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Originally published Monday, September 7, 2009 at 8:33 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Steve Sarkisian gets cheers for sound game, but imagine if Washington actually wins a game

Huskies are 21-point favorites over the Vandals, and when was the last time a team with the nation's longest losing streak was expected to win by three touchdowns?

Seattle Times staff columnist

Saturday

Idaho @ UW, 12:30 p.m., FSN

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An awkward thing happened to Steve Sarkisian after he lost his debut Saturday.

People celebrated him.

The USC-bred football coach didn't know how to handle it. He never will. Losing is supposed to make filet mignon taste like rubber. Excuse Sark for being as perplexed as he was appreciative.

"First of all, that's new to me," the rookie Washington coach said Monday, two days after his head-coaching career began with a 31-23 loss to Louisiana State. "I have never been congratulated so much for losing. It was nice to get the praise for playing hard, but we're trying to win the game."

Oh yeah, winning. Remember that term? The feeling it creates is infinitely more pleasurable than an admirable loss. But — warning: reference to the wretched recent history upcoming — the Huskies haven't experienced it since Nov. 17, 2007.

The Skid has lasted 15 games and nearly 22 months. It cost former coach Tyrone Willingham his job. It is the reason the Huskies now air "Lost Dawgs" commercials, hoping to inspire fans to return.

We aren't reciting the misery to torture you, however. Actually, The Skid is about to be gobbled up by the awesomeness that defensive coordinator Nick Holt referenced months ago.

The losing should end this week against Idaho. It must. The Huskies have suffered enough, and they've been diligent in putting themselves back in a position to be victors. After the decent showing against LSU, the Huskies are currently 21-point favorites over the Vandals, and when was the last time a team with the nation's longest losing streak was expected to win by three touchdowns?

"I like being the favorite," linebacker E.J. Savannah said. "You kind of play with a little more confidence. We can't take them lightly. We have to come out and play with the same tenacity and physical nature, and I think we will."

It's hard to know which is more stunning: the fall or the rapid rebound? Considering the Huskies' tradition, the fact that they're desperate to erase a zero in the Dubya column seems unfathomable. On the other hand, few programs have rebounded from futility to a sense of respectability this quickly.

Cynicism dictates that we must wonder whether the positives seen in the LSU loss were part of a valiant one-game mirage. But cynicism is tired from 22 months of pestering the Huskies. In athletics, it becomes obvious when a team starts to find its way, and we've seen Washington progress from spring football to fall camp to the season opener.

The Huskies are ready to get that long-desired Dubya. After that, well, then they can continue to try to reach for Sarkisian's high standard.

Sarkisian said he didn't fall asleep until 4:30 a.m. after Saturday night's game. He was too juiced from "the high of competition," and he watched the game tape while unwinding. His wife woke him early because they had family in town.

"We'll catch up on sleep here in the next week or so," Sark said.

He'll probably amend that to "the next year or so." The man was born for this kind of challenge.

The last time the Huskies won, they beat California 37-23 at Husky Stadium. With Jake Locker out because of a sprained neck, they ran for 334 yards, including 224 from Louis Rankin. After that performance, many felt the Huskies had captured a signature victory, but in the final two weeks of the season, Washington lost to Washington State and Hawaii.

Looking back, safety Victor Aiyewa is still miffed that the Cal victory only led to an onslaught of misery.

"I remember that we had a lot of talent on our team, and a lot of people didn't know it," Aiyewa said. "We won that game, and we thought, 'If we can beat Cal, there's no reason to think we can't beat anybody else.' "

His voice trailed off as he said, "I thought that was our coming-out party."

Instead, it was an introduction to angst. But the losing should end this week. It must. No more attaboys for hard-fought losses. It's just the way Sarkisian likes it.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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