Sept. 10, 2010
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SEATTLE - To hear the Washington Huskies tell it, their season really starts on Saturday, when they play their first game at Husky Stadium in nine months.
"We've forgotten about the BYU game," starting middle linebacker Cort Dennison said of last weekend's 23-17 opening loss at Brigham Young.
"We have a positive mindset right now."
Quarterback Jake Locker says the good vibe entering his final home opener at UW against Syracuse (1-0) comes from knowing the Huskies mostly beat themselves last week with mistakes - especially on third and fourth downs.
Knowing Washington is 35-14 at home following a road loss since 1975 helps, too.
"I think everybody is confident in the ability of this football team what we're able to accomplish if we play sound and execute down in and down out," said Locker, who had a scintillating college debut at Syracuse in 2007.
And the confidence of being home stretches back into the summer, when coach Steve Sarkisian stated his goal to win every one of Washington's six games at Husky Stadium this season. A perfect home schedule hasn't happened at Montlake since 2001.
"This is the first opportunity to prove myself right," Sarkisian said with a chuckle of Saturday's 4 p.m. game, which will be televised on Fox Sports Northwest and described with a live, in-game chat and GameTracker at gohuskies.com. "This is our house and these are our fans. And we want to play our best in front of them. We understand the opportunity we have to play here and the pride we have coming out of that tunnel to play here, and we'll play hard.
"It's going to take a great effort from our opponent to beat us here."
Freshman running back Jesse Callier, who ran 39 yards on his first collegiate carry last week, is likely to get more opportunities backing up Chris Polk this week. The only other time he's been inside Husky Stadium for a game, he was a recruit from Downey, Calif., watching last fall's Apple Cup.
"Oh, yeah, I can't wait," he said with a smile of his home debut.
Senior linebacker Mason Foster, whom Huskies coaches credited with 17 tackles at BYU, sounded like he wanted to play the Orange on Monday.
"We have the greatest fans in America," Foster said. "It's always so loud in Husky Stadium.
"We're going to get it done this week, play as hard as we can and hopefully get this win. Guys are ready for this game."
Sarkisian and his Huskies said resolutely minutes after the BYU loss that 12 games remain in this season. That means they are intent on playing in Washington's first bowl game since 2002.
"It's about going out and playing well and playing to our potential and maximizing our opportunities on Saturday at Husky Stadium -- which I think we will do," Sarkisian said. "Our guys have been competitive. They've been upbeat, they've been energetic. If you watched practice (this week), you wouldn't know that we lost Saturday.
"I'm proud of them for that. It shows a lot of the makeup of our football team and the mental toughness that these guys possess. We just want to go out and play well Saturday. It's not about the record."
It is for recently woeful Syracuse. They are confident following a rout of Akron on the road last weekend.
The Huskies know this is a better Orange team than the one Locker shredded on Aug. 31, 2007. Then a redshirt freshman, Locker ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns and completed 14 of 19 passes in three quarters of Washington's 42-12 win. Saturday is Locker's 30th career start since that steamy night inside the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone began this week reminding the Orange that its school is 1-11-1 on the West Coast since 1964.
And Washington 23-2 at home against teams from the East Coast since 1970. That includes the Huskies' 21-7 win over Syracuse in 1973.
Whatever. Sarkisian is more interested in getting his 2010 offense in rhythm following its 394-yard debut at BYU that was marred by mistakes and failures to convert short-yardage situations.
"I think one of the key things we're going to do early in the game, we're going to run the stuff on both sides of the ball we do really well, and not try too hard with different stuff," the coach said. "We're going to do things that we do well so we're in a real comfort level with the stuff we're trying to execute."
If the BYU game is any indication, the Huskies' main threats on offense will continue to include Polk, who had 92 yards rushing last week, and receiver Jermaine Kearse, who caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown from Locker at BYU.
Sarkisian said Syracuse likes to rush the passer far more than BYU did. The Cougars chose to lay back and guard against Locker's running while dropping as many as eight defenders into pass coverage.
"You cross the 50, they're going to come after you," Sarkisian said of the Orange.
Defensively, Washington is preparing for a more conventional offense. Syracuse hasn't shown the no-huddle system that BYU presented.
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt described how Syracuse has a more standard, drop-back-and-throw quarterback in sophomore Ryan Nassib plus two solid running backs: senior Delone Carter and junior Antwon Bailey.
"They have a more traditional offense," Holt said.