Huskies win nice plot twist in possible storied season

September 2, 2013 

Midway through the third quarter of the Washington Huskies’ season opener Saturday night, I thought something I wasn’t expecting to think.

These guys wearing purple jerseys and gold pants could win 10 games this season, and maybe more. Their hurry-up offense releases speedster receivers uncovered in the flat. Their gang-tackling defense swarms to the ball. The players on both units — and, for that matter, the special teams, too — exude a joyous flair that suggests they know they’re capable of beating anybody, anywhere.

For the past eight months, the anticipatory hype about the 2013 football season in Seattle has been devoted to the Seahawks. With good reason: The Seahawks own what appears to be the NFL’s most comprehensively talented roster.

But Washington’s 38-6 thrashing of No. 19 Boise State on Saturday added a delicious twist to a football season already thick with story lines. While the Seahawks are girding for greatness — let’s face it, anything short of a deep playoff run will be a disappointment — the Huskies’ dominant performance in their opener revealed potential few of us knew about.

Perhaps the victory wasn’t so much evidence of the Huskies’ breakthrough from a succession of 7-6 records under head coach Steve Sarkisian than a case of pollsters overrating Boise State.

It’s no secret the Broncos don’t have the athletes to compete with most Pacific-12 Conference teams. They compensate for the mismatch on paper with guile,

imagination, and a we-work-as-a-team trust in each another, implemented by a superior coaching staff.

None of those virtues were evident against the Huskies. Give coach Chris Peterson 10 days to prepare for a game, the theory goes, he’ll find a way to exploit an opponent’s weakness. Give him eight months, and the Broncos will put on a clinic.

So much for theories. Boise State resembled no Boise State team Peterson has assembled during his remarkably successful tenure. No tricks were tried, no conventional wisdom was bucked.

The smaller, lighter, slower Broncos decided to go toe-to-toe with the Huskies, a strategic blunder that helps explain why Boise State failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 1997.

Still, Washington’s way-beyond impressive debut was more about what UW did than what the Broncos didn’t do. Huskies quarterback Keith Price operated the frenzied, no-huddle attack much like a basketball point guard distributing the ball to slashers on a fastbreak.

Running back Bishop Sankey looked like the same durable workhorse willing to plow into tacklers 15 or 20 or 40 times a game. Sankey, the real deal in 2012, finished with 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He’s still the real deal.

The revelation was sophomore wideout Jaydon Mickens, a burner whose feet last season posed more of a threat than his hands. Mickens on Saturday caught nine passes, the sort of production associated with a go-to receiver.

Price can go to Mickens, but he also can go to NFL prospect Kasen Williams, and to strong-armed senior Kevin Smith, and to freshman John Ross, who runs fly routes at the speed of sound.

When the Huskies travel to Chicago to take on Illinois at Soldier Field on Sept. 14, another go-to target will be available for Price: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the All-America tight end candidate sidelined on Saturday by a one-game suspension.

“Once he gets back,” Price said, “it’s going to be kind of scary.”

Despite the absence of Seferian-Jenkins, the UW offense achieved a textbook balance of running and passing, exploding for 592 yards and five touchdowns. Given those numbers, the defense merely had to be serviceable, avoiding the gaffes that turn routine plays into big plays.

The defense was more than serviceable. They attacked and pursued, and when the issue was third-and-short, pretty much had its way at the line of scrimmage.

One game — a season opener, at that — is not enough to foretell nine or 10 more victories. But if the Huskies play with the verve they showed against Boise State, if they continue to take the field with an attitude that might best be described as disciplined rage, Saturday will be recalled as more than a very enchanted evening.

It’ll be recalled as the night the college football team in Seattle announced itself as relevant as the pro football in Seattle.

Can you envision the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, a month after the Huskies are invited to the Rose Bowl?

That crazy possibility never crossed my mind before Saturday, when I realized, midway through the third quarter, the Huskies were on the brink of something special.

Savor the next few months, folks. A dream football season could in the works, the sort of season that happens every century or so.

john.mcgrath @thenewstribune.com

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