SEATTLE - It was a Deja Stanford all over again for the Washington Huskies, as they used their…
Washington desperately needed to establish their toughness tonight, and it was clear from the first half that they would do just that. They ran, they blocked, and they never really let up much on the OSU defense as the Huskies held onto the ball and didn't turn it over. They won the time of possession battle in doing so, and also significantly reduced the opportunities for a struggling Keith Price to turn the ball over.
Well done, coach. I have been hard on you the past couple of days on the message boards and tonight you showed that you aren't as stubborn as I thought. You love the pass, but tonight you knew that you had to show Mike Riley that your team could smash mouth when it's called for. It addresses John Canzano's recent column questioning your team's toughness. And it allowed your young offensive line to do what it does best – block for a running play. Those young pups are at their most comfortable (and effective) when they are going downhill and opening running lanes for Sankey to run through or cut back into. They look so much more adept at doing this rather than sitting back on their heels and trying to keep Price upright.
Tonight's stat line of 33 rushing plays and 30 pass plays had to have been somewhat of a challenge to Sarkisian. The tendency to want to go downfield and strike quickly was probably there all night, yet Sarkisian was able to fight it off and remain committed to his young trench dawgs to open holes and keep up the grind. That grind really set the tone. It gave the Husky offense confidence, and it took a lot of pressure off of Price, who had turned the ball over 10 turnovers in his last three games. He had but one tonight, and that came because his young receiver gave up half way through his route and didn't catch up to the ball, allowing it to be intercepted.
Bishop Sankey turned in a workhorse like night. To those that say he can't be a thumper who carries the ball 25 times per game, I would use tonight as "exhibit A" that you were wrong. Bishop looked quick, dangerous, and most of the time, right in his decision making. OSU's rush defense was not too shabby and Sankey was able to find meaningful yards in the first half when the Huskies were establishing themselves. Sankey never broke a long one, but he is able. He is getting better and better at running through contact and getting more yards afterwards. I will be very curious how his body will recover from the 25 carries he had tonight. They were all tough ones. If he bounces back and carries the ball 20+ against Cal on Friday night, you'll know he's the guy. His hands aren't Chris Polk stuff, but that can be worked on.
I'm hoping they established not only a one-night rushing attack, but also an identity. They should look in the mirror and see themselves as a team that can slam the ball up the belly and grind out the tough yards and move the chains. Those are the types of drives that make defenses start pointing fingers at each other. They don't like getting rag-dolled down the field in four to five yard chunks.
Tonight was a huge win for Steve Sarkisian. I didn't think they would pull it off, and that's mostly because I wasn't sure Sark could commit to the run. He did that tonight. And he won a game that if he would've lost it, would've brought him a lot of consternation from his fan base. Tonight, a loss would've put his team at 3-5 and the not-so-proud owners of a four-game losing streak. Those are the types of numbers that usually bring a lot of heat down on you in your fourth season.
A win tonight gets Sark some breathing room, and keeps the Husky hopes alive for a solid post-season bowl game. 4-4 is respectable when you look at the schedule Washington has played to date. If Arizona was a game that (on paper) they should've won, tonight's game was one that they probably should've lost. OSU was a top-10 and undefeated program, after all. Washington winning tonight tips the tables back into Sarkisian's favor.
And style points really did count tonight. A lot of fans were frustrated not just in the losses, but the blow-out nature of them as well as the failure to show any sort of interest in rushing the football. Washington has struggled throwing it vertically down the field, and Price is clearly not comfortable once outside the pocket. More times than not the ball winds up launched over the opponent's bench. That is not what Husky fans are accustomed to.
So tonight, although the Huskies were outgained by 120 yards, they won the trench war. They won the street fight. They won the football game, and in doing it in the style they did, they showed that they can be tough and win a gritty football game.
That, more than anything else, is what should buy Sark some leeway with his dissenters, who had been growing in greater numbers. The Huskies were up to the physical task tonight, and it should pay dividends for the next few weeks.
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