CHICAGO — On several occasions in the past six weeks, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has referred to the Huskies’ new no-huddle offense as a Ferrari capable of special things at high speed.
Two weeks ago, senior quarterback Keith Price took the keys and took off in a hurry against Boise State.
The engine has been idling since that flashy 592-yard offensive output in the 38-6 victory at Husky Stadium. After an early bye, the No. 19 Huskies (1-0) expect to rev up it up again in their longest road trip of the season. They play surprising Illinois (2-0) at Soldier Field with a 3 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network (Comcast Channel 404, DirecTV 610 and DISH Network 439).
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It’s being billed as the “Chicago Homecoming” for Illinois, which is playing at Soldier Field for just the second time. (The Illini lost to Washington State, 10-9, there in 1994.) And while it’s technically a neutral-site game, the Illinois campus in Champaign is just a two-hour drive from Chicago, and the vast majority of the expected crowd of 45,000 will no doubt be dressed in Illini orange.
“The atmosphere’s going to be awesome,” Price said. “It’s a legendary field, but we’re not there for that. We’re there to go 2-0.”
The road hasn’t been so kind to the Huskies lately. Sarkisian didn’t need a reminder that UW is 4-10 in road or neutral-site games the past two seasons.
Sarkisian admitted his tone has changed since his arrival at UW before the 2009 season with regard to preparation for road games. With this group, he doesn’t feel the need to motivate them differently, as he did last season with a live tiger before going to play the Louisiana State Tigers. (UW fans don’t need a reminder of how well that worked out.)
This team, Sarkisian insisted, has matured.
“They’re so loose, they’re so confident, but yet they’re so focused,” he said. “They’re a really fun group to coach because they get it. I don’t feel like we have to pound it into them. They get it.”
It certainly helps that the Huskies’ depth and health are better. By this time last year, UW’s offensive line, for instance, already was playing without three regular players who had gone down with significant injuries.
“I really think we’re going to go out and play great Saturday,” Sarkisian said. “They’ve been focused. This group understands it’s not about where we’re going or what the field is or what the uniforms (are) or what the weather is. It’s about our ability to perform and execute and do things right and play the way we’re capable of playing.
“That’s what I’m anticipating seeing on Saturday.”
The Huskies also should get a boost from the return of star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was suspended for the opener against Boise State after pleading guilty to DUI charges in the offseason. The 6-foot-6 junior is the team’s biggest target in the middle of the field, and one Price is surely glad to have back.
Even without Seferian-Jenkins, Price threw for 324 yards against Boise State for his best passing total since the 2011 Alamo Bowl. He became UW’s career leader in touchdowns thrown at 56.
Price probably doesn’t have to be perfect against an Illinois defense that ranks 117th in the nation in pass defense through two games, but the Huskies believe they still need more work to perfect their high-speed offense.
“We can all be better. I can be better,” Price said. “We still have a long way to go.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude