Washington opened the season with a game-saving interception to squeak past FCS opponent Eastern Washington. The Huskies have been making progress since.
At 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-12 North following Saturday’s 31-14 drubbing of Utah in Salt Lake City, Washington enters its bye week on a high.
The Huskies are on the verge of a Top 25 ranking, continuing the program’s resurgence after going 0-12 back in 2008.
While the season nearly took a troubling turn in the opener, a game that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said left him irked, the Huskies have looked better each week. That has been capped so far by last Saturday’s second-half domination of Utah.
“I didn’t like the way it looked, tasted, smelled, none of it,” Sarkisian said of the opener. “I couldn’t stand it.
“We were going through the motions versus Eastern.”
Sarkisian wanted more effort. More energy. He felt the opener was a departure from the way Washington closed the 2010 season when it won four consecutive games, including the Holiday Bowl.
Since then, Washington has held off Cal at home and provided its most convincing win of the season on the road against Utah.
“We’re playing faster,” Sarkisian said. “We’re playing more tenacious football, in my opinion, in all three phases.”
Evidence of that, plus the uptick on special teams, came during the opening kick Saturday. Linebacker Jamaal Kearse scored a touchdown after Garret Gilliland forced a Utah fumble.
The touchdown embodied what Sarkisian had been emphasizing: the importance of special teams plus maximum effort every snap.
“Now, when you watch us on film, our team characterizes the things I would want us to look like,” Sarkisian said. “We play hard, we play fast, we play physical. We may not always be right, we may not be perfect scheme wise, athletically or fundamentally, (but) I do know we play hard.”
The opening five weeks have brought various injuries, in particular several dings to Washington quarterback Keith Price.
Price has been excellent in his first five games. He ranks second in the country with 17 touchdown passes. His completion rate is 68.3 percent. He’s second in the Pac-12, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck, in passing efficiency.
But he has sprained both knees, and sprained his left ankle against Utah. It will be a quiet week of practice for Price. That was coming even if he wasn’t hurt.
“Traditionally for me, the bye week, the quarterback is pretty limited regardless of the fact of what his health is,” Sarkisian said. “This is a chance to relax for a quarterback.”
It will also be a chance for Price to assess his decision-making while scrambling. Price’s movement has allowed big plays to develop for the Huskies. It’s also allowed near big plays to develop for the opposition’s defense.