Rapidly Maturing Dawgs Get Another Measuring Stick
Oct. 2, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Supersonic, No. 2 Oregon plays with a pace that can make one's head spin.
Asked the difference between the Ducks this season and those against whom he schemed as defensive coordinator for Boise State in 2009 and Tennessee in 2010, UW's first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox shrugged Tuesday.
"Warp and mach. What's faster?" Wilcox said.
That plus the fact Autzen Stadium will be packed with natives that don't exactly have warm, Ducky thoughts toward Huskies mean UW's newest asset - maturity - will come in handy this weekend in Eugene.
"I think we're gradually maturing as a football team, in that we understand how to deal with some of the adverse situations we get faced with. And with that, I believe we're becoming a much more mentally tough football team," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said during preparations this week for Saturday's showdown between No. 23 Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) and the Ducks (5-0, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive, real-time game chat).
Sarkisian called his young team's rapid maturity and increase in mental toughness since the loss Sept. 8 at LSU "encouraging."
"I felt really young coming out of LSU," the coach said. "It felt like we had some guys...as a whole I felt like we lacked a bit of the inexperience in being dealt with adversity. So many times when you're young guys, when it's good it's really easy to keep playing good. But when it gets hard, how do you respond?"
His Huskies have responded with a 52-13 ambush of Portland State, which UW placed at that place in the schedule to do exactly what it did: raise, and in this case restore, confidence heading into Pac-12 play.
Then came last Thursday's grinding, 17-13 upset of No. 8 Stanford. Washington's second win over a top-10 team in seven tries since Sarkisian arrived in 2009 happened because the Dawgs stunned the Cardinal at its own, smash-mouth game: running the ball and stopping the run.
So much for three consecutive, blowout losses to Stanford. The mindset is like the results: Changed.
"This is a different team than we've had in the past," the coach said. "I think teams in the past we had guys who had lived through a whole bunch of adversity in the past and all that.
"We've got the majority of this roster is here with the expectation that we are going to win a championship in their time here. And that's what their focus is."
UW rallied from 13-3 down to Stanford late in the third quarter, after Keith Price's swing pass outside was tipped by outside linebacker Trent Murphy to himself and returned for Stanford's only touchdown.
When the game was at a similar tipping point last month at LSU, with the Huskies trailing 14-3, UW didn't respond. The Tigers scored the final 27 points.
"Earlier in this season, if we would have thrown that pick-six like we did against Stanford there late in the third quarter to go down 13-3 -- a two-score game against that quality of an opponent -- I don't know if we could have responded the way that we did," Sarkisian said.
"So for us to go out and respond and to ultimately score a touchdown on that drive (versus Stanford) and then come back and continually get stops on defense, and the defense to stand up and not feel like, 'Oh geez, the offense let us down,' I thought we showed a great deal of maturity there.
"It wasn't a matter of what the score was or what just happened to us. It was about, `What are we going to do now and how are we going to be successful from this point forward?'"
Adversity will undoubtedly hit again at Oregon. The Ducks have won eight consecutive meetings with the Huskies. The defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions have scored 30 or more points in 18 consecutive games. They have the nation's 10th-leading rusher in speedy Kenjon Barner (121 yards per game), a do-it-all comet in De'Anthony Thomas and a fast, accurate quarterback in redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, who is second in the conference in passing efficiency.
Yet the Huskies' messaging and mindset will remain the same as it was before Stanford.
"I think the messaging has just become more consistent," Sarkisian said. "It's about us and our ability to prepare and to do the little things, the attention to details within our game plans and the messaging to put ourselves in the best position to be successful on Saturday.
"And so that will continue to be that way."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: UW has only one player from Oregon: James Atoe. The redshirt sophomore from The Dalles is likely to make his second consecutive start at RT Saturday. ... Seven of the last 10 meetings with Oregon, including this one, have been in Eugene. The Ducks hold a 15-12 edge at Autzen Stadium in the rivalry -- Oregon's home games against UW were in Portland for much of the last century.