Saturday Is 1st Part Of UW’s Quest to ''FINISH!''
By Gregg BellUW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Huskies have been wearing their black T-shirts across campus all week, the ones with a timely demand printed in purple and gold across the chests.
This November, seven will not do.
Washington (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) returns from its bye Saturday to begin its finishing stretch, four regular-season games starting at 5 p.m. inside Husky Stadium against Colorado (3-5, 0-5 Pac-12). Though the overhauled Buffaloes have lost 13 consecutive conference games, and UW has a Friday-night ESPN game looming next week at No. 16 UCLA, the Huskies are vowing they aren’t looking past CU.
Three Keys For UW vs. Colorado
Get after the rookie
The Huskies have 24 sacks through eight games, three fewer than in all of last season. End Hau’oli Kikaha’s six sacks lead the defense. But Colorado is allowing the second-fewest sacks in the Pac-12, just 13. If Kikaha and his defensive-line pals can pressure freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau in the Tacoma native’s fourth career start for CU, with the defense not having to blitz much, that will allow UW to devote more coverage to Buffs’ standout wide receiver Paul Richardson.
Let it fly
Usually this is where we say Bishop Sankey needs to run. And the nation’s third-leading rusher will get his chances again, to be sure. But this week Sankey may be most dangerous setting up Keith Price for play-action passes -- and another huge day against CU. He has completed 75 percent of his throws with nine TDs and no interceptions in his last two games against Colorado. And this Buffs’ defense is ranked 104th out of 123 FBS teams against the pass.
Start fast, play faster
Steve Sarkisian wants a faster pace from his no-huddle offense than he’s gotten the last several games. It will be key for UW’s young wide receivers who are stepping up for injured Kasen Williams to know their assignments and to process them quickly, because of the Huskies get off to a fast start it could put more doubt into a team that has lost 13 consecutive Pac-12 games.
They can’t afford to. Not with their goal in reach of progressing past the three consecutive seven-win seasons they felt should have been better.
Sure, one more victory gets the Huskies qualified for a bowl for the fourth consecutive season. But they are focused on way more than that.
"This is our first step to ultimately achieve our goals at the end of the season, so we are not overlooking anybody,” quarterback Keith Price said.
“We understand we can't have seven wins (again this season), you know what I mean?”
The Huskies will be wearing white helmets with special, red-white-and-blue, block W logos to commemorate Veterans Day. There will be in-game video presentations by UW players to servicemen and women, and by military members filmed at military locations around the world tmblr.co/ZRc2tqzr2vBw .
The Huskies have Colorado, UCLA, plus a Nov. 23 test at pass-prolific Oregon State (6-3, 4-2) then the Nov. 29 Apple Cup at home against Washington State (4-5, 2-4) left on their schedule. They are 5-0 in five seasons under coach Steve Sarkisian in the games immediately following a regular-season bye. That includes wins at No.18 USC in 2010, over eighth-ranked Stanford last season and in September of this season, 34-24 over Illinois in Chicago.
In 2011, Sarkisian’s Huskies returned from a bye to beat Colorado at home 52-24. Price threw for four touchdowns in that game. He threw for a school record-tying five more last November against the Buffaloes in Boulder.
In his last two games against Colorado Price has completed 43 of 57 throws (75 percent) for 505 yards, with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a passing efficiency of 202.0; an efficiency of 150 is considered good. Price is at 150.6 this season, with 16 touchdowns against four interceptions through eight games. And this Colorado defense is ranked 104th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the pass.
The fifth-year senior and UW record-holder with 70 touchdown passes needs two more TD throws to tie Carson Palmer (1998-2002 at USC) for 10th all-time in the Pac-12. He looked fully healthy and refreshed in sharp practices this week, after resting his previously banged right thumb.
“Oh, man, it’s 100 percent right now,” Price said of his thumb. “I’ve had a lot of time, almost two weeks to rest it, so it will be good.”
This week will be the first game Price has ever started at UW without having Kasen Williams as his trusted, physical wide receiver. The rugged junior is out for the season following surgery to repair the broken leg and foot ligament displacement he sustained two weeks ago against California.
Sophomore Jaydon Mickens, Price’s top target through eight games with 45 catches, moves into an even more prominent role now. So do Kevin Smith, John Ross, Marvin Hall and true freshman Damore’ea Stringfellow.
Price and Sarkisian believe Stringfellow, at 6-3 and 225-pounds, can make the same physical plays Williams can.
“He might be stronger than Kasen is. Not sure he can jump higher than Kasen, though,” Price said, knowing Williams was a state high-school high-jump champion at Skyline in the Seattle suburbs.
Price has another reason beyond health, rest and CU’s arrival to make him perk up. He is getting back fiery, brutish left guard Dexter Charles Saturday. The sophomore missed the loss at Arizona State then the win over Cal two weeks ago because of a shoulder injury he got Oct. 12 against Oregon.
“Having him definitely gives me a little more confidence,” Price said of the linemen who is known to verbally kick his own quarterback in the backside during games, if need be.
Sarkisian calls Charles “obviously an important piece to what we do” on offense.
On defense, the important piece for UW will be pressuring Colorado’s freshman quarterback. Sefo Liufau of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma is making his fourth career start. His first one was Oct. 19 against Charleston Southern, after Connor Wood had completed only 53 percent of his passes.
Last week Liufau hit on 25 of 36 throws for 247 yards and a touchdown at UCLA. Colorado lost 45-23 to the Bruins, after leading 10-7 to begin the second quarter. The Buffs got out-scored 28-3 over the next two periods.
Sarkisian and his staff recruited the 6-foot-4 Liufau out of Bellarmine Prep, where he threw 68 touchdown passes and won 34 of 39 games as a three-year starter.
Washington is third in the Pac-12 with 24 sacks through eight games, a vast improvement over last season when it produced just 27 through all 13 games. Senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha has surged recently, dominating one-on-one blocking against offensive tackles outside. He leads the Huskies with six sacks, and this week was named to the District 8 all-academic team. The ethic-studies major with a minor in anthropology has a 3.49 grade-point average. Kikaha is in the running to become Husky football’s first Academic All-American since center Ed Cunningham in 1991.
But his job may be tricky Saturday, as Colorado has been good at protecting its quarterbacks. Its 13 sacks allowed this season are tied for second-fewest in the conference.
A key will be Kikaha and the defensive line’s ability to get pressure without UW having to blitz much. Blitzing would sacrifice some coverage combinations against wide receiver Paul Richardson, who is second in the Pac-12 with averages of seven catches and 123 yards receiving per game.
“We need to know where he is, that’s for sure,” Sarkisian said of Richardson.
He will be running routes against a Huskies secondary that will have Kevin King starting for injured Will Shamburger at safety. King, from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., will be the first true freshman to start for Washington this season.
Just in time to follow the commands of those FINISH! T-shirts the Huskies have breaking out each November the last few seasons.
“We are looking at this as the fourth quarter of our season,” said junior defensive tackle Danny Shelton, another of those who will be trying to pressure Liufau most. “We have always talked about how we have to finish. The big picture is to finish hard these last four games.
“Twenty-five or so days, and we’re done.”