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Originally published Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 8:53 PM

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Chris Polk's tough running impresses new Huskies coaches

Redshirt-freshman tailback gained 96 yards after first contact against Notre Dame.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Arizona @ Washington, 7 p.m., FSN

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In this season of discovery for the first-year coaches of the Washington Huskies, Chris Polk has been one of the biggest revelations.

They'd seen enough of the redshirt-freshman running back through spring and fall camps to know there was a lot of potential there. But shedding tacklers at Notre Dame like flies at a barbecue? And taking over a job that seemed one of the team's most competitive and making it his own before the season was half over? That, no one really expected.

"I don't know that any of us knew that he was as physical a runner as he's been," said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. "But that's something you can't find out about your team until you go play a game. And as we started to play games, what started to show up is that he's a physical runner and continues to get better."

Just how physical became apparent when running-backs coach Joel Thomas did his usual grading of the film Sunday. One of the key stats Thomas keeps is yards after contact, or YAC. Saturday at Notre Dame, Polk had 96.

"That's pretty damn good," Thomas said.

Polk had 136 total yards against the Irish, a career high and the most for any Husky this year, though that doesn't mean he got only 40 via the O-line. Instead, Thomas counts YAC on first contact, which sometimes happened behind the line Saturday — he got 6 YAC on one 4-yard run, for instance.

Thomas' goal is for the runners to average 3 yards after contact per carry. Polk averaged almost 5 against the Irish, on 22 carries.

For Polk, that 96 meant more than any other number he has put up this season.

"Yards after contact means more to me than actual touchdowns," he said. "I like yards after contact because it shows I'm a hard runner."

That was something that some questioned after the two games he played last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and rushing for just 33 yards on 20 carries. But healthier, a year older, in better shape and having more belief in the offense have all contributed to Polk's breakout.

Thomas had said before the season he anticipated three or four tailbacks getting regular carries.

Instead, Polk has 106 carries this season, second in the Pac-10 only to Stanford's Toby Gerhart and eighth in the nation. He has a higher percentage of his team's carries than anyone in the Pac-10 at 61.9 percent. Only three other tailbacks on the team have carries, a combined 14 (quarterback Jake Locker accounts for most of the rest with 49).

UW coach Steve Sarkisian said again this week that he'd like to get more tailbacks in the game — Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson would be the next two — but that Polk has simply made that impossible.

"It's hard to take that kid out of the game when he ran the way he did [at Notre Dame]," Sarksian said. "We've got to find a way — and I keep telling you guys, week in and week out, we've got to put those other guys in there — but in that game, again it was hard to take him out."

EWU in, BYU out

UW announced Tuesday that it will host Eastern Washington on Sept. 3, 2011, the first time the Huskies will ever play a lower-division (Football Championship Subdivision) school. UW also announced it will face Hawaii on Dec. 7, 2013, in Honolulu and Sept. 19, 2015, at Husky Stadium. And UW also announced it will travel to Madison, Wis., on Sept. 2, 2017 and then host Wisconsin on Sept. 1, 2018.

UW also announced it is canceling a home-and-home series with BYU in 2011 and 2012, meaning Skyline High QB Jake Heaps will not play a college game at Husky Stadium.

UW made the moves to add another home game to the 2012 schedule, when it would have had just five. It also eases the schedule a little bit from the last few years, when UW's slate has generally been considered among the toughest in the nation.

Sarkisian said he was fine with ending the tradition of not playing a lower-division school. UW was one of just four to have never done it.

"I don't have a problem with it," he said of playing lower-division schools. "I think it's pretty commonplace now in college football. I think the ultimate goal here is obviously we are trying to win a championship and go to a bowl game and do all those things. And you've got to schedule accordingly to give yourself the best opportunity to get enough wins to be bowl eligible and take care of your football team from a physical standpoint."

NOTES

• Safety Nate Williams and WR D'Andre Goodwin remained out Tuesday with concussions suffered against Notre Dame, and Sarkisian said the team will begin preparing as if they won't play.

• WR Devin Aguilar is returning after missing the last two games with a knee injury, which would help offset the loss of Goodwin.

• With Justin Glenn out with a season-ending leg injury and Williams sidelined, the starting safeties in practice Tuesday were Victor Aiyewa and Greg Walker.

• Fogerson missed practice after falling ill.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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