SAN FRANCISCO — The Huskies no longer Bark for Sark. The temporary new theme, it seems, is to act screwy for Tui.
A turbulent three weeks in the wake of Steve Sarkisian’s departure segued into a wild and crazy night of big plays, untimely injuries, explosive kickoff returns, and, ultimately, a 31-16 Husky victory over Brigham Young in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
It was only fitting the Huskies squeezed out a few last dollops of turmoil before the kickoff Friday.
A report leaked out early in the day that defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox would be USC-bound after the game. And then came the announcement that fifth-year senior safety Will Shamburger had been sent home for a violation of team rules. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters was benched a quarter for academic reasons.
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Hey, what’s another few distractions for a team that has been bombarded by them? Afterward, interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo said he didn’t like using the word distractions, substituting the euphemism “festivities” instead.
Playing on the same field where Husky grad Tim Lincecum paved the way to two Cy Young Awards and two World Series titles, the Huskies answered the million-dollar question: How would they react to all the adversity, er, festivities, that has spun their way?
Not aversely, as it turned out, though the game itself presented another crowded menu of challenges. For instance, the Huskies faced a fourth quarter without quarterback Keith Price and leading rusher Bishop Sankey, both out with injuries.
And still they prevailed in a gutty, giddy performance that cemented a nine-win season and showed the resiliency of young minds.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “They wanted this, and through some turmoil, they stayed together, they stayed focused and they came down here with a purpose.
“Our guys just continued to fight and that’s what I love about them. That’s what I remember playing with as a player, guys who were going to fight, guys who were going to compete and weren’t afraid to stick their nose in there.”
Most of the heavy-duty questions still remain, of course. Like what will happen to Tuiasosopo, who must now weigh a reported offer to be tight-ends coach on the staff of Chris Petersen. (Remember him? He can come out of the shadows now and start running the Husky show.)
No matter what he decides, Tuiasosopo now can boost a 1.000 winning percentage as head coach, joining former Husky legend Gil Dobie in the no-loss club. Of course, Dobie was near-perfect (58-0-3) for nine seasons, from 1908 to 1916. Baby steps. Tuiasosopo only enhanced his résumé by the way he kept the Huskies together during his tenure.
“I had the easy job. I got to stand back and watch these guys play,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “My joy comes through them.”
Other Husky coaches, in limbo since Sarkisian left, will soon get some clarity on their futures. But rather than turn that uncertainty into debilitating tension, the Huskies went the opposite direction.
“Nothing really changed about practice,’’ Price said. “We were still getting the amount of reps needed. But it was looser. You could definitely feel a sense of looseness, even with the coaches. … Obviously, their jobs are all in the air, but it was fun, getting out there and competing and getting to nine wins.”
Sankey has his own uncertainty to deal with, faced with the choice of jumping to the NFL or returning for his senior season. Austin Seferian-Jenkins announced after the game that he will turn pro.
Each left their calling card. Sankey ran for two touchdowns in the first half, while ASJ hauled in a 16-yard TD pass from Price to start Washington’s second-half scoring.
In the category of providing tantalizing glimpses of what might lie ahead, the honor went to true freshman John Ross, whose 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter was a thing of beauty.
Both coaches played it fast and loose at times, as it should be in a bowl game on which the fate of the western world doesn’t hang.
Tuiasosopo’s first big decision came on a fourth-and-one in BYU territory in the first quarter. He went for it, and Sankey got the first down. His second big decision came a few moments later on fourth-and-one at the 3. He went for it again and Sankey was thrown for a 9-yard loss.
Price ended his outstanding Husky career in winning, though painful, fashion. He threw a bad interception in the third quarter, bringing to mind his costly pick late in last year’s bowl loss to Boise State. Though, to be fair, Price was already hobbled by his rib injury and absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play that should have warranted a flag to negate the interception.
Price exited shortly and Cyler Miles took it the rest of the way, leading a drive to a field goal as the Husky defense, a bit sketchy in the tackling department in the first half, pitched a shutout after intermission.
Nothing screwy about that.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.