Gregg Bell Unleashed: Can't Keep Good Dawgs Down
Oct. 26, 2011
Defense Preps For Opposite, Aerial Challenge This Week
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -Feeling sick as a Dawg over what happened at Stanford?
Feel comforted this week instead.
The Huskies seem to have discovered a remedy for the blowout loss.
"It's hard for a team to come back from that, but we are mentally tough," junior cornerback and playmaker Desmond Trufant said three days after Washington (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) lost its ranking and its swagger in a 65-21 loss at undefeated Stanford.
"We have been in this situation before. We've had big losses. We're just on to the next one."
The next one is Arizona (2-5, 1-4) Saturday in the 7:30 p.m. homecoming game at Husky Stadium.
If this bounce-back game goes like the other three before it, Washington is going to be 6-2 heading into next week's showdown with conference-leading Oregon.
I'm guessing you would have taken that if offered it back in August, eh?
Of course, this is a cure that all Huskies would rather go undiscovered -- unless you enjoy allowing 50 or more four times over the last two seasons.
Steve Sarkisian, the Dawgs' high-standards turnaround maestro, sure doesn't.
"I hate losing. It sucks," the coach spat out near the locker room at Stanford Stadium following last weekend's disappointment.
But since we can't change the past, let's use it constructively. It sure beats dwelling on last weekend, at least.
It took me a hour - or three - but I found the Huskies are the only team from a Bowl Championship Series conference since the start of the 2010 season to respond victoriously three times following losses in which it allowed 50 or more points.
"Yeah," senior defensive end Everrette Thompson told me with a wry smile on his way to the team bus out of Stanford Stadium on Saturday night. "We know how to bounce back."
Like no one else. A Football Bowl Subdivision school has allowed 50 or more points while losing 107 times over the last two seasons. That team has rebounded to beat an FBS team in just 31 of those 107 instances - 29 percent of the time.
Washington and Colorado are the only two BCS schools in that span to twice win immediately following such losses. CU did it twice last fall in Big 12 Conference play, before it joined the Pac-12 this season.
No one has done what the Huskies have: Go on a four-game winning streak, including a bowl victory, immediately after allowing 50 points in a loss.
Last September, Nebraska ran past UW 56-21 at Husky Stadium. Sarkisian remade the team's psyche during the ensuing bye week, then the Huskies went down to Los Angeles and stunned USC with a final-second field goal for the second consecutive season.
Bounce Back Wins Since 2010
Last November in Eugene, top-ranked Oregon pulled away from Washington in the second half to win 53-16. The resulting weeks brought the Huskies' program-changing, four-game winning streak to close the season. That included a Holiday Bowl over Nebraska in a December rematch and led to nine wins in 10 games for UW, its best stretch in a decade.
The only loss in that stretch was six weeks ago in Lincoln when Nebraska again rolled to a 51-38 victory. The Huskies responded with three consecutive wins and its best conference start since 1997.
That start ended last week at Stanford with a thud. And here they are again.
What did Sarkisian do to begin this latest week of renewal? Sunday night the Southern California native showed he's becoming more Seattle by the week: He ordered out for Dick's cheeseburgers for entire staff. That's what the coaches munched on as they broke down film on what happened at Stanford, and what needs to happen against Nick Foles and pass-happy Arizona this Saturday.
On Monday morning, about two hours before he was going to meet with the players for the first time since the postgame locker room at Stanford, he got them pumped for Arizona. He announced the Huskies would wear their favorites, their all-black uniforms, for the third time ever on Saturday against the Wildcats.
According to quarterback Keith Price, he and his teammates needed the pick-me-up.
"Just the plane ride home. I have never seen (us like that) - even after the Nebraska game. This game was just humbling, getting our butts beat like that," Price said Monday morning of the Stanford game. "I saw tears. I saw it all.
"And I'm happy about that, that people actually care about that."
Sarkisian's "blackout" announcement effectively blacked out the players' disappointment and refocused them on this weekend.
"Oh, it's going to be fun. The `blackout.' It's going to be fun in all-black unis," Price said. "It's pretty sweet."
Sarkisian chuckled when I reminded him he's been here before with UW and come back resolutely.
"First, I hope we are not proud of that, getting blown out and coming back," he said.
RESILIENCY DEFINES SARK'S HUSKIES
Sarkisian often praises this season's senior leadership such as co-captains Cort Dennison, Jermaine Kearse and Senio Kelemete for having led the Huskies through that football hell of 0-12 in 2008. For having stayed through a turbulent coaching change those leaders admit shocked them. For having worked tirelessly to put Washington back where it had been and now is again, at the top of the conference standings instead of the bottom, competing for and in bowl games.
After going through all that, a couple 50-point scores against them doesn't seem so defining or dire.
"I think this is an extremely resilient group, especially when we get a chance to assess things and come to a common understanding of where we are as a football team. And that's why I think we can fix the in-game issues we are having," Sarkisian said. "I don't think it's for lack of mental toughness or resiliency for these guys. That's why I want to do a better job in-game.
"But out of game, it's just coming to a better understanding of where we are at, what needs to be done, what the challenge is that lies ahead. And refocusing."
Then he added a dose of the perspective he's already given his young team this week, 2 ½ years into a program revival.
"We have to understand where we're at. We're a 5-2 football team still. We're 3-1 in our conference. We've lost to two pretty dang good teams on the road," Sarkisian said. "So the process (of repairing the team's psyche) has started."
Sarkisian is proving to be the right man to cleanse the Dawgs from their sloppiest messes. Before he arrived, Washington had won just once in its previous nine tries in the games after allowing 50 points, dating to 1997. That one bounce-back win was against Idaho, in 2005.
Youth and inexperience is one explanation for the wild fluctuations in UW's performance within the last two seasons. But defensive coordinator Nick Holt sees a plus with that inexperience in a time like this.
"Our guys are pretty resilient. They're young, so they try to do what you ask them to do," Holt said.
"We need to learn from this," he said, before chuckling, "like a lot of these we've had. We have to tear off the rear-view mirror and look forward. We're facing some real good offenses here."
Trufant thanks Sarkisian and his staff for instilling that forget and drive-on mentality - to get them to, as Sark likes to say, keep climbing.
"It's just our next-play, next-game mentality," Trufant said. "We learn from our mistakes. We're not going to hide from them. We're going to get exposed. That's just the (modern offensive) game that we're in. You've just got to have thick skin and hang tough. We've just got to bounce back.
"I think that's our identity," Trufant said. "We'll be ready for this weekend."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.