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September 6, 2009Funny how quickly perceptions change.
Before Washington's showdown against the No. 11 ranked LSU Tigers, new head coach Steve Sarkisian preached respect. With the odds stacked against them, Sarkisian asked for his team to be measured by their effort, heart and toughness.
But after a hard fought 23-31 loss Saturday night in front of 69,161 screaming fans at Husky Stadium, Sarkisian and his team realized they could have come away with much more than just respect.
"I'll say first, there's no moral victories," explained Sarkisian. "But I'm proud of our football team. They played hard, they played physical, they fought through adversity, they competed until the last second was on the clock and that's all we could have asked for coming into the ballgame.
"I think the initial goal I set earlier in the week is that when this game is done, that other football team respects us. I have a feeling they respect this Washington Husky football team."
Washington earned that respect by beating LSU in almost every statistical category. The Huskies had 157 more yards of offense, 16 more minutes of possession and eight more first downs.
But it was critical mistakes and an inability to produce in the red zone that cost them.
"We play the game to win and unfortunately we were in the red zone five ties and settled for four field goals and had a turnover," Sarkisian said. "That's how you lose. We talked about the turnover battle coming in and we talked about red zone execution. Those were two areas that didn't happen for us and I think it was the key to the ball game."
Washington came out of the gates swinging with a 10 play 85 yard drive that was capped off by a James Johnson 17-yard touchdown reception. But it was a 49-yard gain by Johri Fogerson on a screen that set it up.
On third and 12, Jake Locker faced an aggressive LSU pass rush and found Fogerson in the flat. With nothing but green in front of him Fogerson nearly raced for a touchdown before being caught at the 17-yard line.
"I just saw field, it was basically all green," Fogerson said of the play. "I saw they brought the house on an all blitz and it was a pressure call."
Locker, who finished 25-of-41 passing for 321 yards and two touchdowns, was pleased with the fast start.
"I think that was good for us from a confidence standpoint," Locker said. "We marched the ball down the field, had some big plays, and had some young guys step up. I thought that was a real important thing for us, to come out and start fast, and we did."
And his head coach was happy with Locker's play all evening.
"The first thing is that his competitive nature is amazing," explained Sarkisian. "The guy just doesn't quit. I saw accuracy in throws that I don't think he had before. I saw an understanding of an offense that is going to allow him to continue to grow. I was very proud of him because in the first game, this offense against that defense, those athletes - I thought he performed very well."
Washington ran the ball well on that opening drive, with Chris Polk notching a couple of good gains. On the evening the Huskies finished with 157 yards and a 4.1 yards per carry average. Polk led all rushers with 90 yards and showed some glimpses of why coaches think he can be special.
"I thought Chris Polk played a really good football game," said Sarkisian. "He was physical, he caught the ball well. I thought Johri (Fogerson) did some nice things for us. And obviously what Jake (Locker) did with his legs was effective as well. Chris (Polk) brought a physical nature to his game that he hasn't shown before. He's been showing it in training camp, but he didn't show it last year. You're always wondering if it's going to show up when a real game comes around and he was able to do that."
After Washington's opening score, LSU responded with a 12-play, 65-yard drive of their own, but had to settle for a field goal.
Then, Washington's next possession would produced the play of the game for LSU. On fist and 10 Locker dropped back to pass and had his attempt deflected by LB Jacob Cutrera who caught the ball and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought the middle backer was going to blitz but they just brought the sam," explained Locker. "I didn't carry my eyes outside and I just need to be better in my progression."
After nearly forcing a safety, LSU punted from their end zone and Fogerson returned it 18-yards to set up a game tying 34-yard field goal by Erik Folk. Then just before half, Washington relinquished the tie when LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson connected with Terrance Toliver for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Jefferson had an efficient game, going 11-of-19 for 172 yards and three scores. Toliver had a monster evening with four catches for 117 yards and two scores.
Washington would add three more points to make it 17-13 on a Folk 37-yard field goal before both teams excited the field at half time.
But LSU would strike first in the second half when the lethal combination of Jefferson to Toliver produced a 39-yard touchdown pass and catch with 5:50 left in the third quarter. Down 24-13, both teams traded possession before Washington added three more points on another Folk field goal from 32 yards out.
Then, like good teams do, LSU drove the field in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Using only 3:24, the Tigers marched 67 yards for the game sealing touchdown.
Washington would add another score on a Locker to Kavario Middleton nine-yard pass as time expired, falling just short of the upset.
"I've got to give props to Washington," said LSU running back Charles Scott. "They came out and played a hell of a game, they made a stand against us, and they dominated. We just had to fight back, make a few adjustments, and overcome some of the stuff we're not used to seeing."
Washington may not have been playing for a moral victory, but there are certainly positives to be taken out of their performance.
"Like I said, I'm really proud of our guys," expressed Sarkisian. "And I'm proud of the mindset in that locker room afterwards. They're not accepting this. They're hungry. They want to go back out, get to work Monday and start getting ready for Idaho."
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