This is the moment that Huskies fans have waited for since Don James’ run of excellence. They’ve dabbled in national prominence since then, but on Saturday, with the eyes of the college football world on them, the Huskies have their best chance, by far, to make a statement.
ATLANTA — Washington cornerback Sidney Jones was asked the other day about the lack of respect (allegedly) afforded West Coast teams by those in other regions.
“Maybe they just don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been out here a few days, and it’s been 1, 2 o’clock in the morning when some of those games are on. I wouldn’t be up every night watching. Maybe they don’t know about West Coast football.”
Then Jones paused and added, “Everybody will be watching come Saturday.”
For the Huskies, this is that moment, that pulpit, that opportunity when they step onto the Georgia Dome turf to face top-ranked and unfettered juggernaut Alabama on Saturday in a national semifinal.
This is that platform from which to announce that the Huskies belong back on the national stage, that spotlight to shine on the stunning advancements in the program since Chris Petersen arrived three years ago.
This is the moment that Huskies fans have waited for, not at all patiently, since Don James’ run of excellence disintegrated amidst Pac-12 sanctions and his abrupt resignation more than two decades ago.
They’ve dabbled in national prominence since then, but on Saturday, with the eyes of the college football world on them — mainly to see how badly, and in what fashion, Alabama is going to crush them, judging by the consensus opinions — the Huskies have their best chance, by far, to make a statement.
Not that Petersen speaks in that language. For him, it’s all about normalization, and process, and making this game as similar as possible to all the others so as not to have his players overcompensate, and get over-amped.
That’s what good football coaches do — none better than his opponent, Nick Saban, who partially learned that art from the master, Bill Belichick, during a stint as Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.
“I think all the games are the same,” Petersen said at Thursday’s media day. “I don’t feel one bit more pressure, less pressure we play in these games. I mean, I really don’t, ever. I never have since the first game I ever coached. When I was a JV coach at UC Davis playing in front of 50 people, it honestly feels the same for me.”
But don’t let him fool you. Petersen, like Saban, knows full well what’s at stake. His players know what’s at stake. And it’s ample. A Washington victory would not only be regarded as one of the biggest upsets in college football history, considering the stage of the season and the Huskies’ status as 14-point underdogs. It would also fully announce Washington’s arrival as one of the elite teams in the nation, more than just this year’s hot item, a shooting star.
It’s important to note at this point, however, that’s it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition for the Huskies, not win or go bust on the national stage. That would be a dangerous standard to set playing against a team that is regarded as possibly Saban’s most talent-laden Crimson Tide squad after a run of four national titles in the past seven seasons.
In college football, success often begets more success, at least for a stretch, as recruits are lured to the programs that thrive, and where they believe they can win immediately. Regardless of what happens Saturday, Washington has a strong core of players returning, a strong core of recruits coming in, the bump of playing in a national showcase, and a coach who has shown he can build and sustain an elite program.
But can they do the impossible against Alabama (impossible, at least, judging from the slightly condescending tone of questions here all week)?
Sure they can. But they will have to play mistake-free football, force some turnovers, rattle Alabama’s true-freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, break a big play or two, and hope that the Tide’s overwhelming array of next-level talent doesn’t, well, overwhelm them.
Budda Baker noted that Alabama doesn’t have a glaring weakness. What he didn’t need to say is that they have glaring strengths all over the field. They are led by a coach rapidly making a case as the best ever, causing even the legendary Bear Bryant to share some of his vast shadow among Tide fans. This will be a de facto home game for Alabama, whose fan base is only a short drive away. All the tangibles and some of the intangibles are tilted toward Bama.
But Psalm Wooching had a nice comeback for all that, after offering up copious praise of his own.
“I mean, no team is perfect,” he said. “I mean, if they were perfect, they would score on every play. They’d pick the ball, get a sack on every play and that’s not the case.
“So I’ll leave it at that. No team is perfect. Thank God.”
It has now been nearly a month since the Huskies heard the good news that they had made the collegiate Final Four, accompanied by the daunting news that their foe would be Alabama.
They have had four weeks to rest, heal, prepare and answer an endless stream of questions about it. Petersen has been asked 4,232 times (I counted) about his philosophy of trick plays, to the point that he grumbled on Friday, “Well, you guys have ruined half our game plan talking about trick plays so much that now that’s a thing, so those are out.”
The time for talking is now, officially, over. For the Huskies, this is the moment.