By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – They're back. And in a place they've succeeded recently.
The Huskies (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) returned to practice Monday morning after three days completely off from football, days many players spent back home.
Last week's bye was the pause before the final four games of the regular season: Saturday at 5 p.m. at Husky Stadium against Colorado (3-5, 0-5) on Pac-12 Networks, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat; Nov. 15 at 16th-ranked UCLA (6-2, 3-2); Nov. 23 at Oregon State (6-3, 4-2); and Nov. 29 at home in the Apple Cup against Washington State (4-5, 2-4).
The Huskies are 5-0 under fifth-year coach Steve Sarkisian in the games immediately following a regular-season bye. They have averaged 31 points a game and allowed an average of 19 in the first tests following a week off. That includes wins at No.18 USC in 2010, over eighth-ranked Stanford last season and in September of this season, 34-24 over Illinois in Chicago.
In 2011, Sarkisian's Huskies returned from a bye to beat Colorado at home 52-24.
"We are excited to go finish the season," Sarkisian said during his shortest Monday press conference in many years, just under 11 minutes. "We are in the fourth quarter of the season now, and we have four games that we think are very winnable -- if we do it the right way and prepare the right way.
“I think we are going to play great football.”
The coach thinks the bye came at an opportune time from both physical and emotional standpoints.
The first dividend came Monday morning. Starting left guard Dexter Charles returned to practice from the shoulder injury he sustained Oct. 12 against Oregon. The two-year starter has missed the last two games but is on track to play Saturday.
"Which is big for us," Sarkisian said. "A lot of the guys with nagging bumps and bruises looked fresh, upbeat running around today, which was good.”
Quarterback Keith Price had said he missed Charles’ take-charge mentality and vocal leadership during games while the 6-foot-4, 289-pound sophomore was out.
“It was different. I noticed just his presence not being out there,” Price said, adding Charles sometimes even barks at him between plays.
All’s calm and well for now with the Huskies.
"That was a long month for us, so I thought from a psyche standpoint the energy was good at practice (Monday),” Sarkisian said.
With Charles and the offensive line back intact in front of Price, look for the quarterback to get the ball outside more to John Ross. The speedy freshman will get more opportunities at wide receiver along with Jaydon Mickens, the Huskies’ leading receiver with 45 catches, Kevin Smith and fellow freshman Demore’ea Stringfellow now that Kasen Williams is out for the season. Williams had surgery last week for a broken fibula and a foot displacement injury he got against Cal, and he remains home with his family resting in the Seattle suburbs.
“We have to continue to find ways to get John Ross the football,” Sarkisian said.
Especially against Colorado. The Buffaloes are ranked 108th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense. They are allowing 467.5 yards per game.
Colorado lost 45-23 last weekend at UCLA. The Buffaloes led 10-7 to begin the second quarter -- then got outscored 28-3 over the next two periods in their 13th consecutive Pac-12 loss.
The Buffs have a new starting quarterback, one Sarkisian and his staff know. Freshman Sefo Liufau threw 68 touchdown passes and won 34 of 39 games as a three-year starter at Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma, Wash. The Huskies recruited the 6-foot-4 Liufau before he chose CU.
Colorado gave him his first start Oct. 19 against Charleston Southern, after Connor Wood had completed only 53 percent of his passes. Last week Liufau completed 25 of 36 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown at UCLA.
"He has really good command (of the offense) for a freshman," Sarkisian said. "I've been very impressed."
Liufau has a top target in junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who is second in the Pac-12 with seven catches and 123 yards receiving per game.
Sarkisian calls Richardson "one of the premier guys in our conference, if not the country."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Bishop Sankey didn’t play last week yet is still third in the nation in rushing, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He is coming off a career-best 241 yards in the win over California two weeks ago. ... UW has won its last four games against Colorado dating to a loss to the Buffaloes in the 1996 Holiday Bowl. The Huskies won in Boulder 38-3 last November, during CU’s second season playing in the Pac-12.