April 23, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Cort Dennison loved his first time playing football underneath the Space Needle.
Nick Montana called it "cool, sweet."
"I wish I had played high school games here," the redshirt freshman from Southern California said while looking up at the underside of the most recognizable landmark in the Pacific Northwest.
Yes, coach Steve Sarkisian got what he sought Saturday by moving the next-to-last extended scrimmage of spring practice a few miles off the UW campus and downtown to Memorial Stadium. The 63-year-old field inside Seattle Center is a long out route from the base of the Space Needle and has hosted the 1962 World's Fair, professional soccer and, most recently, the city's high-school football games.
"It was great," Sarksisan said. "It was good for our kids, to give them something new to spice up spring football."
His players showed how much they enjoyed the break from the same-ol' of the previous 11 practices spread over four weeks inside Husky Stadium. They held a spirited, 90-minute scrimmage, the final big one before next weekend's spring game, in front of a few hundred happy and sun-drenched fans swaying to the music that was blaring from the sideline.
"I've never been here before, so this was a great opportunity, in the middle of a great city and on a great day. It's just fun," said Dennison, the Huskies' senior-to-be middle linebacker and a native of Utah. "It's a new experience, and when you have a chance to get a new experience you often play well."
The way Keith Price threw, it's too bad the Huskies can't take him to a new yard for each game this coming season.
Price, alternating with Nick Montana at playing quarterback with first- and second-team skill players, passed for two touchdowns in the scrimmage. The first was a short throw in the flat to running back Johri Fogerson, who continued his spring surge of power running and effective receiving.
Price's second scoring throw was the play of the day. The sophomore, who created creating plays with his elusiveness in his first college start last November at No. 1 Oregon, stepped up in the pocket and zinged a dart to Jermaine Kearse on a post route. UW's 1,000-yard receiver with 12 touchdowns as a junior last season caught the pass behind the cornerback in stride for a 24-yard touchdown.
"He's always telling me, `When I see you are one-on-one, I'll go to you,'" Kearse said of Price. "And that's what happened there."
The play was also indicative of the added work Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have done with Price and Montana this spring on staying in and stepping up into the pocket formed by a still-developing offensive line. That line shuttled blockers around again Saturday.
"Keith showed some real pocket presence," Sarkisian said, approvingly.
Price admitted the offense still made a few mistakes. And the Huskies' pass rush -- namely redshirt freshman Josh Shirley, who has spent most of the month in the offense's backfield - again got numerous would-be sacks if the quarterbacks were allowed to get hit.
But Price and Montana, who led a scoring drive that ended with a 48-yard field goal by Erik Folk, each saw progress.
"You can tell the offense as a whole was getting into a comfort zone," Montana said, including himself in that space. "We got in a rhythm."
Jesse Callier returned from an ankle injury and was back running in the backfield. And sophomore Kevin Smith continued his impressive spring opposite Kearse at wide receiver, making a couple of gritty catches over the middle while getting hit.
It was a different day for the offense than in the previous Saturday's scrimmage at Husky Stadium.
"We had a motivation. The defense kind of got after us last week, and we wanted some revenge," Price joked, flashing his usual big grin.
Kearse, who spent his first three UW seasons in tune with Jake Locker, likes what he sees so far in the two passers vying to replace the soon-to-be NFL draft pick beginning Sept. 3 against Eastern Washington.
"They are two good quarterbacks, and they are getting really good learning the offense," Kearse said. "I think time will take its role and will give them the experience they need for this season."
Sarkisian said he has two goals, among others, for the final three spring practices culminating in next Saturday's 11 a.m. spring game at Husky Stadium: Getting back to the more up-tempo offense that Washington had early in the month, and refining details on the kicking and kick-coverage units.
The coach liked the field trip downtown so much, he said there's a good chance the Huskies will come back next spring to Memorial Stadium, which is owned and operated by Seattle Public Schools and hosted the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League in 1974 and '75 before the Kingdome was built, plus decades of concerts from acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, the Beach Boys and the late-summer Bumbershoot music festival.
Sarkisian hinted the 2012 spring game could be played at Memorial Stadium. The Huskies will vacate Husky Stadium beginning this November and will play the 2012 regular season in Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, until renovation is completed in time for the 2013 season.
"This is something we should be looking at every year," Sarkisian said while standing in the middle of the synthetic-grass field and in the shadow of the Space Needle.
"As we look toward next year and the renovation of Husky Stadium, this seems ideal for a spring game."