Huskies could use a signature victory
Washington needs to make a statement against Baylor to show how far Steve Sarkisian has lifted the football program.
Seattle Times staff columnist
SAN ANTONIO — Ambling along, working through a rebuilding process that has been steady, if not always dramatic, the Washington football team finds itself in a familiar state this bowl season.
This time, the Huskies have been obstructed by Baylor, of all teams. But these aren't the historically hibernating Bears anymore. They're the No. 15 team in the nation. They score 43.5 points and gain 571.2 yards per game. And they're led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, a video-game athlete turned real.
The Huskies are the underdog and the afterthought, considered just a team that fizzled at regular season's end and lost its mojo. While it's true Washington lost four of its final six games after a 5-1 start, the program can still be considered on the rise. The problem is that it isn't taking to the air like a rocket. It's simply floating up there, like a helium balloon.
For certain, third-year coach Steve Sarkisian has reached the most difficult part of this ascent. As hard as it was to rise from 0-12 to consecutive bowl appearances, the jump from pretty good to very good is a greater challenge.
Despite the good things the Huskies have done during this 7-5 season, the perils of progress have become a dominant storyline, too. From the late-season swoon to the 0-4 record against the Top 25 to the defense allowing 426.3 yards per game, the Huskies have had plenty of on-field hardships. At the end of it all, as they enter Thursday night's Alamo Bowl, they need a sweet performance, just so the aftertaste of this season remains pleasant.
Sarkisian loves to say that one game doesn't define a season. But one game can alter the perception of a season. A year ago, the Huskies enjoyed the best mediocre, 7-6 season they'll ever have by manning up and defeating Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl. They need this game more than that one.
Certainly, the Huskies could lose, maybe even lose big, and avoid any carry-over into future seasons. But perception means much in college football, especially because Washington is in some intense recruiting battles for high-profile talent. The Huskies need to make a statement with a signature victory. They need the momentum. They need a reminder that, though this is a methodical rebuilding process, significant progress has been made.
This won't be the Huskies' motivation to play well. But it's a major, unstated perk. Washington State made the splashy hire of offensive genius Mike Leach, and Jim Mora joined UCLA, taking Huskies assistant Demetrice Martin with him and competing aggressively for recruits. Now is a good time to show off how much the Huskies have grown.
Sarkisian isn't a believer that a bowl game is a mere reward or a glorified exhibition. So, as usual, he has been preparing his team to win. He thinks he has the proper formula for playing well during the monthlong break before a bowl game, starting with giving his starters rest and gradually preparing his team over the course of 15 practices. USC went 5-2 in bowls during Sarkisian's time there as an assistant coach. And the Huskies looked dominant in their Holiday Bowl upset a year ago.
"We've got a formula that we believe in, and much like last year with Nebraska, revenge wasn't, I don't think, a reason why our kids went out and played well in the game," said Sarkisian, whose team had lost 56-21 to Nebraska earlier that season. "I think it's because we prepared well, and we believed in the process and believed in the plan and went out and executed the plan and prepared ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally for that moment."
During his 37-game run at Washington, Sarkisian has been good at maintaining his program's momentum and splicing in some timely, morale-boosting victories. The odd part of this season is that the Huskies haven't pulled off a true stunner. The closest thing was winning at Utah. In Sarkisian's first season, the Huskies beat two teams that were ranked when they played, USC and California. In his second season, they beat three: USC, Oregon State and Nebraska.
A victory over Baylor and college football's most beloved acronym — RG3 — would legitimize this winning season.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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