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September 22, 2009

UW looking forward, not back

How strange it must be for this new look Husky Program. Last season they were merely fresh meat for every Pac-10 predator, now they're on the prowl for respect and worried about taking the let-down bait and falling into a trap game.

Last Saturday Washington (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10) got their biggest win in nearly a decade, taking down then No. 3 USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-10). Only days later they're preparing for their first road game of the season against another program on the rise.

"The obvious challenge now is for us to get refocused, to get locked back in and understand the value of preparation and practice," first-year UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said to the media on Monday. "We need to get ready for a very tough opponent in Stanford."

The Cardinal (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10) under the leadership of head coach Jim Harbaugh have become a tough as nails football team. They have an All-Pac-10 caliber running back in Toby Gerhart, a talented young quarterback in Andrew Luck and a physical attacking defense.

Needless to say, a trip to Stanford Stadium is far from a gimme game for a Husky team still learning how to win, let alone win three consecutive games. With their faces on front pages and their names in the headlines, a whole new problem faces Washington; expectations.

"I want our kids to get used to the arena we're in right now because this is where we are supposed to be," explained Sarkisian. "We are supposed to be playing big games and when you get used to and comfortable in that arena, that's when letdowns don't occur."

Motivation shouldn't be hard to find. A Cardinal team that hasn't played in a bowl game since 2001 are still favored by seven points over the No. 24 ranked Huskies. Can you blame Vegas? An improved Stanford team was extremely competitive last season and returned 17 starters. Besides a second half meltdown against Wake Forest, they have looked even more impressive in 2009-10. They have also beaten Washington three out of the last four meetings. But that was against the old Huskies and Sarkisian has seen enough from his players to confidently bury the past.

"We asked them to do a lot of things, on and off the field, to make some sacrifices, to changes some habits and they've been extremely willing," said Sarkisian. "Everything we've asked these kids to do, they've responded. They've given us everything they had. That, in and of itself, tells you there's possibilities, because they're trying. Are we perfect? By no means are we perfect. But our kids are playing hard, and giving us everything they have and that's a great trait."

But Washington isn't favored, they haven't played outside the friendly confines of Husky Stadium this season, haven't won a road game since beating Stanford in 2007, and haven't won three consecutive games since 2006. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned and simple reasoning behind attenuating optimism. Just don't expect Sarkisian to buy that logic and certainly don't assume they will tread lightly into Saturday's contest.

"We've never done anything around here out of concern" Sarkisian said on the Pac-10 conference call. "It's about being aggressive in how we address things off the field and aggressive in how we attack things on the field, and that's how we are approaching this week.

"I don't think it's been very difficult at all,'' he continued. "Our kids understand that was a great win Saturday and I think they loved the feeling after that ball game of what it felt like to win a tight ball game in the fourth quarter when you do things right and I think they would like to recreate it."

As Washington continues their growth, Sarkisian doesn't want his team to lose sight of their goal. It's about more than one win, more than upsetting one ranked team. Sarkisian and his staff came to Washington with hopes of awakening a sleeping giant and bringing a once proud program back to the top of college football. Last Saturday was only a step in the right direction and not the end of a journey.

"You enjoy why we won the last game and relish in the moment and then realize man I want to enjoy that same feeling again," he said. "So, lets prepare really well and get back to that point. I think as we keep moving forward we will get more comfortable in this arena and we just need to keep talking through it and understand what we are trying to get accomplished."


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