ESPN.com college football columnist Ivan Maisel is touring the Pac-12 North schools this week, and his story on the Huskies posted this morning.
Here it is.
It includes a pretty frank quote from UW coach Steve Sarkisian about what he thought the Huskies had to work with last season.
“I would say, if you lined us up toe-to-toe with our opponents last year, I felt like we had the roster advantage in two games,” Sarkisian said. “We started two true freshmen offensive linemen and two true freshmen defensive linemen. That right there sets the stage. We played without a tight end. From a physical perspective, we just weren’t there up front. We needed a mindset.”
The story centers on the final play win against Cal, when Chris Polk ran in for a 1-yard TD as time expired.
Maisel writes of the timeout preceding that play that:
“I expressed to them why we were going for it and what it represented,” Sarkisian said. “More than just the score of the game, but who we are …. ‘OK, this is our program. This is the way we play.’ It was a very cool opportunity to get all that done in a short amount of time, and then it happened.”
“We went against the same Nebraska team three months earlier, and [this time we] were able to play toe-to-toe football with them,” Sarkisian said. “And we didn’t have to rely on gimmicks to play with them. We didn’t run a bunch of trick plays. We didn’t run a bunch of crazy blitzes to try to make things happen. We just played our game.
“To see our players’ reaction, not just on field or in the locker room, but the next week and throughout the next month, and in offseason conditioning, I think that moment has really carried on for us,” Sarkisian said. “I think that set the stage for Nebraska. We just didn’t waver. This is who we are. This is how we’re going to approach the Holiday Bowl. This is how we’re going to play. I’d like to think the way we played against Nebraska is who we want to be, is who we are. But I go back to that Cal moment as the moment.”
Maisel notes what we’ve all discussed often, that the Huskies really shifted emphasis the last four games following the three-game losing streak at mid-season.
UW rushed for 948 yards on 171 attempts in the last four games while throwing for 633 on 90 passing attempts.
Some might argue that two opponents in that stretch, UCLA and WSU, were among the worst run defense teams in the country — which they were, the Bruins 109th out of 120 teams nationally and WSU 115th — while UW didn’t really run it all that well against Cal other than that last drive (112 on 36 attempts overall, UW’s third-lowest total of the season).
It’s the way UW played in its Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska both offensively (268 rushing yards on 52 attempts) and defensively (holding the Huskers to 91 yards on 41 attempts) that gives the late-season run its real validity.
Of course, what would give that surge even more validity is continuing it into the 2011 season and beyond. That will obviously be one of the key questions this fall.