- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The last thing Washington needs is a distraction. The Huskies are playing their best football in a decade, so the dust-up between Stanford coach David Shaw and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries during their game on Saturday serves no positive purpose for Washington, other than giving local and national reporters a good controversy on which to engorge themselves
After restating his, "I saw what I saw," Sarkisian quickly moved on to, "I'm done with the subject" during the Pac-12 coaches' call on Tuesday.
That's probably good. Because after coming off a physically taxing game with a top-five team, the Huskies now must redirect their focus to No. 2 Oregon.
Forget that no two defensive game plans could be more dissimilar between trying to slow Stanford's pro-style offense and the Ducks' up-tempo spread. Even forget that the Oregon-Washington rivalry is the most bitter in the Pac-12 and one of the most bitter rivalries in the nation. The simple fact is the Ducks have owned the Huskies of late, winning nine in a row in the series by at least 17 points.
And you know Ducks fans are eager to print up the T-shirts: Decade of Dominance.
A Washington victory would be transformative -- in the Northwest region, in the Pac-12 and nationally. It would truly signal that the Huskies are ready to become a national power once again.
While the 31-28 loss at No. 5 Stanford was heartbreaking because the Huskies dominated the Cardinal statistically -- other than special teams -- playing the Ducks should provide plenty of motivation to refocus. Too much looking backward could prove catastrophic.
"I think in some ways it helped us," Sarkisian said of playing back-to-back top-five foes. "When you lose an emotional ballgame like we did Saturday night at Stanford, I think it was quick and easy to point out, 'Guys, we don't have time to sulk. We don't have time to sit with a woes-with-me mentality. We've got to get right back on the horse and get healthy mentally and physically'."
The Huskies have already done a pretty good job of staying focused amid outside chatter. The main preseason stories were about whether QB Keith Price could revert to his 2011 form after a poor 2012 season and Sarkisian potentially sitting on a hot seat. The opener against nationally ranked Boise State had the added pressure of being the debut of remodeled Husky Stadium. The Illinois game offered a road test for a team that was notoriously inconsistent on the road.
The Huskies answered all those questions. Price is playing as well as just about any quarterback in the country. Sarkisian is now talked about as a candidate for the USC job rather than a coach on the hot seat. The Huskies stomped the Broncos and opened their stadium in style. And Illinois was efficiently dispatched.
The loss at Stanford didn't quash much of the Huskies' new-found esteem either. They slipped just one spot in both national polls.
As for the bad feelings between the Ducks and Huskies, that's mostly a fan thing. Both teams talk about preparation being purely about a "nameless faceless opponent." But both Sarkisian and first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich admit to an awareness of the heated nature of the rivalry.
"We all are aware this is a tremendous rivalry in college football and has been for a long time," Sarkisian said. "We're excited to be part of it. That's what makes college football special."
Helfrich, meanwhile, is a native of Coos Bay, Ore. He grew up rooting for the Ducks and hating the Huskies. So while former Oregon coach Chip Kelly would never admit beating Washington, which he did with plenty of panache, meant anything special, and he would cause Ducks fans to slap their foreheads by frequently mentioning how much he liked Sarkisian, Helfrich pretty much must admit there is something extra when playing the Huskies.
"Absolutely I understand the nature of the rivalry," he said.
But don't think Helfrich is that much different than Kelly. He says preparation will be no different, and he has been seen multiple times having a pleasant chat with Sarkisian.
For Washington, the goal is no distractions. Forget Stanford. Forget controversy. It doesn't even matter that it's the Ducks coming to town. It's about preparing to take the next step up the Pac-12 and national ladders.
Oregon, of course, represents one of the most challenging rungs on both ladders.
Said Sarkisian, "I think our guys are going to be prepared for whatever this game presents us."
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