Coach Steve Sarkisian’s 2013 mantra of “Anywhere, Anytime, Anyone” applies to the Huskies’ first road trip of the season, for Saturday’s game at Illinois.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CHICAGO – The Huskies arrived here Thursday night gawking a bit at the tall buildings they passed.
The Sears (now called Willis) Tower. The John Hancock Center. The Chicago Board of Trade glowing next to their hotel.
Yet their mindset is this could be Tucson. Or Berkeley. Or Pullman.
OK, Chicago could definitely not be Pullman.
Point is, this trip for Saturday’s game between the No. 19 Huskies (1-0) and Illinois (2-0) at Soldier Field (Big Ten Network television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat) has the same theme for UW football since the start of its spring practice:
Anywhere. Anytime. Anyone.
It was even on the back of the black hoodies some players were wearing while checking into their hotel Thursday night, following a traffic-filled bus ride from O’Hare Airport.
The way the Huskies travel hasn’t changed in five seasons under coach Steve Sarkisian: An Alaska Airlines charter jet; usually the same crew; meals at the hotel; lights-out and wake-up times; meetings by position groups; walk-through practice at the game site; more meetings before the game — and then the same jet and crew returns the team to Seattle, usually in the middle of Saturday night into early Sunday.
"The overall timing and everything hasn’t changed a whole lot, quite honestly. I think the messaging has,” Sarkisian said following Thursday morning’s final full practice of the week at Husky Stadium.
“Understanding the consistency factor — whether we are playing home or away — and the way we approach the ball game should not change. I think our guys are understanding that. The same energy, enthusiasm, focus, attention to detail that takes place at home is the same thing we have to bottle up and take on the road with us.”
The coach then laughed.
"I like this group. They understand it. I’m laughing because they are so loose, they are so confident — yet they are so focused," he said of his team that beat then-No. 19 Boise State 38-6 in its opener Aug. 31. "They are a really fun group to coach, because they get it. I don’t feel like I have to pound it into them.”
The idea is it doesn’t matter if the Huskies are in a pulsating, cosmopolitan city such as Chicago playing in an NFL stadium, in Death Valley on a Saturday night at LSU (as they were last September) or on the Palouse in an icy fog.
Anywhere. Anytime. Anyone.
It’s the mantra UW is using in its quest to improve a 3-10 record away from Seattle the last two seasons.
As senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said: “Doesn’t matter where we are. The grass is still green.”
Still, Chicago has some features you just don’t find anywhere.
Such as Dick Butkus. The Illinois All-American linebacker who played against UW in the 1964 Rose Bowl then went to star for the NFL’s Bears eventually got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Butkus will be a big part of Saturday’s “Chicago Homecoming” festivities for the Illini at Soldier Field.
Is Sarkisian going to hang a Butkus, 51 jersey in the UW locker room to acclimate the Dawgs to the Bears’ lair Saturday.
“No,” he said. “I might do a ‘Sweetness’ jump into the end zone.”
That, of course, is a reference to legendary Bears running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton, another Hall of Famer who played at Soldier Field.
It’s not like the Huskies come here often. Saturday will be their second game ever in Chicago. The other one: 1929, when coach Enoch Bagshaw brought Washington to play the University of Chicago at Amos Alonzo Stagg Field.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian said he wants to get some more depth developed on the offensive line by using more blockers in games, perhaps against Illinois. He and line coach Dan Cozzetto counted the starting five — Micah Hatchie, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Colin Tanigawa and Ben Riva, from left tackle to right tackle — playing 83 of UW’s 85 offensive plays in the opening win over Boise State. "I’d like to get some experience for those (reserve) guys," Sarkisian said. "We have to prepare ourselves for things that might come about, contingency plans, things of that nature. So hopefully we can get a couple of those guys a few more reps this week." Current reserve James Atoe has four games of starting experience at tackle and at guard from last season. Erik Kohler is a two-year starter on the line but has yet to practice or play since spring ball because of a foot injury. Kohler, who can play every position on the line, was in full pads while limited during practices this week without a walking boot on. … This is the 10th meeting between the Huskies and Illini, but first since 1971. Illinois is scheduled to play the return game of this home-and-home series Sept. 13, 2014, at Husky Stadium.