Polk Helps Husky Running Game Excel

Sept. 10, 2009

by Jeremy Cothran

SEATTLE - As he made his way for second helpings of pizza last Monday, Chris Polk hobbled over to the table a little more slowly than normal. The redshirt freshman was showing a bit of the fatigue that running backs will often feel on a Monday, but it's nothing some rest and bag of ice can't fix.

'I'm sore, but I know I can stand it,' Polk said with a grin. 'But as long as we have ice and our trainers are here, I'll be fine.'

Polk earned plenty of praise himself for the blue-collar work he did against Louisiana State last week. Facing an athletic defense loaded with hard hitters, Polk nevertheless did a lot of his running between the tackles, to the tune of 90 yards on 21 carries. He also caught two passes for 34 yards. But when coaches dissected hours of game tape afterwards, they noticed the little things Polk also had success at, such as throwing his 200-or-so pound frame into oncoming LSU blitzers to stymie their pass rush. The rush-happy Tigers ended up with only two sacks - and those came on an intentional grounding play and on the play when Jake Locker's knee was ruled down as he tried to shovel a pass to Polk.

The highlight of Polk's night came on a 33-yard run, which saw the running back elude several tackles before making a cut up the sideline. The lowlight came when he fumbled inside the red zone during a key drive. But Sarkisian, who calls plays for the Huskies, wasn't gun shy about feeding Polk more carries afterwards.

'I know there's a lot of places I could improve out there,' Polk said. 'I missed some of my keys. And of course that fumble...I just have to just forget about it.'

During Sarkisian's press conference Monday, he reiterated a point he made right after the LSU game. Sarkisian had seen Polk light it up in practice. Big deal. Now he wanted to make sure he could do it in a game.

'[Chris] just played physical,' Sarkisian said. 'He brought to the stage a level of play that is expected. He brought it. Sometimes guys can do it in practice, but they're unable to do it when there are live bullets. And he responded extremely well.'

Polk arrived on the Washington campus in 2008 from Redlands, Calif., carrying big expectations as one of the top running back recruits in the nation. But his freshman season ended not soon after it began with an injured shoulder after just two games. He qualified for a medical redshirt, preserving a year of eligibility.

Healthy, leaner and more explosive, thanks to UW's noteworthy offseason conditioning program, Polk immediately stood out during spring and fall camp.

For his success in practice, Polk secured the No. 1 spot on the depth chart despite spirited challenges from other backs such as Johri Fogerson, Demitrius Bronson, Willie Griffin and Curtis Shaw. Sarkisian had plans to rotate all the backs, but mostly stuck with Polk after he sprinted out of the gate. The success of the group as a whole lends credit as well to Joel Thomas, who is in his first year coaching running backs at UW.

'Anytime your position group goes out and executes that's always rewarding,' Thomas said. 'You think: `Okay, cool, it's working.' You get out against live bullets in a different situation, it's always neat to see it come about and your work pay off.'

Part of the reason Jake Locker had so much success throwing the ball against LSU was due to the consistency of the running game. Otherwise, defenses will pin their ears back and rush the quarterback relentlessly. So if the Huskies are going to hasten their turnaround this season, it will have to come on the strength of the running backs.

Washington continues its season-opening, three-game homestand Saturday as Idaho visits Husky Stadium for a 12:30 p.m. game.

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