Excitement will rock Husky Stadium Saturday night when UW hosts No. 19 Boise State in its newly renovated, $281 million jewel. Here are the ways the Dawgs can make the celebration last into Sunday.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – It’s an opener like none in the 121-season history of Huskies football.
Never before has UW been displaced from its home field for 21 months. The Dawgs have never moved into an 83,000-square-foot football operations building or had Husky Stadium as stunningly luxurious, loud and unforgettable as it will be on an idyllic Saturday when Washington hosts No. 19 Boise State at 7:06 p.m. (on Fox Sports 1 television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the 2013 season’s first exclusive live game chat).
“Oh, I’m excited,” Huskies outside linebacker Shaq Thompson said, “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”
Yet for all that will be grand for the stadium’s long-awaiting unveiling, there is only one happening that can truly make Saturday night a purple-and-gold success for what coach Steve Sarkisian says is the deepest and most talented of his five teams at Washington.
“Our team in general, our entire organization is excited,” Sarkisian said. “I heard the number already coming in is over 300 boats for the harbor, which is what makes this place so unique. Everything we are hearing from the Dawg Pack (student’s section) is that everyone is coming back early; they want to be a part of this. So it makes for a special night.
“The stadium’s awesome, and the stadium’s great; the new Jumbotron, the lights, the wrapping and everything that goes with it. What’s really going to make the place special is how we play, and the product we put on the field.
“That’s what makes them excited, that they get the chance to go play again.”
Sarkisian and his team leaders have repeatedly said they are humbled to be opening this new stadium. They also remember how Boise State humbled them eight months ago while jumping to an 18-3 lead in beating the Huskies 28-26 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
That loss – and the giveaway defeat late in the Apple Cup the previous game – turned what UW still believes should have been a 9-4 season in 2012 into a third consecutive 7-6 mark.
That has given another edge to Saturday’s game that already had more than any opener in Husky history.
|Three Keys For UW vs. Boise State|
|Stick with Southwick|
|Broncos QB Joe Southwick surprised the Huskies in December with his ability to escape their pass rush and extend plays for huge gains that led to 20 of Boise State’s 28 points in its Las Vegas Bowl win. UW has been working for months on pass-rush discipline: staying in lanes and containing on the edges. Executing that in the game could change the result of this rematch.|
|Run deep. Run often.|
|Giving the ball early to returning 1,400-yard rusher Bishop Sankey and a deep stable of backs -- with healthy-again Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper plus Dwayne Washington -- would make Boise State standout safeties Jeremy Ioane and Darian Thompson play closer to the line. That would open the deep middle for Keith Price to pass to Kasen Williams and fellow wide receivers, presumably in one-on-one matchups the Huskies believe they can win regularly.|
|Manage the hype|
|To a man the Huskies have said all month how honored and humbled they are to be opening new Husky Stadium, not to mention how jacked they are about it. Their coach says they need to play with “quiet minds.” The more successful the Dawgs are in taking advantage of but not reveling in the roars of more than 70,000 in the sold-out palace, the more likely this unveiling will be a victorious one.|
“In the bowl game they tried to quick tempo us, like Coach Sark is now doing to us with our offense,” senior safety and co-captain Sean Parker said. “They run a lot of trick plays. We have to be better with our eye discipline and just overall communicating with each other.”
“Eye discipline” have been the defense’s buzzwords for months. Thought the Broncos are nationally renowned for their fun trick plays, it wasn’t double reverses, fumblerooskis or Statute-of-Liberty plays that hurt the Huskies eight-plus months ago. It was the scrambling, improvisational runs and throws by quarterback Joe Southwick. When he didn’t run often found receivers who got wide open because nosy Huskies cover men left them to challenge the quarterback’s dashes outside.
Four times on third or fourth downs in the Las Vegas Bowl Southwick extended plays or scrambled for long yardage to continue drives that led directly to 20 of Boise State’s 28 points.
