Well-rested Huskies take aim at Illinois

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comSeptember 10, 2013 

SEATTLE – Word has reached the Midwest.

“That’s just what they do in the Pac-12,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.

The “that” Beckman was referencing was up-tempo offense. Washington has joined the ranks of the manic this season, leaving plodding Stanford as an efficient but aging relic in the Pacific-12 Conference.

The Huskies will speed over two time zones this week when they go to Chicago to play Illinois (2-0) in Soldier Field. Washington will leave Thursday for the 3 p.m. (PDT) Saturday game.

Upon checking out Illinois, Washington will see surprises. The Illini were brutal in 2012, closing the season with nine consecutive losses. Lopsided scores of 45-0, 52-22 and 50-14 dotted that streak.

A miniature resurrection has occurred for the

Illini two weeks into this season. After a cringe-worthy opener, in which Illinois beat FCS opponent Southern Illinois, 42-34, the Illini smacked competent Cincinnati, 45-17, on Saturday.

Suddenly, words like “believe” and “bought in” were being used in Monday’s press conference by Beckman.

In a lot of ways, Beckman sounds like Steve Sarkisian circa 2010.

Sarkisian’s rebuild appears to be nearing completion while Illinois embarks on its. The 19th-ranked Huskies (1-0) spent last week cleaning up details from their opening 38-6 win over Boise State.

Tackling, going faster on offense and doing some roster shuffling with special teams was on the agenda. Sarkisian said there was no lull.

“We had a great bye week,” Sarkisian said. “I haven’t felt it’s been difficult (to motivate); I was prepared for that. I was prepared for it to be difficult to keep our guys ready, fired up and going.

“They watched the (Illinois) game Saturday morning. They know Illinois is good, as well. They know it is going to take a really good week of preparation – mentally, physically and emotionally – to go on the road and play the way we’re capable.”

Washington didn’t have a bye week until after Week 4 last season. That gave the Huskies two full weeks to prepare for Oregon. It didn’t matter. The Ducks won, 52-21.

Sarkisian likes this setup because he now has evidence from a game of what works. Training camp was filled with weeks of projections. The Huskies have a full game film of tangibles now.

As a result, they want to go faster on offense. Tackle better on defense. Figure out the proper starters on special teams.

Much of last week was dedicated to those things prior to an extended weekend off for players.

During that down time from Friday through Sunday, many of the players watched football, including Illinois’ upset of Cincinnati. Sarkisian said he wasn’t surprised since he thinks this roster is filled with football junkies.

“I’m glad we’re finally at this point,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know if we were that way five years ago.”

Another point of pleasure for Sarkisian is the team’s health. He said this week starts with his group in very good shape. Preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be ready Saturday following his suspension for the opener. Offensive lineman Erik Kohler (foot) is creeping his way back.

“I feel good about where we’re at,” Sarkisian said.

HUSKIES’ OPPONENT THIS WEEK

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (2-0)

3 p.m. Saturday, Soldier Field, Big Ten Network, 950-AM

Coach: Tim Beckman (4-10 with Illinois, 25-26 overall; second season at Illinois)

Against the Huskies: Washington leads, 5-4. The last time the teams played was 1972, and Washington won in Seattle, 31-11.

Washington connections: None.

Scouting report: After a rickety first game against lowly FCS opponent Southern Illinois, the Illini surprised oddsmakers last Saturday when they took it to Cincinnati. Illinois blew out the Bearcats, 45-17. The win was a large one in multiple ways for Illinois, which had lost nine consecutive games to close last season, while Cincinnati was coming off a strong win over Purdue. Illinois averaged just 16.7 points per game in 2012, but is averaging 43.5 points per game two weeks into this season. The engine of the offense is QB Nate Scheelhaase, who is completing a ludicrous 74 percent of his passes. Illinois is a pass-first offense that sets up the run. The Illini’s top two backs have just 40 carries in two games. Compare that to Washington, which ran the ball 54 times in its first game. The Illini have displayed a propensity for early deep shots on offense, too. Defensively, Illinois drops a lot of defenders into coverage, often playing Cover-2 and Cover-3.

Did you know? Washington has played a Big Ten opponent only once since 2003.

Statistical leaders

PassingAttCompPct.YardsTDsINT

Nate Scheelhaase547374.072861

RushingAttYardsAvg.TD

Josh Ferguson18965.30

ReceivingRecYardsAvg.TD

Josh Ferguson615826.32

PuntingPuntsAvg.Blk

Justin DuVernois940.30

Field goalsAttMadeLG

Taylor Zalewski4333

2013 schedule

Aug. 31W, 42-34 vs. Illinois

Sept. 7W, 45-17 vs. Cincinnati

Saturdayvs. No. 19 Washington, 3 p.m. (Soldier Field)

Sept. 28vs. Miami (Ohio), TBD

Oct. 5at No. 23 Nebraska, 9 a.m.

Oct. 19vs. No. 20 Wisconsin, 5 p.m.

Oct. 26vs. Michigan State, 12:30 p.m.

Nov. 2at Penn State, TBD

Nov. 9at Indiana, TBD

Nov. 16vs. No. 4 Ohio State, TBD

Nov. 30vs. No. 17 Northwestern, TBD

Todd Dybas todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com

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