They wore cutting-edge football helmets so bright they glowed. Their coach, a recent convert to the no-huddle offense that has become all the rage, faced one of the pioneers of the attack.
Between their cool uniforms and their breathless pace of play, the Washington Huskies figured to symbolize the new wave of college football trends Saturday night at the refurbished Husky Stadium.
And then the rain came in ferocious torrents, along with a wind unable to choose which direction it wanted to blow. The Huskies were dressed like it was 2013, but the stormy weather turned their 31-13 victory over Arizona into the kind of plodding football played in 1959.
“One of those games where the weather had an impact on both teams,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, clearly savoring a Huskies effort more steeped in fundamentals than flash. “It made it one of those grind-it-out, meat-and-potato games where both teams had to run the ball and both defenses knew it.”
If the challenge is to grind it out, meat-and-potatoes style, few running backs in America are better equipped for that role
than junior tailback Bishop Sankey. A week after sitting on the bench for most of the Huskies’ execution-style thumping of Idaho State, Sankey carried a school-record 40 times.
He wasn’t sensational in a way that drops the jaws of those watching the highlight clips – his long gain was 17 yards – but he was tireless and relentless on a day the conditions mitigated most of the exotic stuff in his team’s playbook.
Instead of the bubble screens and quick slants that have become staples of quarterback Keith Price’s passing arsenal, the Huskies kept the attack simple: Sankey left, Sankey right, Sankey straight.
“Bishop was awesome,” Sarkisian said. “He didn’t change, his focus was there. His body language didn’t change from his first carry to his last one.”
Sankey and his 162 yards weren’t the whole show. Fellow tailback Jesse Callier had 11 carries as the Huskies ran 61 times while attempting only 25 passes.
“The weather kind of forced our hand a bit in the way we had to play the game,” Sarkisian said. “When you have 61 rushing attempts, somebody’s got to carry the ball. I don’t know if that would have been the ratio if we had better weather, but you play the hand you’re dealt. Those were the conditions we had.”
The Huskies’ defense, on the other hand, knew that Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez – a proponent of the no-huddle some 20 years ago – is a disciple of the triple option, with the pass looming as the least likely of quarterback B.J. Denker’s options.
Arizona’s version of Sankey was the appropriately named Ka’Deem Carey, who carried 30 times. But the Washington defense responded with what Sarkisian called “a nice bend-but-don’t-break game against a really good running football team.”
When Denker tried to go to the air, it didn’t go well. The Huskies intercepted Denker twice and sacked him twice and pretty much controlled things from Arizona’s first drive, which abruptly ended when safety Sean Parker picked off a Denker pass at midfield and returned it to the Wildcats’ 35 yard line.
Despite the weather – worst at Husky Stadium since the Seahawks and Raiders once slogged through a Sunday night game on Nov. 11, 2001 – Washington’s play was comprehensively crisp. Price was picked off when receiver Jaydon Mickens didn’t follow through on a pass route in the first quarter, but there were no lost fumbles and few penalties of consequence.
The Huskies are 4-0 for the first time since 2001, and through 240 minutes of play, they have yet to trail an opponent.
That pattern could – OK, almost certainly will – end next Saturday night at Stanford, where the opponent will be stronger and the weather will be better.
“I have never been 4-0,” Huskies offensive tackle Ben Riva said.
Hey, Ben, the line forms in front. Neither has Steve Sarkisian.