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September 21, 2009Upon further review this is still a big win...no, a huge win...no, a monumental, program changing, career defining win!
Ever since Steve Sarkisian arrived in Seattle the Husky program has been on the rise. Known as a tireless recruiter, Sark has lived up to that billing and is accumulating big-time recruit after big-time recruit. His energy and enthusiasm was infectious, his confidence transforming, and his openness refreshing. But until September 5 rolled around there was still one huge unanswered question; can he coach?
By most calculations the LSU game answered that question. But for the cynics it was an 8-5 Tiger team that traveled across the country, played at 10:30 p.m. their time and all while breaking in a young quarterback and a new defensive line. The following week's win against Idaho didn't prove much and actually created more questions about their defense. But last Saturday after the smoke cleared, the fans went home and the reality of what the Huskies had accomplished kicked in, all doubts were erased.
Upsetting then-No. 3 USC was a sign of how far the Husky program has come in such a short time. It showed what a good coach, with a great plan can accomplish. But perhaps the most impressive observation, they played a far from perfect game.
This is a young team still finding itself, still figuring out how good they are and still improving every day. Washington only started five seniors against the Trojans. They also started five freshman and five sophomores. This is far from a finished product and that should have everyone excited.
"It's nice to come out with a victory, but we didn't play a perfect game. We left a lot of things out there," explained Locker, and his coach agrees. "We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement," Sarkisian added. "What was encouraging for me, to go out and upset USC in that game and know we didn't play great. We played hard and with great effort but we didn't play a great football game. It didn't take some superhuman effort from Jake Locker or Chris Polk or Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. We just played football hard and with great effort but we can execute a lot better than we did."
That's a scary thought for the rest of the conference. These Dawgs are still puppies and they're only going to grow bigger and stronger. In the mean time tough and resilient will work as the Husky players are beginning to take on the persona of their leaders. Sarkisian's confidence and understanding of the game was shown with Locker's arm on the final drive. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt's fire and intensity was on display as Donald Butler knifed through the defense and took down Stafon Johnson in the backfield denying USC of three points.
Washington hasn't always looked pretty, they haven't always been perfect, but you can count on these players to fight and the coaches to believe. The Huskies gave up 412 yards against Idaho. They were gashed up the gut on the first two drives against USC. Everyone including the head coach had a collective uh oh moment. But something happened, something Husky fans haven't witnessed the last few years, they kept fighting. That all starts with the coaches, it all starts with the leaders.
"It's a credit to Nick and our defensive staff to not panic and not go with calls that could have got us out of position," explained Sarkisian. "We went right back to the basics of calling our defense the way we know how to do it."
"The way we know how to do it." That simple remark is so revealing. For Sarkisian and Holt, what they know is winning. They came to Seattle via Southern California and brought along with them some Trojan swagger. Sark has preached from day-one that rebuilding the Huskies wouldn't take long. He assured fans that he had a vision and a plan that would offer marked improvement immediately and no one was going to talk him out of that.
"I don't think anyone wanted to get into that conversation with me," the UW coach said with a laugh. "I think everyone's just kind of jumped on board and it's a mind set, it's a belief and I truly believe it. It's not just press conference talk, it's a belief. I don't think it's going to take us very long."
How does three games sound? The Washington Huskies went from 0-16 to being ranked No. 24 in the nation by the Associated Press. But as the saying goes, more money more problems. Now Sarkisian and his staff have new concerns. They must keep their team focused, keep them motivated, and keep up with expectations.
"I'm not elated or I'm not as concerned about us being ranked 24th in the country. That doesn't matter. That's out of our control," explained Sarkisian. "And I think that's something we've done a nice job as a coaching staff is that we've got our kids in a frame of mind. Worry about what we can control, and not worry about what everyone else thinks. There aren't enough hours in the day to be looking at what everybody else is saying, or how we're going to do something, or what we should do or shouldn't do. This is about us, and our preparation that we can't waver from who we are."
Who they are is a team on the rise. A once proud program can again raise their head high and proclaim with confidence we are relevant once more. What happened on Saturday at Husky Stadium will forever live in the hearts and minds of everyone who experienced it.
"Something I don't think any of us will ever forget," Locker said about the experience.
And why would anyone want to?
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