Refocused Huskies Looking Forward
Sept. 23, 2009
By JEREMY COTHRAN
SEATTLE - Almost from the moment Washington upset then-No.3 USC, the adulation has been pouring onto Montlake.
Highlights of students storming Husky Stadium became a prominent fixture on ESPN and other college football shows. Coach Steve Sarkisian's mobile phone might have caught fire after the sheer number of interviews he's done this week. The ticket office phone has been a constant buzz with requests. The national press has latched onto the Huskies story as well, drawn to Washington's quick-turnaround act after a winless 2008 season.
Now the test for the No. 24 Huskies (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10 Conference) is how well they manage to deal with their newfound success. Their first hurdle comes this Saturday, on the road against the Stanford Cardinal (2-1, 1-0) at 6 p.m.
That was the topic du jour at Monday's press conference, as reporters asked Sarkisian and team members how they plan to approach this week.
'The challenge is that we can refocus,' Sarkisian said. 'That we can lock back in and understand the value of preparation, understand the value of practice and get ready for a very tough opponent in Stanford.'
Part of Sarkisian's philosophy after games is the '24-hour rule,' meaning his players have a full day to enjoy the win or stew after a loss. After that, he expects the slate to be wiped clean and it's back to business. One of his personal challenges was trying to find a way to stay humble after receiving a slew of congratulatory calls and text messages. With that in mind, it would be safe to assume that Sarkisian tackled the topic this week during his meetings with the team.
'We've got a football team that is willing and mature,' Sarkisian said. 'We'll talk straight up about it, and we'll address it for sure.'
Or, as linebacker E.J. Savannah bluntly put it, the team has yet to accomplish any of their goals this season.
'Our motto is expect to win,' said Savannah, who is nursing a broken hand but will play. 'Take it all in and brush it off. We haven't done anything yet.'
Sarkisian echoed those words. He doesn't want his players focusing on the positives others are writing/saying about the football program. In fact, after dissecting the USC film, Sarkisian said while he loved his players' effort, the execution was not where he wanted it to be. He added the play of the offensive and defensive lines is still below his expectations.
The Cardinal presents another set of challenges. Both coach and players acknowledged they would have to prepare for a physical team, which features a bruising tailback in the 6-1, 235-pound Toby Gerhart, which means the linebackers could be needed to produce another big game collectively. Another concern will be special teams for the Huskies. Stanford return man Chris Owusu has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, and is averaging 52.8 yards per return.
Stanford, like UW, is tied atop the conference standings. If not for a late collapse at Wake Forest in Winston Salem, N.C., the Cardinal would be undefeated. For the Huskies to escape with a road win, Sarkisian said, would require the team's best week of preparation yet.
Not much will differ with the Huskies now that they are on the road. The team will follow their traditional practice script, outside of a flight to the Bay Area on Friday night.
As for the pressure of being asked to replicate one big win with another? That comes with the territory.
'This is where we're supposed to be,' Sarkisian said. 'We're supposed to be playing in big games. When you get used to playing in that arena, I think that's where letdowns don't occur. You feel comfortable where you're at. You don't get caught looking back on the last game.'