eastern's last pass in the end zone in the final minute, and Greg Ducre outside and Richardson often inside against Hawaii's slot receivers.

The Warriors are getting wide receiver Darius Bright back from a one-game suspension. He's 6-feet-4, similar in size to the receivers that gave UW's secondary problems last week.

But Hawaii doesn't just pass in its run-and-shoot scheme anymore. The Warriors retooled their offense in the aftermath of Georgia's defense smacking Colt Brennan and their passing game in a 2008 Sugar Bowl loss to the Bulldogs, a beat down that cost Hawaii a perfect season.

"If you remember back to the Georgia game, we didn't have anything to go to so our quarterback just stood there and got drilled," Hawaii coach Greg McMackin told reporters in Honolulu this week. "If we are having some problems on the edge now we will be able to fix that."

Specifically the Warriors have a quarterback, Moniz, who led the nation last season with more than 5,000 passing yards and is coming off his career-rushing day last week. The Western Athletic Conference player of the week will run far more decisively and more often Saturday than Eastern's quarterback did last week, with the intent to run downfield instead of finding a late-breaking receiver. Or Hawaii will just send Moniz off to run directly out of shotgun snaps.

"Now they have added the new wrinkles of the zone read and the speed options, to alleviate some of that (pressure) and to try to get more generic looks up front," Sarkisian said.

Hawaii's defensive front is aggressive and full of confidence after getting seven sacks against Colorado last week.

The Huskies feel they have an answer to that. A 1,400-yard rushing one.

Chris Polk is back timing his cuts and setting up blocks better after completing his first full week of practice since arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 18. Polk gained 125 yards last week against Eastern after just two workouts, and said he was rusty, only at about 70 percent of his full efficiency even though the knee was fine.

How great is it for Price, who is far healthier now than five days ago, to have Polk back there again?

"Ah, man. It's lovely," the quarterback said, chuckling. "Just give him the ball and watch him run."

Price, though, knows he must pick up his game - specifically his pace - in his second start as Jake Locker's full-time replacement.

"We need to pick up our tempo in the huddle, get in and get out. ... And it starts with me," he said. "I have to be that guy.

"We're going to get better. ... As crazy as it might sound, I'm glad the (Eastern) game was as close as it was because that's a wakeup call," Price said. "We know we are a better team than that.

"We are going to come out ready, trust me."

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