The Huskies are making adjustments on the offensive line, after tackle Ben Riva suffered a broken forearm in a season-opening victory over San Diego State. But the challenge of playing at LSU is what the Huskies signed on for when they came to Washington.
The offense was moving the ball as if it had been together for years. The young, reconfigured line was opening holes for the running backs and giving the benefit of time to quarterback Keith Price.
Against San Diego State, questions were being answered. Washington scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the season; two short, solid drives.
It was the perfect start to a treacherous first half of the season.
And then the injuries hit. Running back Jesse Callier suffered a season-ending knee injury. Right tackle Ben Riva broke his forearm. In last Saturday’s 21-12 win, the Washington offense didn’t score in the final 47 ½ minutes.
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It was a double dose of disaster, and the timing couldn’t have been worse.
This week, Washington is traveling to third-ranked LSU, whose defense is always good and is especially big and quick and smart this season. Nine months ago, LSU lost to Alabama in the national championship game. The Tigers could be returning to that game this season.
“They’re probably one of the hardest-playing teams we’ll see this year,” said Huskies junior offensive lineman Erik Kohler.
This would be a test for Washington at its healthiest. Now the secret is to make sure the test doesn’t become an ordeal.
“They’re athletic. They’re big. They’re fast,” Washington’s durable, dependable senior center Drew Schaefer said of LSU. “These guys are some of the best recruits in the country coming out of high school. They get better every year. They’ve got a lot of speed out there, and we’ve just got to communicate. Hold on to our blocks and keep Keith (Price) healthy.”
And they’ll have to do it with a line that is being re-revamped.
At Tuesday’s practice, coach Steve Sarkisian still tried different offensive-line combinations. Mostly likely, he will move right guard Kohler back to right tackle, where he played last season. And sophomore James Atoe will play right guard.
This is the kind of juggling act that can make a Husky fan nervous, anxious, maybe even a little panic stricken.
After Tuesday’s practice, however, Kohler laughed good-naturedly at the idea of a suddenly panicky Husky Nation. He reminded his interrogators that a challenge like this — against a team this good and in a stadium this loud and hot and historic — makes players want to come to Washington.
This isn’t a disaster. This is what he signed up for.
“A lot of us (offensive linemen) are very versatile,” Kohler said. “A lot of us know multiple positions. All of us can excel at those positions. We’re Division I college football players.”
Tuesday’s practice was a bit of a homecoming for Kohler, returning to right tackle.
“It’s very familiar,” Kohler said. “It’s been a little while, but I’m happy to be out there. … At tackle you’re out on an island more than anything. You’re out there by yourself. You don’t have a lot of help.
“When you’re down at guard there’s a lot more stuff going on. You have the center with you. Sometimes you have the tackle helping you. So it’s more of a physical difference and a little bit of a mental difference than being inside. It’s a slight transition. Just a different mindset, a different way of thinking.”
And a different set of defensive ends coming at him Saturday night. LSU’s Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo might be the best bookends in college football.
So this is the daunting task:
Play the third-ranked team in the country, while missing two offensive starters. Try to pull an upset in front of 92,000 fans who have been tailgating for, oh, about six or seven hours and believe Saturdays during the football season are sacred. And play in the last sultry days of summer in the Bayou, where the temperature still will be in the upper 80s.
There are different definitions of hot, and all of them apply to football at LSU.
“We’ve played in loud stadiums before,” Schaefer said. “But we’ve got some new guys getting some starts. We’ve just got to get them used to playing on the road the best we can before we actually get there.
“There’s a lot of unknown factors, and the fact that Riva’s injury did strike the first week is just something we’re going to have to deal with. But I don’t think there’s a sense of panic at all for us right now.”
These are the challenges they agreed to when they signed with Washington.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org