Huskies Arrive in the Palouse Full of Belief
Nov. 22, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
MOSCOW, Idaho - The Huskies gathered after practice for a Thanksgiving meal in the Founder's Club of UW's Alaska Airlines Arena.
Tight end Michael Hartvigson, for one, tweeted he believed the team was his "extended family" for the holiday.
Belief. That's what the Dawgs (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) had to be thankful for prior to Thursday's flight to Pullman and bus ride to their hotel a few miles away for Friday's 105th Apple Cup at Washington State (2-9, 0-8).
One month ago, Washington was reeling. After three consecutive defeats, the last at Arizona that left UW 3-4, coach Steve Sarkisian worked on his team's psyche as much as its scrimmaging.
"We talked (after that Oct. 20 game) about the difference between hope and belief -- when you hope to win or you believe you are going to win," the fourth-year coach said. "And you get belief through preparation. When you prepare really well you get confidence. When you get confidence you gain belief.
"And I thought our belief was wavering some. I thought we were going in with hope into the ball games.
"I think our belief is at an ultimate high for where we've been as a program right now."
Yes four consecutive wins, including over then-No. 7 Oregon State and consecutive UW victories on the road for only the second time in 10 years, have these Huskies believing.
And believe this: A fourth consecutive win over their archrival, what would be an 11th in 15 Apple Cups, would equal the program's first eight-win season since 2001. A chance for nine would come in a bowl game next month.
Don't believe this: That there's any chance of the Huskies disregarding their archrivals because they are winless in the league.
"This is Washington versus Washington State," Sarkisian said. "Records haven't mattered. They won't next year, the year after and the year after.
"This is (when) households are divided. We have a young coach on our staff whose sister goes to Washington State. That's just the way it is. I've got a coach on my staff (special-teams and recruiting coordinator Johnny Nansen) that graduated from Washington State.
"This game is about pride and emotion and the pageantry of college football. And our guys understand that."
"Pageantry" is Sarkisian's euphemism for what is likely to be another raucous Apple Cup scene. The last time UW was at Martin Stadium in 2010 some Huskies got pelted with ice that had been scraped to the corners of the stands.
The remodeled place will likely be as juiced as it has been since then. Two seasons ago it took Chris Polk's 284 yards rushing - UW's most in 60 years - plus a late drive led by Jake Locker for the bowl-bound Huskies to outlast the home-bound Cougars 35-28.
"I love the pageantry of college football, the excitement that surrounds college football. And any time you get these in-state rivalry games at the end of the year, that's what college football is all about," Sarkisian said. "So to be part of my fourth Apple Cup and for our guys is an honor. The great players and teams that have played before us, we are embracing it fully. Couldn't be more excited about the opportunity."
Even with quarterback Keith Price and sophomore 1,000-yard rusher Bishop Sankey from Gonzaga Prep High School in Spokane making their first road Apple Cup starts, Sarkisian thinks his players will be hardened by their newfound faith.
"I think with belief you minimize panic when things don't go well. There is no panic. There is no stress. There is a calming effect of knowing that this is what we need to get fixed and when we get it fixed we will be fine," he said. "And I think our coaches and our team are understanding that more each and every day."
Sankey, UW's rushing star after beginning this season as the No. 2 tailback, will have dozens of Gonzaga Prep classmates in the stands Friday -- because many are attending Washington State.
Sankey went to high school 90 miles north of Pullman and originally committed to WSU. But he said he then "fell in love" with Washington and Sarkisian's staff while on a late, January recruiting visit. Weeks later he became a Husky on 2011's signing day.
Washington is enjoying the benefits of that decision now. This month, Sankey became the 11th 1,000-yard rusher in UW history. Friday, he will be running against a Cougars defense ranked ninth in the Pac-12 against the run with an average of 171 yards allowed per game.
Sankey was born and raised into grade school in Ohio then moved west with his father, who is a sergeant in the Air Force. So it's not as if he is Island Empire or WSU to the Apple Cup core.
Yet he's been around this state long enough to know what this rivalry means.
"It's obviously a big game. It has a lot of tradition," he said. "I'm just looking forward to being a part of it.
"We'll be ready come (Friday)."
That should be doubly true for Washington's defense. It will find out around game time if senior cornerback Desmond Trufant (sore hamstring) will be able to play for the first time in two weeks.
Last season the Huskies were 116th in the nation in pass defense, 106th in total defense and 108th in scoring defense.
They are now ninth in pass defense (174.3 yards allowed per game), 29th in total defense (352 yards per game) and 36th in scoring defense (23.2 points per game). They have allowed 17, 13, 15 and three points in each game of this winning streak.
Washington State offense has thrown more than any offense in the nation this season, 571 times in 11 games. WSU is 10th in the country in pass offense under first-year coach Mike Leach. The Cougars have thrown for an average of 329 yards per game, with 23 touchdowns.
But Wazzu, with quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel, has also thrown 19 interceptions. Only Western Michigan, with 21, has thrown more in the FBS this season. Halliday may not play because of an apparent injury. So Tuel, who went with Price to the Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana this summer, may be opposite his fellow camp counselor this time.
"I think we're on a unique stage on Friday, 12:30, the day after Thanksgiving, with a national audience to let the rest of the country see how great this game can be," Sarkisian said. "This is a game where you ... throw out stats. You realize the emotion that takes over in rivalry games from 18- to 22-year-old young men.
"It's important to corral that emotion and push it in a positive direction so you can ultimately go out and execute -- and execute at a high level."