Plan B For UW Running Game: Bishop, And A Crew
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Just one game into 2012, Plan B for life after Chris Polk is already in effect for the Huskies' rushing offense.
Plan Bishop, that is.
Jesse Callier's season ended when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last weekend in the 21-12 victory over San Diego State. So much for the 1A and 1B pairing UW was planning with Callier and Bishop Sankey.
Now? What a week for Sankey to make his first college start.
On a Saturday night at LSU, the nation's third-ranked team and national runner-up last season. Primetime, ESPN television. Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, with 92,000-plus screaming and a caged tiger roaring.
All this, just two games into his sophomore season.
"It's a great team. We are playing at a great stadium," the understated Sankey said. "I'm excited to be going down there."
For all the criticism quarterback Keith Price heaped upon himself for Washington's offense going scoreless over the last three-plus quarters in its opener, UW knows it will take far more than Price to challenge LSU.
It will take a more consistent tackling from the Huskies' aggressive defense. It will take more consistent stonewalling by the changing offensive line.
And it will take the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Sankey seizing this opportunity to be the primary rusher for the first time in coach Steve Sarkisian's offense, one that has always been grounded in the running game.
"We're going to find out more about Bishop Sankey in a hurry," Sarkisian said in advance of his Huskies (1-0) leaving Thursday for Baton Rouge, five days after Sankey gained 66 yards on 22 carries against San Diego State.
Sankey also lost a fumble inside the Aztecs 10 in Washington's first game since 2008 without Polk leading the rushing offense.
"He got quite a few carries the other night and he responded well," Sarkisian said of Sankey. "I wish they would have blocked a little better for him. In turn, I wish he would have shown a little more patience running the ball, but I think that will come in time getting the experience there."
True freshman Erich Wilson II, who broke Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann's total touchdown record at Serra High School south of San Francisco last year, will get some carries at LSU (Saturday, 4 p.m., also on the Washington IMG College radio network and here on the GoHuskies.com game chat, the web's only Huskies real-time play-by-play, pictures and analysis).
Willis Wilson, a sophomore who also moved up the depth chart last weekend after Callier got hurt, is also getting an increased role. So is Dezden Petty, a redshirt freshman and the biggest back UW has at 225 pounds.
Sankey, like Price, knows how big a loss Callier is to the foundation of Sarkisian's offense that has averaged 34 rushes per game since the coach arrived from USC in 2009.
"He was definitely a big part of the running back group. He was definitely a leader within the group. He wasn't a senior, but he had senior-like leadership. Very vocal," Sankey said of Callier. "It's going to hurt.
"But other guys will have to step up and carry the load for the rest of the season. I feel like there are other guys in the group that can step up."
Sarkisian thinks Sankey can handle an every-down, 25-carries-a-game load, if need be. And the way the LSU defensive front attacks and will be focused on Price, that need is very likely to be Saturday night on the Bayou.
"I think he can do it without a doubt. Physically he was fine (when) he had 22 carries (last week)," Sarkisian said. "I think it was a really good learning experience for him putting the ball on the ground there inside the 5 late in the third quarter. He'll respond better to that next time.
"I thought he ran a little bit conservatively after the fumble. It's hard to be a running back and run conservatively when you're not a big thumper. He has to run with his style and he has to continually emphasize keeping the ball high and tight.
"I don't want to take Bishop's stinger from him because he has big-play potential. But his big-play potential won't be there if he doesn't run with the initiative."
Sankey put on 10 pounds this offseason to handle an increased load and said he felt "pretty good" after the 22 carries against San Diego State.
One thing he's learned since become the Greater Spokane League's all-time leading rusher with 4,355 career yards at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane is that the game is so much faster as a Husky.
It will be about as fast as college football can get at LSU.
"The game's faster. The guys are bigger. Like I say, preparation throughout the week and the offseason, that has a lot to do with how you perform on game day," Sankey said, adding he is still learning how to read the blocks that develop and disappear quickly in front of him.
"Yeah, that's definitely part of the speed. Holes close faster. Yeah, there is a difference between running from high school to college."
Speedy also describes how soon his starting career came, just 13 games into his college life after Sankey chose UW over rival Washington State.
"I just trusted (running backs coach Joel) Thomas and other coaches on the staff," he said. "This is the place I wanted to be. They are able to make me the best football player I can be, as well as the best man I could be."
He'll grow up plenty at LSU.
He'll have to.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian has liked how Price has absorbed himself in the game plan this week, and the coach expects one of the exacting redshirt junior's better games Saturday. Price blamed himself for being "terrible" against San Diego State despite completing 25 of 35 passes for a completion rate four percentage points higher than his school-record of 66.9 from last season. Sarkisian said immediately after the opener that both Price and he as a play caller have performed better than they did against the Aztecs. "I like his focus," the coach said following Wednesday's practice. "Here's the thing about 17: Even when he's not having his best day it's hard to tell, because he's so good." ... What a boring UW practice, by the way. Not even a caged tiger on the sidelines or anything. ... The forecast for Saturday around the 6 p.m. local time kickoff in Baton Rouge: Temperatures near 90, high humidity and a 40-percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. Believe it or not, the rain would be a switch for these Huskies. Seattle is closing in on a record streak of no rain: 45 days and counting.