Sept. 24, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE - Of the countless text messages that landed in Steve Sarkisian's inbox following Washington's upset of USC, one stood out.
"Well, you should retire now," wrote Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin, a former colleague of Sarkisian's at USC.
All joking aside, the idea that in Sarkisian's first year after inheriting an 0-12 program he would be needing to guard against a letdown following a huge upset seemed laughable.
Most expected to the Huskies to be improved, more competitive and win a few games here and there.
But who could have guessed the No. 24 Huskies would be sitting at 2-1, tied atop the Pac-10 Conference standings after three weeks and ranked for the first time in six years following Saturday's 16-13 upset of a USC team that came to Seattle ranked No. 3 in the country and coming off an impressive win at Ohio State?
"Hopefully we can keep that excitement and that energy going. That was something we were hoping to get accomplished when we first got going here," Sarkisian said on Monday, two days after fans stormed the turf at Husky Stadium following the unlikely victory. "I now understand it takes a win like this to really generate that and get it going. I think that's occurred now."
Now comes the next lesson in the Huskies growth from being the only winless team in the country a year ago, to this week when they are the talk of college football: avoiding the temptation to be satisfied with the win over USC and falling flat from here forward.
Sarkisian started his news conference on Monday acknowledging the importance the victory over USC for fans, alumni and former players who became disgruntled during much of this decade when Washington went from being a power in college football to the basement of the Pac-10.
"We don't want to be one of those teams that plays hard against one of the top-ranked teams in the nation and then loses. I really think that's what our motivation is."
"We don't want to be one of those teams that plays hard against one of the top-ranked teams in the nation and then loses. I really think that's what our motivation is," Washington safety Nate Williams said. "Coach (Nick) Holt and Coach Sark, I have no question they're going to keep us motivated to work even harder than we've worked all year. So we're going to be motivated."
For the most part, this Washington team consists of the same players that a year ago turned in the worst season in Pac-10 history and the first winless campaign in school history. That makes the 2-1 start - also beating Idaho and hanging tough with No. 7 LSU in a loss - even more stunning.
Quarterback Jake Locker thinks it's simply having more confidence, a product of the coaching style Sarkisian and his staff have brought. Tied 13-all with 4:01 left, Washington drove 63 yards in 10 plays, leading to Erik Folk's 22-yard field goal with 3 seconds left for the winning points.
But the final drive wasn't without obstacles. Locker took a 12-yard sack on the first play, then converted a third-and-15 pass to Jermaine Kearse for 21 yards. The Huskies also converted a third-and-2 and got a first down after facing first-and-15 later in the winning drive.
The win was validation that the style Sarkisian and his staff brought to Washington is working. As Locker said on Monday, "this is the kind of football we signed up to play."
"There was a sense of confidence that everyone in that huddle knew we were going to get ourselves into field goal range or score a touchdown to put us ahead," Locker said. "Even when we started the drive off with a loss of 12 yards on that sack ... it was just the confidence everybody had in each other in the huddle which allowed us to go down the field."