When Washington plays at LSU on Saturday it will be more than a three-touchdown underdog. But coach Steve Sarkisian and his players say they're ready for the challenge.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has set a bold goal for his team this season, to “Take the next step.”
Saturday, the Huskies will find out just how healthy of a leap they’re ready to make when they travel to No. 3 LSU for a 4 p.m. game at Tiger Stadium.
LSU is a 23 ½-point favorite, the second-largest spread the Huskies have faced in the four-year Sarkisian era (the largest came in 2010 when Jake Locker was injured and UW was a 36-point underdog at Oregon, a game the Huskies lost 53-16).
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Sarkisian and his players know that the best way to change the national perception of the Huskies as a program on the rise — but not quite there yet — is to win a game like this.
“You have to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Huskies receiver Kasen Williams. “These don’t come often. The reason why we came to the University of Washington was to play in games like these, upset teams like this.”
As the point spread indicates, though, it won’t be easy.
LSU played in the national title game last year and has hopes of a repeat despite having lost nine starters from the 2011 unit. And that number doesn’t include a couple of departures since the season began, notably star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (suspended) and left tackle Chris Faulk (who suffered a knee injury in practice this week).
The loss of Mathieu (nicknamed “Honey Badger”) leaves LSU young in the secondary, something the Huskies will try to exploit. But most observers regard LSU’s front line as among the best in the nation, and UW will be challenged greatly to give quarterback Keith Price time to let his receivers get open.
“They have a D-line that’s ferocious,” said Price, who was highly critical of his own play in UW’s 21-12 win over San Diego State last Saturday and has vowed to improve this week. “I’ve just got to continue to be patient and continue to play my game.”
Price said he left the pocket too soon a few times last week, so this week, he said, he’s going to have to trust his offensive line more and “make throws under duress.”
And even with the loss of Faulk, LSU still has an experienced and big offensive line (averaging roughly 320 pounds) to lead a potent running attack (the Tigers had 316 rushing yards in their opener against North Texas).
Washington has struggled against such offenses in recent years, and even with the Washington defense under the command of first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Tigers figure to run, run and run some more until the Huskies show they can stop it.
“Obviously the defense almost speaks for itself and the playmaking ability they have there,” Sarkisian said. “And the power running game, that they kind of lean on you and wear on you over time (to) create big runs and play-action pass and big plays there.”
The Huskies, though, have pulled a few surprises in underdog situations under Sarkisian, beating USC as a 19-point underdog in 2009 (thought to be the biggest point spread UW has ever overcome to win), and defeating Nebraska as a 14-point underdog in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
The Huskies also put a scare into LSU as a 17-point underdog in Sarkisian’s first game as coach in 2009 before losing 31-23.
This game is a return visit by UW for LSU’s trip to Seattle in 2009, and it might be tempting to use the game as a litmus test of how far Sarkisian’s program has grown. This LSU team, though, projects as being much better than the 2009 version. Then there is the obvious difference of the venue itself, regarded as one of the most intimidating in college football.
That led Sarkisian on Tuesday to arrange to have a live tiger present at UW’s practice, replicating LSU’s tradition of having its live tiger mascot stationed near the visitor’s locker room before the game.
“This isn’t new to us,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a proud history and tradition here at the University of Washington of going and playing in games like this, and we’ll embrace this one just like we have all the other ones for decades.”
Williams, a Skyline High grad who had LSU on his list of finalists before choosing UW, said he thinks the Huskies are ready.
“One thing you want to do in front of 90,000 fans that are rooting against you,” Williams said, “is make them quiet.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Huskies have been underdogs by 10 points or more 13 times since Steve Sarkisian became the coach in 2009. Washington is 7-6 against the spread in those games and has won four of the games.
at Notre Dame/11/Lost 37-30 (OT)
at Oregon State/13/Lost 48-21
at USC/10/Won 32-31
at Oregon/36/Lost 53-16
Nebraska, Holiday Bowl/14/Won 19-7
at Nebraska/17/Lost 51-38
at Utah/10/Won 31-14
at Stanford/20/Lost 65-21
at USC/11/Lost 40-17