September 10, 2011

Huskies take coach's message to heart

This is what Steve Sarkisian was talking about.

This is the kind of football he wanted to see. "Husky football," as he called it.

There was Keith Price throwing … deep? Piling up 77 yards on his first two attempts of the game against Hawaii on Saturday. By the end of the first quarter, Price, in just his third start, had already thrown for 193 yards, 71 yards more than he had thrown in last week's entire game.

Then early in the second quarter, there was Jesse Callier stiff arming a want-to-be tackler, knocking a Hawaiian player onto his back to the delight of Husky fans and racing another 20 yards for a 55-yard kickoff return.

Sarkisian wanted physical. Wanted fast. And wanted smash mouth.

In Saturday's 40-32 victory over Hawai'i, Washington was all of that. The Huskies were everything they weren't last week in a 30-27 victory against Eastern Washington.

Sarkisian's challenge was made and met.

"This is Husky football. More energy. Having fun out there," Everrette Thompson said. "We're young. We're learning every day. We proved it. We're 2-0."

Sarkisian challenged his special teams earlier in the week, saying it had been a long time since a Husky team had blocked an extra point. What does his team do? They respond. Thompson blocked two extra points. Desmond Trufant scooped up one of those blocks and raced for the end zone, scoring a two-point conversion with 1:39 left in the game.

Husky Stadium was alive with excitement.

Last week, Washington lost the statistical game against EWU, outgained 504-250. This week, Washington beat Hawai'i, which was coming off a 34-17 win against Colorado, on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet. A double-winner, with a 466-388 edge in total offense.

"I thought we played the brand of football that makes Husky nation proud," Sarkisian said. "I thought we played with amazing effort. Played with amazing enthusiasm. That's what it takes. We were physical."

All week, Sarkisian and his coaches reminded their players to play fast, play aggressive and be physical.

"Coach wanted us to be more physical. We were today," Thompson said. "We played with more energy, more enthusiasm."

But nobody - not the offensive line, not the defensive backs - showed more improvement than Price. Last week, in his cautious dump-and-dink approach, Price averaged just 4.1 yards per completion. He didn't have one completion longer than 10 yards.

Then on the first two plays of the game against Hawaii, the Husky sophomore completed passes of 30 and 47 yards, quickly moving the Huskies to Hawaii's 2-yard line. On the next play, tailback Chris Polk scored for a 7-0 lead, just 70 seconds into the game.

After Washington's first two possessions, Price was 7-for-7 passing for 173 yards, 71 yards more than he threw for the entire game against Eastern. And Washington led 14-0.

"You know, we weren't expecting as much of that (throwing deep) because he had thrown it short," Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said.

It was a breakout game for Price, completing 18 of 25 passes for 315 yards. Against Hawaii, he averaged 17.0 passes per throw.

This week, Sarkisian trusted Price, trusted his young offensive line and trusted his receivers.

"I was too cautious last week," Sarkisian said. "I said I'm not going to do that again. He's healthy enough to play. I know he can do it. He sure responded tonight."

In just his third start, Price, who sprained his knee in the EWU game and wore a brace against Hawai'i, tossed four touchdown passes, tying him for third most in school history. Jake Locker and Chris Rowland share the record with five touchdown passes. After last week's showing, Husky fans may have been thinking Price was a better candidate for most interceptions in a game, not most touchdowns.

"I think he can be as good as he wants to be," Sarkisian said. "Sometimes that's hard to see. He's only had three starts. He has the ability. He knows where the ball should be going. I think he was spot on 85 percent of the time."

Washington is 2-0 for the only the second time in 10 seasons. It's six-game win streak is the fifth longest in the country. And this time, Sarkisian could simply bask in a win, not apologize for it.

"Great win. Love being 2-0," Sarkisian said. "But the reality is there's still so much room for improvement. Proud of our guys. They brought everything we asked them to bring. That's a good team. There's a reason Hawaii won 10 games last year."

Defensively, a week after Eastern passed for 473 yards, Washington held a pass-happy offense to 333 yards through the air.

Hawaii's Bryant Moniz, who led the nation in passing last year with over 5,000 yards, looked mortal Saturday, completing 31 of 45 passes.

"We wanted to get after their receivers," Sarkisian said. "We knew the ball was going to get thrown inside a bunch. And when they did our goal was to try to punish their receivers as best as we could. And hope we get a few alligator arms."

Because they were physical and because they weren't cautious, the Huskies were good enough, long enough on defense and offense to pull out a win, evening its series record against Hawaii at 2-2.

"I knew our coach wasn't scared," Price said. "So we weren't scared."

Now, that sounds like old fashion Husky football.

Gail Wood can be reached at splinters5@reachone.com

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