`On edge' Huskies Arrive In Oregon To Face Beavers
Nov. 18, 2011
Montana To Make First Career Start At OSU
By Gregg Bell
Chris Polk is overdue for an extensive work day.
And the Huskies are cranky.
The last subplot may prove to be the most important one for Washington against Oregon State in Corvallis Saturday.
"I think we're a little ... on edge is the best way to say it," coach Steve Sarkisian said on the eve of the Huskies (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) playing the Beavers (2-8, 2-5) in Reser Stadium beginning at 12:30 p.m. on ROOT Sports television regionally, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com in another live game chat with play by play and analysis.
It's Washington's first chance to fix some of what went wrong last weekend in a 40-17 loss at USC, a game the Huskies feel should have been far more competitive.
"I'm glad it's a 12:30 kickoff, that we can get up and go instead of sitting around waiting," Sarkisian said. "Our guys want to perform. They want to go play. When you don't perform well in a ball game you want the opportunity to get back up and do it again.
"I think they are kind of chompin' at the bit to get back out there. It will be key for us to come out with a lot of energy. We know Oregon State is going to come out with a lot of energy. Reser Stadium is always kind of a little bit of a hostile environment. So we've got to make sure that our energy is right -- and we've got to start from the opening whistle."
Montana, a redshirt freshman, is debuting as a starter because Price sprained his knee while USC sacked him four times.
Sarkisian said Price will be available on an emergency basis only against Oregon State. But the idea is to hold him out so the redshirt sophomore with 25 touchdown throws - second most in any UW season - can return next week in the Apple Cup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Montana ran the first-team offense in practice this week as his mother Jennifer and Hall-of-Fame quarterback father Joe watched. They are expected to be in Corvallis, too. They were in Los Angeles to see Nick throw his first career touchdown pass to Kasen Williams at the end of the loss at USC.
"We believe him and his team believes in him," Sarkisian said.
Montana's most important task at Oregon State may be executing many clean handoffs and pitch outs to Polk. Sarkisian has vowed this week he will get the sputtering offense back in gear through its running game while acknowledging his 1,132-yard back needs far more than the nine carries Polk had at USC.
Oregon State is 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 184 yards per game. In the Beavers' last three games - losses to Utah, Stanford and Cal - they have surrendered a whopping 821 yards on the ground. Utah is eighth in the conference in rushing offense, yet romped for 225 yards against Oregon State.
In two previous games against the Beavers, Polk has averaged 111 yards rushing.
"Regardless of who the quarterback is, if we are going to be successful we've got to run the ball," Sarkisian this week.
"Chris Polk having nine carries isn't good enough to win in November."
In 11 career games at UW during November and December, Polk has rushed for 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns. He's averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 123 yards per game in November and December on the ground.
Defensively, the Huskies must be quick outside and tackle better they have recently. The Beavers feature big-play receivers James Rodgers and Markus Wheaton on outside runs and in its passing game. Wheaton is fourth in conference at 6.4 receptions per game and Rodgers is eighth.
The Beavers are last in the Pac-12 at just 88 yards rushing per game, but are fourth in the league at 280 yards passing per week. Freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown for 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions since taking the job in September.
"You watch them on film, and we all feel like they are better team than their record indicates," said Huskies senior middle linebacker and co-captain Cort Dennison, who spent this week leading a buck-up in intensity and urgency. "They play just as hard if not harder than any team in the conference. They play extremely hard. They are all very physical. They have great skill with Rodgers and Wheaton. They will do a lot of things with fly sweeps to try to get them the ball.
"We just have to be in tune with our responsibilities and execute the game plan."
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt remains unhappy with his defense's tackling but sees improvements in first-time starters such as defensive end Andrew Hudson, outside linebackers Princeton Fuimaono and John Timu, safety Sean Parker, and cornerback Greg Ducre.
"We are all around the football. We've had our opportunities," Holt said of the Huskies' allowing 74 points in losses to Oregon and USC the last two games. "There's just too many missed tackles, and we are playing really good athletes.
"When we get in space, we have to make our plays. We are there. We just haven't had the confidence. We are hesitating. We have to be a little more aggressive."
More aggression. That fits the offense's intent of re-establishing Polk and his rugged running.
And it fits the Huskies' mood upon their arrival in Oregon.
QUICK HITS: Washington has won its final two regular-season games in each of the two previous seasons Sarkisian has been its coach. ... The Huskies had a little more of a road trip than they expected Friday. Their charter flight from SeaTac Airport to Salem was diverted because Salem's airport lacked de-icing equipment for a Boeing 737, and the pilots expected ice to be a factor for the return flight home following Saturday's game. The team flew instead to Eugene, where there is de-icing equipment, then bused about an hour north to its hotel in Salem. They arrived at about 7 p.m. They have a 35-mile bus ride south to Corvallis Saturday morning.