Oct. 23, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
It's Oregon week.
Those words hold special meaning each fall on Montlake, as the Washington-Oregon football game is a border rivalry with passion unlike most others in the nation. The rivalry isn't just between two teams, but also spurs passionate remarks between students and alumni of the two institutions.
It's a rivalry that Steve Sarkisian now has to immerse himself in. This is one weekend that won't receive the clichéd "just another game" moniker. Sarkisian wants both players and fans fired up when the ballgame kicks off at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"It's a rivalry that we're to embrace, and one that we're going to allow our players and our fans to enjoy," Sarkisian said. "But ultimately the best way to do that is going out there and playing really well."
When he was an assistant at USC, Sarkisian dealt with separate rivalries with both UCLA and Notre Dame, so he has experience in preparing players for red-letter games. And while the actual game preparations haven't changed just because it's Oregon week, Sarkisian planned to address the issue fully during meetings and in practice. The Huskies had some issues during an intense game with Arizona State last week getting a handle on their emotions in the face of a talkative Sun Devils squad.
So Sarkisian wants an open discussion with his team about how Washington is going to prepare emotionally.
"We need to address this thing straight up. This is a rivalry game. There are a lot of emotions involved. So we need to talk about our emotions, and how we handle our emotions in pregame, throughout the game, because emotions can get the better of you."
Sarkisian also made sure to handle his emotions following the heartbreaking loss in Tempe to Arizona State. He humbly admitted to making mistakes in the play-calling aspect of the game, and like the teachable moments he preaches to his players to refine, he vowed to improve.
"I thought I tried too hard at times. I tried too hard to make the game go in our way, to get some momentum going our way, instead of allowing the game to come to us," Sarkisian said. "But there's always room for improvement, for us to get better."
During the Don James era, Oregon week was mostly an automatic W on the schedule, as the Hall of Fame coach only lost three times to the Ducks between 1975-1992. Now, Washington has not beaten Oregon since 2003 - a 42-10 victory at Husky Stadium. But the Huskies know they have a unique opportunity in front of them to snap a five-game losing streak. It's not like any of the players need a reminder which opponent is heading up to Seattle to play them this week.
Ever since he came to Washington, quarterback Jake Locker has heard from various fans their pleas for UW to beat Oregon. So the rivalry is something ingrained in him, without the need for coaches or teammates to drill it in his head.
"It's become a really big rivalry for us," Locker said. "There's a lot of excitement from people about this weekend's game, and a lot of people want us to come out victorious."
Quite similar to comments Sarkisian has heard about Oregon. Admittedly, he wasn't knowledgeable before, but after conversations with former players he's now very much up-to-speed on the intensity and the passion involved, something first-year Ducks coach Chip Kelly has learned in Eugene was well.
"Once I took the job, and you start to get around all the great Huskies and what's gone on here, this game means a lot to a lot of people," Sarkisian said.
After all, it's Oregon week.