The Huskies have been emphasizing all month keeping a “cage” around Southwick with a coordinated, tightly woven pass rush.
“Boise will make you pay if you stray with your eyes our get out of your gap,” said new starting defensive lineman Evan Hudson.
he former tight end, converted this month, will make his UW defensive debut both at strong-side end and inside at tackle, depending on the formations Boise State shows. The Huskies are so bent on improving their pass rush that produced 27 sacks in 13 games last season that Josh Shirley, their 2012 co-leader in sacks, isn’t even on the first team right now. Co-captain Hau’oli Kikaha is opposite Hudson at end on the depth chart, with Andrew Hudson and Shirley behind them.
The Huskies have also been working since spring practice started in March on streamlining communications on defense – both to combat the quick succession of plays opponents such as Boise State and later on Arizona and Oregon present, and to deal with crowd noise.
As much as Husky Stadium is going to rocking Saturday, the Huskies’ defense has to be able to get the correct calls and alignment through the din. So now it is relying more on hand signals and lightning-fast substitutions, if need be, than Washington did in December against the Broncos.
The Huskies’ offense will be running plays at a faster pace more consistently than it did the last time these teams met. But Washington will be without preseason All-America tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He had surgery two weeks ago to place a pin in his broken right pinkie and has been limited in practice all week. The Seattle Times reported Thursday night that he is also suspended for the game, the result of pleading guilty in July to a drunken-driving charge.
Michael Hartvigson and Joshua Perkins have been first in at tight end with Seferian-Jenkins mostly watching practices. Seferian-Jenkins would have been the primary focus of Boise State safeties Jeremy Ioane and Darian Thompson, whom Sarkisian calls “the keys” to the Broncos’ active, varied defense.
Without ASJ, the Huskies can force Ioane and Thompson out of double-teaming wide receiver Kasen Williams outside by effectively running the ball. That means returning 1,400-yard rusher Bishop Sankey is likely to get many carries early, as are Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper.
Callier, a slashing compliment to Chris Polk as a freshman in 2011, and Cooper are coming off anterior cruciate ligament tears. The beloved Cooper is making his collegiate debut following three such knee injuries the last three summers. His first carry in his overdue college debut will likely spark one of the many huge roars – if not tears – from Huskies’ fans Saturday night.
As in any game, an established run game would loosen the defense for Keith Price to throw. The fifth-year senior says his previously battered knees feel better than they have since his record-setting 2011 season. That is also the last time he’s had an offensive line as settled and healthy as his is now.
This week, Micah Hatchie moved back to left tackle and Ben Riva returned to right tackle, putting those returning starters back where they were in 2012. Colin Tanigawa returns at right guard to play for the first time since he tore his ACL 11½ months ago in the second game of 2012 at LSU.
“I feel great – so far,” said the soft-spoken Tanigawa, named a co-captain by team vote last week. “I’m pretty excited. I’m definitely glad to be back at Husky Stadium.”
Tanigawa says the offensive line has a chip on its shoulder, “especially in protecting Keith.”
Sarkisian is just glad to have the same five guys have practiced on that line all preseason ready for Boise State’s varied defensive looks. In 2012, 80 percent of Washington’s line got hurt and missed games.
"I think our line is playing is playing really well," Sarkisian said. "We are expecting to see quite a few stunts and games and pressures internally and off the edges by Boise, so we threw a lot at them today. And they handled it very well.
"I like the continuity with our guys.”
All that’s left for Washington? Harness the overflowing excitement peaking with their return to their new place of a home.
"Believe me I know our guys are going to be fired up. Our fans will be fired up. That’s the way college football is supposed to be,” Sarkisian said.
"We have to have the ability to quiet our minds."
But not their hearts.
“Oh, it will be awesome,” Huskies middle linebacker and co-captain John Timu said. “Just to have that Dawg Walk again that we’d always had. The tailgate part. The true way being a Husky is. Back to where it belongs, in Husky Stadium.
“And I feel bad for our opponents.”