Huskies played without fear against USC; can that continue?
Saturday's win over USC put Washington back on the right track this season. The team lived off a pregame message to play with passion and didn't focus on mistakes.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Arizona St. @ UW, 7 p.m., FSN
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The message for the Washington Huskies from their coaches in the two weeks heading into the USC game was simple — play with an absence of fear.
But just in case they needed a last little reminder, they got one Friday in an emotional speech from UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who spoke to the team just as it was getting ready to leave for the airport.
"He was sweating, he was spitting," said linebacker Cort Dennison of what was a rare time for Holt — who like head coach Steve Sarkisian worked at USC before coming to UW — to speak to the entire team. "He brought a passion about his talk, about the belief we needed to bring in each other. And he emphasized that you can't do anything in one quarter, it's got to be four quarters. And if you don't play with a fear, you are going to play faster and play better as a unit. And when he told us that we really tuned into it and believed what he said."
The result was a 32-31 defeat of USC that righted a season that was threatening to derail after a 1-2 start.
The trick now will be to carry that same feeling into the rest of the season, starting with Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Arizona State. A victory would give UW a winning record in October for the first time since 2006.
Sarkisian, though, doesn't want his team worrying about the big picture.
He said Monday that he thinks part of the reason for the lackluster performances in the first three weeks — he included the Week 2 win over Syracuse in his analysis — is that maybe the team had gotten too caught up in the high expectations for the season and what each game might mean.
"Guys were already worried about 'bowl this, bowl that' and whatever," Sarkisian said. "Let that deal with itself later. Let's just go play this game, this snap."
He thought that paralysis by analysis was particularly evident against Nebraska.
"I thought we got caught in that game and concerned, and all the sudden we were looking at the scoreboard," he said. "Who cares what the score is? We get to play football for 75 snaps."
Sarkisian said the coaches emphasized that point throughout the two weeks following the Nebraska game, reminding the players it was how they had performed in the last two weeks of 2009, dominant wins over Washington State and California, that had helped engender the high expectations heading into 2010.
"I felt like the last two games (of 2009), we played that way, in the absence of fear," he said. "Our guys were not concerned. And maybe it's because the bowl thing was over by that point, and we'd been worried about the bowl thing. And last year, those last two games we just played and had fun playing football the way we are capable of playing."
Quarterback Jake Locker picked up where Sarkisian and Holt left off with his own reminder of that point in a talk he gave to the team before Saturday's game.
"I looked back to the last two games of last year and I believe those were two of the best games that I'd been a part of," Locker said. "(We) didn't care if (we) made a mistake, went out and played fast and played hard and had fun and enjoyed playing the game. The results took care of themselves.
"It's something I thought about the two weeks leading up to this game and it was something I challenged the guys with. I said, 'Hey man, let's go out and play without fear today. Let's go out and have fun and enjoy the game and don't worry about making mistakes.' "
Washington was a 10-point underdog against the Trojans, a role that can sometimes lend itself to playing a little looser. But beating USC means the stakes have again been raised for the Huskies on what is possible this season.
So Sarkisian says the point to not worry about the past or the future will continue to be emphasized, pointing out that one of the team's mantras is "next snap," meaning to forget about what just happened.
"Nobody wants to make a mistake," he said. "But you can't worry about not making a mistake or you will never maximize your potential. So we just talked about playing free and playing fast. And so what if we fumble the ball out of the end zone? We are going to get the ball back again. That's OK. Keep playing."
• The Oct. 16 Homecoming game against Oregon State will kick off at 7:15 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN, the school announced Monday.
• Freshman receiver/kick returner Kevin Smith fractured a thumb against USC and will be out a few weeks. Jesse Callier, Sean Parker and Taz Stevenson will fill his role as returner.
• Kicker Erik Folk was named Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week after going 4 for 4 on field goals, hitting the game-winner as time ran out.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.