Dec. 27, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SAN DIEGO - Before they got to Qualcomm Stadium for the Holiday Bowl, the Dawgs were dashing for Shamu Stadium.
Seeing the killer whales show was the first thing most Huskies did upon arriving at SeaWorld Monday morning, the fourth full day of Washington's stay here for Thursday night's Holiday Bowl against Nebraska.
They also got ponchos.
Wimping out? Nah, just another chance to utilize their UW education.
"Oh, no, no. I was going to stay dry," Christine said.
That was seconds after the offensive lineman led a chant of "one, two, Shamu!" Monday night while running off the practice field at the University of San Diego.
"Oh, yeah, when I was younger I had a stuffed animal of Shamu," said Christine, a senior offensive lineman from Camarillo, Calif.
Ta'amu was also wearing a black swath of plastic printed with a Shamu logo earlier in the day.
"Yeah, I wore that. It was crazy," said the 6-foot-3, 330-pound defensive tackle - who Dennison says "is as big as Shamu."
Locker excitedly snapped pictures from the second row at the giant yet elegant killer whales. His mouth was agape - and his poncho hood was up -- as the leaping orcas crashed into the water and drenched him and his teammates. Later, groups of players got water dumped on them while on rafts on a Shipwreck Rapids ride. Another gaggle of Huskies across the park laughed from the upper seats at a tiny otter carrying a soda can during a skit called "Sea Lion Live."
Yes, the Huskies are having a blast on their first trip to a bowl since 2002.
"That's the whole key to this thing, is to enjoy the experience, because the experience is what these guys get to keep for a lifetime," said coach Steve Sarkisian.
He is a veteran of the Cotton Bowl as a quarterback at Brigham Young in the 1990s, then of Rose Bowls, Orange Bowls and national championship games as an assistant at USC before arriving at Washington in January 2009.
"Our players are so appreciative of anything that's come our way - every opportunity, every bowl gift they've received. They are so thankful," Sarkisian said, comparing this week to all those bowl weeks with USC. "It's very gratifying."
Added Dennison: "This is what we worked all those days for in conditioning, for this experience that will last with us for the rest of our lives.
"But as the game gets closer, we're starting to zone in and realize what we're here for."
Indeed, by sunset the Huskies (6-6) were fully into another spirited practice at the University of San Diego. Of course, even the workout was characteristically festive.
The team's usual, eclectic blend of rap, rock and pop music - LL Cool J on one track, Journey on the next - blared through the open practice as players worked under the lights in helmets and shoulder pads on a turf practice field. Athletic Director Scott Woodward was watching, as were a few dozen friends, family members and visitors.
They saw Kearse, a faster-looking Devin Aguilar and fellow receivers working on getting off the line against aggressive, press coverage. That's what the Cornhuskers (10-3) feature as one of the nation's best, most physical defenses.
The Huskies know they must improve how they handle Nebraska's physicality in its defensive secondary, which contributed to UW's lopsided loss to the Cornhuskers in Seattle in September.
"We need to be more physical offensively, not only at the line of scrimmage but with our wide outs, to create separation," Sarkisian said.
The coach believes that will give Locker and the offense a better chance to function more efficiently this time against Nebraska.
The Huskies also continued to emphasize the defensive front staying in their assigned gaps and not getting too focused with the quarterback running. Washington thought its chasing of Taylor Martinez helped enable the entire Cornhuskers backfield to run wild at Husky Stadium in the previous meeting.
Ta'amu feels it is his job to anchor a changing defensive line that will most likely be without three starters in the Holiday Bowl. Tackles Cameron Elisara and Semisi Tokolahi were already out injured.
"The last game, they ran a lot in the middle. It was all my fault," Ta'amu said of Nebraska, valiantly.
Now he feels he is far more disciplined in controlling only his assigned gap and holding up better against the run
"I feel I am a totally different player," he said.
At least he won't need a poncho to tackle the Cornhuskers Thursday.