In this Washington football season of extremes, Bishop Sankey is a constant as pleasant as the humble grin that often adorns his face.
He’s so steady that you can take him for granted — until the Huskies are struggling and in need of his inevitable production. Then Keith Price will hand the football to his star running back, and with deft skill under pressure, Sankey is patient enough to find a place to run.
Just when it seems the Huskies are ready to implode, Sankey is always there. When coach Steve Sarkisian gets too pretty and overthinks things on offense, he finds balance by calling Sankey’s number. And Sankey is at his best in these moments, only to slip comfortably back into a supporting role when things are going well.
You’ve heard of the KISS principle, right? Keep It Simple, Silly. For the Huskies, it should be Keep It Simple — Sankey.
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As in: Don’t get carried away. Just give Sankey the ball.
His importance to this football team is understated, even though we state it all the time. He has been the nation’s leading rusher for much of this season and received the praise that comes along with it, but that’s still insufficient. The Huskies’ new up-tempo offense would be far more chaotic without him.
Washington’s 41-17 victory over California on Saturday night proved to be the quintessential Sankey performance. The Huskies (5-3, 2-3 in the Pac-12) ended a three-game losing streak by returning to their roots. Running behind an inspired offensive line, Sankey rushed for a career-high 241 yards, the eighth-most in school history, and became only the fourth Husky ever to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in multiple seasons. But ultimately, his greatness merely made it possible to praise some of his teammates.
When the game lacked flow and efficiency, Sankey was the Huskies’ crutch, running for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including a 59-yard dash with 1:08 left before halftime that finally made the game a rout. Then Sankey sat back and let other story lines dominate the second half.
You’ll hear much about Price throwing for 376 yards and accounting for three touchdowns in an amazing bounce-back game after playing poorly at Arizona State last Saturday. You’ll hear much about speedy sophomore wide receiver Jaydon Mickens catching six passes for 180 yards and two long touchdowns. You’ll even hear much about the Huskies gaining 642 yards and Austin Seferian-Jenkins being more involved in the game plan and Kasen Williams suffering a probable season-ending foot injury that could make the rest of the Huskies’ season difficult.
But everything good about the Washington offense starts with Sankey. He is a stabilizer.
“We had some complementary passes off of Bishop, with play-action and things like that,” Price said. “That was a breakout game for him.”
For certain, it was the finest game, statistically, of Sankey’s college career. But it just seems like another high in a career full of highs. Ever since Sankey burst into the open field for that 61-yard run on fourth down last season against Stanford, he has been a dynamic back who continues to exceed expectations.
After a rare off game from the junior last week at Arizona State, it was important that the Huskies re-establish their most consistent player. A week ago, Sankey ran the ball only 13 times and finished with just 22 yards. It was his lowest total of the season, and the fewest rushing yards he had produced since gaining only 16 yards in his first collegiate start against LSU on Sept. 8, 2012. The Huskies suffered a humiliating 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and in the days following the game, Sarkisian lamented not giving the ball to Sankey more despite the struggles during his initial carries.
Keep It Simple — Sankey.
Sarkisian won’t make that mistake again. Sankey had 27 carries against Cal, and he also caught a pass for 12 yards.
“When he gets his opportunities, he’s so consistent,” Sarkisian said. “When the defense makes a mistake, he’s there to make them pay.”
Sankey has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of eight games this season. Besides the Arizona State game, he failed to hit triple digits only against Idaho State, when he ran just four times for 77 yards and sat out the final three quarters of a 56-0 game.
When the Huskies feed Sankey, they aren’t as erratic.
“I like how we responded,” said Sankey, who has 1,162 rushing yards (145.2 per game) this season. “We really got the job done.”
That job is much easier when Sankey is the focal point of the offense.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer