Sept. 2, 2011
Opener With EWU In Line With UW's - And Nation's - New Scheduling
Eagles Not Standard FCS Fare For UW Defense In Opener
Wednesday Post-Practice Notebook: Polk Practices
Unleashed: Relax. Your New QB Has Been Doing This Since 2nd Grade
Kelemete Anchors O-Line, Leads As Only Senior Starter
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By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - 1-0.
For all Steve Sarkisian has accomplished in two seasons as Washington's coach - an immediate, five-win improvement from oblivion, then a first bowl victory in 10 seasons last winter - his Huskies have yet to begin a season with a victory.
In fact, UW has won its opener just twice in the last nine seasons -- while starting against the likes of LSU, Oregon, Ohio State and Michigan. The last W to begin a schedule was Jake Locker's first college game, at Syracuse in 2007.
Oh, yes, these Huskies know this entering Saturday's 122nd season opener and sophomore quarterback Keith Price's debut as Locker's replacement, against Eastern Washington at 4 p.m. in Husky Stadium (ROOT Sports TV, Husky IMG College radio, here at GoHuskies.com for the live game chat).
The Dawgs were reminded of it all summer. They couldn't even get into their preseason training-camp dorms without looking down at the lanyards that held their room keys and seeing the inscription on the neckwear.
When did Sarkisian first bring up being 1-0?
"First day of spring practice," the coach said.
How often since then had he reminded them of not yet being 1-0?
That will include Saturday, just before Washington hosts the Eagles from Cheney, the defending champions of the Football Championship Subdivision.
But Sarkisian also knows how long and grinding the 12-game season is, especially with nine to play inside the newly expanded Pac-12. So he is being cautious with whether he uses 1,400-yard rusher Chris Polk on Saturday. It could come down to a game-time decision whether the junior tailback, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 18, plays against the Eagles. Wednesday and Thursday he practiced for the first times since the procedure.
Whether it's Polk or sophomore Jesse Callier starting at tailback, the goal remains simple and clear: 1-0.
The players have gotten the message, the spoken ones and the embroidered ones.
"It's just to make people realize we have a task at hand. It's the first game and nothing else," co-captain and middle linebacker Cort Dennison said, days before Washington's first game ever against a lower-division school. "We are trying to get the season off to a right note."
Eastern is the first in-state school other than Washington State that UW has played since Whitman on Oct. 14, 1944.
Sarkisian wasn't envisioning EWU being a defending national champion when he and Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward sought to back off the heavy loads of recent Septembers and scheduled the Eagles. The contract is paying the Eagles $400,000, and another $450,000 when EWU visits again in 2014.
"It's an exciting time for us, but yet one that we know is very a challenging," Sarkisian said. "(EWU is) a team that's coming in here with a lot of confidence, that's won a lot of football games."
Eighteen of the Eagles that will start on offense, defense and as kickers or kick returners are from Seattle's western half of the state. And they will provide a challenge far more intricate than what most Football Bowl Subdivision teams are facing this weekend against a lower-division opponent.
Eastern Washington's offense is a spread-and-throw show. Flinging quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, tall, athletic receivers and a veteran offensive line return from the 2010 FCS title team. And the Eagles are favored to do it again. They are ranked No. 1 in the 2011 preseason FCS poll.
"I don't think we can overlook a team that won a national championship," said Huskies cornerback Desmond Trufant. "We're definitely not going to overlook them."
Desmond's brother Isaiah played at Eastern Washington and was signed Thursday by the NFL's New York Jets. Desmond used to shuttle between Cheney and Pullman to watch Isaiah and his other older brother Marcus, the current Seahawks cornerback who played at Washington State.
"I'm sure he will call me about it," Desmond said of Isaiah and his Eastern pride. "I'm sure he will call me and it will be a little trash talk."
Desmond Trufant and Dennison will likely be the most experienced Huskies in the back of the defense. Sophomore Sean Parker is making his first career start at safety, and it's up in the air as to whether senior cornerback Quinton Richardson will play while still getting back from a high ankle sprain he sustained Aug. 13. Sarkisian said Thursday that reserves Gregory Ducre, a sophomore who could be making his first career start, and Anthony Gobern will play in the opener.
So will John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono. The high-school classmates from Long Beach Jordan are debuting as UW's new starting outside linebackers, replacing 2010 playmakers Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa.
Timu will be playing his first regular-season game in 24 months, since a severe knee injury while playing for Jordan High. He figures to be out in space against Eastern's multiple wide-receiver formations.
Having played safety and quarterback in high school, Timu isn't overly concerned about lining up against wide receivers. His bigger test may be coming in these hours before his delayed, long-anticipated first college game.
"Anxious. Very anxious. Then again, very nervous," he said, taking a deep breath still days before kickoff. "First time, I don't know how it feels. But from the looks of other guys, they say it's good to be nervous, then again come game time, have great instincts.
"As soon as I get that first hit, it's on."
The Huskies could to spend much of the afternoon in their "nickel," five-defensive back defense to combat Eastern's spread passing. That means safeties Nate Fellner, the 2010 starter, and Justin Glenn, the starter in '09 until he broke his leg, could be on the field together plenty. That may also mean an extended UW debut for Josh Shirley, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound redshirt freshman who carved out a role as a pass-rush force during spring practice.
"Very excited," Shirley said of Saturday. "VERY excited."
The offense is debuting new tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, fellow true freshman Kasen Williams at wide receiver and kick returner - plus redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa at left guard, on an offensive line that is returning four blockers that started games last season.
Tanigawa seized the job and settled the offensive line in the first days of preseason camp by driving defenders far off the ball and into the ground. Left tackle and co-captain Senio Kelemete, the only senior on UW's offensive line, loves Tanigawa's mean streak. So does Sarkisian. They noticed it while Tanigawa, nicknamed "Panda" by teammates, plowed defenders into the ground well beyond the line of scrimmage throughout August.
"Colin now has been responding for a month straight. He's done a great job," Sarkisian said of his new lineman. "I'm not concerned about him."
As for being 1-0? He and the Huskies are plenty concerned with that.
"It's been our rallying cry since Day 1 of the season. It's been a goal of ours. And it hasn't wavered (through now)," Sarkisian said. "We know the value and importance of this ball game."