Nov. 11, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Here comes another important Saturday at Husky Stadium for Jake Locker.
But it's not even a game.
Instead, the Huskies will be assessing their star quarterback and his broken rib on Saturday to see if he can practice inside the 90-year-old stadium that night. That's when Washington (3-6, 2-4 Pac-10) returns from two days off at the end of its bye week to begin preparing for next Thursday night's home finale against UCLA (4-5, 2-4).
Locker missed his first start of the season last week at Oregon, after he broke a rib that had been bothering him for weeks in the Stanford game on Oct. 30. And Sarkisian said redshirt freshman Keith Price has a chance to make his second career start against UCLA.
"I'm not going to put him on the field [for the game] if he hasn't practiced," Sarkisian said. "That's going to be critical as we get into Saturday, Sunday, Monday, [to see] where he's at and how much he can do."
Locker watched this past Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as Sarkisian ran the bye-week practices a little differently.
The coach uncharacteristically put on a black skull cap in the rain. At one point, he huddled his assistants after a contentious incomplete pass.
Sarkisian then walked to the center of the Husky Stadium field and gave a signal as if he was a Pac-10 referee instead of UW's second-year coach. He called the defense for holding to extend the offense's drive in a spirited scrimmage mostly involving reserves.
Half the team roared. The defense howled.
Sarkisian being a referee added spice. Having Locker, Mason Foster, Nate Williams, Chris Polk, offensive linemen and other veteran starters sit out drills added much-needed rest before the final three games of the regular season - against the Bruins and at California (5-4, 3-3) and Washington State (1-9, 0-7).
Linebacker Cort Dennison was also off following a death in his family.
"We tried to limit their reps so come back very fresh Saturday night, and for the fourth quarter and the final stretch run of these three ballgames," Sarkisian said.
"I thought it was great. One, it was really competitive - they were getting after it. Some guys that jumped out at me were Josh Shirley, Kevin Smith, Sean Parker again, Taz Stevenson, Ben Riva, Micah Hatchie, Colin Tanagawa. I thought Jamaal Kearse has really improved."
Sarkisian said those young players have grown since UW's previous bye, which came in late September following the Nebraska game.
In that time off, Sarkisian and his staff rebuilt the team's psyche. That worked wonders: The Huskies beat USC in their next game for UW's first road win in three years.
This time, the Huskies rebuilt their bodies.
"There is no better time for a bye right now, to recharge for the biggest three games of the season," said Foster, who leads the Pac-10 with a remarkable 114 tackles in nine games. That's 37 more than the second-place tackler in the conference, Williams. Dennison is third with 68.
The final three games represent the last chances for Foster and his fellow seniors to reach their goal of Washington's first bowl since 2002. Three wins would qualify the Huskies for the postseason. One loss will eliminate them.
Their coach is not downplaying the importance of these games, though he is cautioning his Huskies to not to look at them all at one time.
"These are three vitally important ball games, but we can't win all three football games unless we win the first one," Sarkisian said. "That will be our focus, on UCLA, against a football team in a similar situation as we are."
Until then, Williams, a senior co-captain, was using Thursday and Friday evenings usually taken up by practice, team meetings and perhaps travel as a chance "just to relax and just chill, play a lot of Xbox."
His coaches were going recruiting. Most states are into their high school playoffs. Sarkisian and his assistants were also planning visits to junior colleges.