This is the Huskies' big chance to make a move. If they retain the lessons from Saturday's win over USC, they can live up to their preseason buzz.
The most important thing you should know in the afterlife of this latest USC whippin’ is that the Washington football team still lives on Earth. The Huskies didn’t have to exit the planet to beat the Trojans. They won with good, honest, offensively exquisite football. Therefore, they don’t need to be humbled or to have their mind-set altered this week in any way.
After last season’s signature victory over the Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian thought otherwise and might have ruined the good vibe because of it. The Huskies wound up turning that breakthrough into six losses in their next seven games. This time, Sarkisian knows better. This time, he has better, too — better team, better players, better opportunity to turn an upset into long-lasting glory.
“I think last year we were thinking in our own minds, ‘We’ve got to bring these guys back down to Earth,’ ” Sarkisian said. “Well, I think that was the wrong approach by me. Where we’re at, and beating SC on the road the way we did, we’re on Earth. Let’s stay there. Let’s not go down into the depths of hell. Let’s stay where we’re supposed to be.”
Hell hath no fury like momentum scorned. This is the Huskies’ big chance to make a move. The 2009 USC victory proved the new coaches were on the right track. This one put them back on track after a 1-2 start. Now, if they retain the lessons from that game, they can commence being the team that created such a preseason buzz.
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Last Saturday’s dramatic 32-31 win doesn’t have to be fleeting excellence. The outcome wasn’t a shocker as much as it was affirmation that this team can play to the level of its raw talent. In victory, the Huskies found themselves — on offense and in terms of developing a winning mentality. Their next challenge is to sustain it.
In this game, Sarkisian arrived as the dynamic play-caller he was expected to be when Washington hired the former USC offensive coordinator two years ago. Certainly, it helped that he was competing against his familiar ex-team. But you have to look deeper to understand the significance.
Those 536 yards represented the finest offensive day of Sark’s 16 games at Washington. It also came after his worst showing just two weeks earlier, a befuddling 246-yard output against Nebraska in which quarterback Jake Locker looked confused and overwhelmed.
In the bye week between the two dissimilar performances, the coach figured out something, and this epiphany shouldn’t spoil easily. It started with a probing, and likely unpleasant, evaluation. The Huskies did a sincere audit of themselves, and the result was a streamlined offense that looked in perfect alignment with the team’s skill set.
A lot of the game plan was USC specific, implemented to avoid trying to power up against the Trojans’ physical defensive front four, but most of it can and will be applied moving forward. The Huskies did a beautiful job of stretching the field horizontally and vertically. It was a more finesse style that Sarkisian would like — more fly sweeps, more zone-read option plays, misdirection, quarterback rollouts, naked bootlegs.
For much of the game, USC and its defensive guru, Monte Kiffin, appeared to be fooled. In a shootout, Sarkisian outdueled his friend and USC head coach Lane Kiffin, Monte’s son, who was calling the Trojans’ offensive plays.
Through his play-calling, Sarkisian admitted the Huskies aren’t the power football team he hopes they’ll eventually become. He won’t abandon those core beliefs, but while the Huskies are getting better at it, he has found a way to utilize their speed and surplus of skilled-position talent.
“I think we’re getting there,” Sarkisian said. “We have an idea of the things we do well now. And I think that’s why the bye week was so critical, to self-scout ourselves, to do the things that we do well.”
And what did they learn about themselves during that bye?
“We got a chance to really look at what we’re doing, look at numbers and stats and personnel groupings, play calls and situations,” Sarkisian said. “We had a chance to do that and really look at ourselves in the mirror. And not just individually, but as a group.
“And I think we found a little something here that can kind of keep us rolling.”
They have found out how to let Locker use his legs. They have found out how to incorporate freshman running back Jesse Callier without minimizing Chris Polk. They have found out, possibly, how to succeed in the run game without having a mauling offensive line.
“I thought we were all on the same page Saturday,” Locker said. “I just felt like there was a really, really good confidence in our game plan.”
It led to a performance that was neither out of this world nor required guys playing out of their minds. The Huskies stood right there, on Earth, feet planted firmly.
This time, there should be no descent to hell.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer