The prevailing mood Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium was relief.
Washington had beaten Idaho State, 56-0, in a football game that was never competitive. Two minutes into the second quarter, the Huskies led 35-0. If UW coach Steve Sarkisian wanted to push the score to the 100 level, the Bengals from the Big Sky Conference could have offered no resistance.
And yet the visitors were spared humiliation. They did not depart Seattle convinced their noses were rubbed in something associated with a stench.
The Huskies put the game out of reach after scoring the second of five consecutive touchdowns in the first half, but there’s a difference between a game that’s out of reach and a beat-down that’s out of hand.
“A couple of teams in our conference have been butchered by the Pac-12, and it was our turn on the table today,” said Idaho State coach Mike Kramer. “Those guys did not disappoint. They played like a top-ranked team.
“I have been coaching a long time,” continued Kramer, whose career has included a stint as head football coach at Eastern Washington University and
Stadium High School. “But the way Coach Sarkisian and staff treated us, knowing that we were wounded, was one of the most outstanding examples of sportsmanship and care of another team that I have ever seen.”
That Kramer was thankful the score wasn’t more lopsided than 56-0 poses a question: Are contests between teams representing two distinctly different levels of college football a sound idea?
The benefits can’t be denied. Saturday, for instance, gave the Huskies’ reserves – and the reserves behind the reserves – a chance to enjoy and participate in an event more approximate of big-time football than a scrimmage.
“Every guy who was eligible to play played in the game,” said Sarkisian. “For a football team, those moments are really cool.”
The Bengals’ payoff for submitting to a clock-cleaning was, well, the payoff. Idaho State, which hasn’t had a winning football season since 2003, earned a check for an estimated $450,000. That’ll fund dozens of scholarships in non-revenue sports.
Besides, the 2013 season already has seen a handful of clubs from the Football Championship Subdivision (what used to be known as Div. 1-AA) surprising teams affiliated with the power conferences. Most notable of the upsets was Eastern Washington’s road victory over an Oregon State team ranked No. 25 at the time.
But as Kramer pointed out: “We’re not Eastern Washington and the Huskies are not Oregon State.”
Last season, the Bengals played the role of punching bags even in some Big Sky games – they lost, 77-10, at Portland State; 70-14 at Cal Poly – but what still rankles Kramer was how Nebraska went pedal-on-medal against his guys at Lincoln, Neb., where the Cornhuskers won, 73-3
“Again,” said Kramer, “I applaud Coach Sarkisian and the entire Husky organization for making sure that we didn’t come out of this as badly humbled as last year against Nebraska. I am very grateful for that.”
He’s “grateful” after losing a game by 56 points? A game in which his team was outgained 370-22 on the ground and 310-142 in the air?
You bet he’s grateful. On the same day Sarkisian began easing up on the Bengals in the second quarter, Ohio State embarrassed Florida A&M, 76-0. The score was 48-0 before the Rattlers managed a first down – they finished with two of them – and it would’ve been 49-0 had the Buckeyes’ attempt at a two-point conversion worked after their second touchdown.
That’s right. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, unable to grasp the apparent talent discrepancy between his national-championship contenders and a 1-2 FCS team that traveled to Columbus, Ohio, as 56-point underdogs, went for two with the score 13-0.
As for Idaho State, which hasn’t defeated an Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since Utah State in 2000 – 19 games ago – the Bengals were spared Florida A&M’s humiliation because Huskies running back Bishop Sankey made what amounted to a cameo appearance.
If Sankey’s role as the Huskies’ designated workhouse is reprised Saturday, it’s possible he threatens the NCAA-record of 222 rushing yards in a quarter, set by former Husky Corey Dillon, against San Jose State, in 1996.
But Sankey’s day was done after a 22-yard run, which gave him 77 yards. On four attempts. A minor shoulder bruise sustained on Sankey’s final carry was all the reason Sarkisian needed to save the running back for collisions with more meaningful consequences.
“It was a little different,” Sankey said. “But I enjoyed watching the other guys out there. I enjoyed watching them make plays.”
On the Idaho State sideline, Kramer enjoyed little during a three-hour matinee without a moment of suspense. All he knew is that it could have been worse, lots worse.
“I really applaud the Husky staff for the way they played,” Kramer said again, “and we are on to UC Davis.”
The Huskies, meanwhile, now gird for their conference opener against Arizona. It will be a more fair fight, more interesting, more revealing, and more taxing on the legs Bishop Sankey wasn’t asked to use to break an NCAA record Saturday, when records were there to be had.