Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Prior to the season, the Washington
Huskies were little more than an afterthought in the Pac-12 as it was widely
believed that they lacked the talent, particularly on defense, to challenge
for a spot in the conference championship game.
With preseason No. 1 USC, the high-flying Oregon Ducks, a re-tooled Stanford
squad, and up-and-comers UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State all
garnering the bulk of the early headlines, the Huskies weren't thought about
with much regard. After the first two games it appeared as if that assessment
was accurate, as an uninspired 21-12 home win over San Diego State followed by
an embarrassing 41-3 loss at LSU had fans wondering if this was going to be
another middling campaign for their beloved squad.
As expected, UW beat up on FCS foe Portland State (52-13) in week three, and
then got a bye as head coach Steve Sarkisian used the time off to prepare his
team for its Pac-12 opener versus Stanford. The Huskies, who were a seven-
point underdog despite playing in their hometown on Thursday night, rallied to
upset the eighth-ranked Cardinal, 17-13. The win snapped a four-game losing
streak against Stanford, and was revenge for last year's 65-21 loss to the
then Andrew Luck-led Cardinal. It also broke a string of five straight losses
to teams ranked in the top-10.
While they are now 1-0 in conference, the road to Pac-12 glory gets
considerably tougher in the coming weeks, as the Huskies will face Oregon,
USC, Arizona and Oregon State before closing out the campaign against
California, Utah, Colorado and rival Washington State.
"I was talking to the team last night, the ultimate goal for tonight was to
lay down in bed tonight and be 1-0 in Pac-12 play," Sarkisian said following
the Stanford game.
"I just wanted to be 1-0 and start off on the right foot. And how we did it
and the final score didn't matter to me, it was more of playing the way we
were capable of playing, playing disciplined football."
The Huskies, who have been to just two bowl games since 2002 (both under
Sarkisian), knew they needed to perform better on defense this year as they
surrendered a school-record 467 points in 2011. Sarkisian, who is under
contract through 2015, brought in former Tennessee and Boise State defensive
coordinator Justin Wilcox to revamp the unit, and despite the 41 points
surrendered to LSU a few weeks ago, things appear to be on the upswing. Case
in point, last year Stanford ran for a whopping 446 yards against UW, but
generated just 65 yards on the ground and only 235 total this time around.
Wilcox, while obviously pleased with the way his defense performed against a
Stanford offense which entered the clash averaging 30.3 points and 356.7 yards
per game, hopes that the effort is viewed as the norm, and not the exception
"Obviously, a win like this is great for our university. It's great for our
fans. But hopefully it's not surprising," Wilcox said. "That's what we need to
expect, to play well like this."
While the defense was clearly the story of the game, the Washington offense,
led by running back Bishop Sankey's 144-yard, one-touchdown performance, did
just enough to help the team earn the victory, taking it to a Stanford defense
which came into the contest having allowed a total of 124 rushing yards in its
first three games.
Quarterback Keith Price, who has thrown 40 career touchdown passes and needs
just 14 more to become the school's all-time leader in that department, threw
for 177 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Wide receiver Kasen
Williams had the best game of his career, tallying 10 grabs for 129 yards and
Knowing full well that one win does not a successful season make, Sarkisian
hopes his players will use the momentum gained by the positive start to league
play as it continues this murderous stretch of games.
"Our guys our going to enjoy it, as well they should. But I'm not into the,
'Now we don't have to win the next two or three because we won this won and
everyone going to think that's great,'" Sarkisian said. "These guys, they are
hungry. We'll get back on the horse and start preparing for Oregon and fixing
things we need to fix about us and go to work."
Do the Huskies have what it takes to win the Pac-12's North Division? Not
likely, but it won't be for a lack of effort. Of course, if they can somehow
continue this string of upsets, then all bets are off.
Having logged back-to-back 7-6 campaigns, it's time for Sarkisian to up the
ante and return the Huskies to their rightful place among the Pac-12's best.
Time will tell if that's going to happen, but winning at Oregon next week will
go a long way toward achieving that goal.
The Sports Network