Monday, September 2, 2013
Washington sets high bar for team identity
By Ted Miller
Washington had a singular, overriding goal entering the opening weekend of the season: Win. Beat Boise State. Walk out of renovated Husky Stadium at 1-0.
So mission accomplished.
But 1-0 is not all the Huskies got out of that 38-6 victory.
For one, there's winning and then there's delivering the sort of whipping that really good teams do to pretty good teams to make a national statement. We don't know yet how good the Broncos are, but the Huskies stomped the nation's No. 19 team like you'd expect, say, LSU to take care of business. The Huskies recorded plenty of style points on both sides of the ball.
The season opener against Boise State was more than just a victory for Keith Price and Washington.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also sat out because he was suspended for an offseason DUI. Winning the way the Huskies did without him is a positive on several levels. First, it shows that the offense can roll up nearly 600 yards without the nation's best tight end. That speaks to the number of weapons the Huskies offense has. The biggest revelation in the game might have been the depth and talent of the Huskies receivers even after Kasen Williams.
Further, and beyond Xs and Os, coach Steve Sarkisian was able to score a point for his discipline. There was plenty of thinking that ASJ would play -- Kevin and I have debated it for weeks, with me predicting he would play (and, as Kevin quickly pointed out via text, me being wrong, wrong, wrong). That means no media snark putting an asterisk on the win for a lack of accountability.
And, in a more Machiavellian coaching sense, let's not forgot that ASJ gets to rest his surgically repaired pinkie for two more weeks before going to Chicago to play Illinois, as the Huskies are off this week. That, quietly, is a big deal.
This off week also feels fortuitous.
A lot was put into this game by the Huskies. Even though Sarkisian and his players relentlessly beat the drum of "it's just one game," the reason they relentlessly beat that drum is because few saw it that way. This game was a grand opening of not only a stadium, it also was the "hello world" moment for what Sarkisian has repeatedly described as his best team. A face plant would have substantially lowered Sark and the program's Q-rating. It also, by the way, would have devalued whatever the Huskies might have accomplished thereafter -- taking the perception of the Pac-12 down with it -- because a loss to a non-AQ team has a lingering transitive effect that's hard to shake.
So the off week means the Huskies can enjoy the game tape, put ice on some bumps and bruises and not worry about the proverbial "let-down game" a week later. They get extra time to get ASJ back into the swing of things. They get extra time to refocus.
The eventual quality of their refocusing is the next test. The Huskies take on a struggling Illinois team -- the Illini barely slipped by Southern Illinois on Saturday -- at Soldier Field on Sept. 14. While the Huskies get extra time to rest and game-plan this weekend, Illinois will have its hands full with a tough Cincinnati squad on Saturday.
Still, Washington has not been good on the road of late. They are 3-8 the past two seasons away from Seattle, and among those defeats are plenty of flat performances. If Washington approaches the efficiency and focus it showed in the win over Boise State, it rolls by two or more touchdowns. But if it just goes through the motions and gets upset, the entire positive narrative of the Boise State victory could reverse course in an equally negative way.
Part of the challenge of being a good college football team is being good every week. It's about not settling. It's not about pining for eight wins. Heck, it's not really about victory totals and postseason rewards.
It's about an obsessive focus on every moment of preparation and game-day execution. It's about "winning the day," but we won't type that because the phrase has been taken.
Washington showed everyone Saturday what it can be this fall. The performance produced credible grounds for optimism. But it also raised a bar over which the Huskies now must consistently leap over. Or end up wondering what might have been. Again.